The Spring 2022 Season at the MEP is about Love with a capital ‘L’: all its possible joys and all its potential tribulations; love in all its complexity and mystery; and all the everyday poetry that love can reveal. The major exhibition Love Songs is a deliberately romantic proposition for rethinking the history of photography, including some of its most celebrated names and landmark bodies of work. The exhibition has been conceived in relation to the old idea of homemade music compilations that (for a certain time at least) people offered to, and exchanged with, their lovers. One reason why Love Songs brings this tradition to mind, albeit visually rather than musically, is the sense of being immersed in the emotional landscapes of people we know (people we love) through the words, ideas and emotions of people that we do not. In choosing a playlist of songs that mean something to us by singers that we admire, we are, in a way, offering the feelings expressed to our lovers as our own. And in doing this very intimate ‘curatorial’ work and sharing it, we permit ourselves to say things that we rarely say, or say ourselves very badly, through a kind of appropriated poetry.
All of the artists in Love Songs and, indeed those chosen for the two Studios for this season, have tried to capture something of the essence of love for themselves with the camera. They have, however, done this not only to show what it means (or meant) to them personally, but also what it might mean for us as viewers. In every case the intimacies revealed rely not only on great photographic artistry, but on the artists’ emotional generosity, the willingness to share with us not only their work, but their lives and loves.
Director of the MEP and curator of the exhibition Love Songs
The group show Love Songs proposes a completely new vision of the history of photography through the prism of intimate relationships, like those between lovers. Bringing together 14 series by some of the most important photographers of the 20th and 21st centuries, it comprises both masterpieces from the MEP collection and loaned works by important contemporary artists, many of which will be exhibited in Europe for the first time. As such, Love Songs will show both the importance of this subject to those working now as well as its rich history.
At the heart of the exhibition, and forming the twin points of departure for the history it proposes, are landmark series by Nobuyoshi Araki and Nan Goldin. These seminal works will be exhibited in relation to those produced by other major historic figures including Larry Clark, Emmet Gowin, René Groebli, Hervé Guibert, Sally Mann and Alix Cléo Roubaud, as well as series by leading contemporary artists like JH Engström & Margot Wallard, Leigh Ledare, RongRong&inri, Collier Schorr, Hideka Tonomura and Lin Zhipeng (aka n° 223).
Drawing inspiration from Nan Goldin’s ‘Ballad’ (“The Ballad of Sexual Dependency”, 1986) Love Songs is conceived and organised like a musical compilation or mix tape offered to a lover, with Side A, the first half of the show, made up of series from 1950-1990 and Side B, the second half from 1980 to now.
Taking us through many different stories and scenarios photographed between different couples and situations, from the first days of an affair through marriages, honeymoons, domestic bliss and the pain of separation, even to the last days shared between loves, the intimacies shared on film are revealed in all their poetry and honesty.
Love Songs, however, is, above all, a proposition about the nature of the photography: the fact that although the camera is often believed to be ‘objective’, it has frequently been used to record something about which we can agree on almost nothing, objectively speaking – something entirely subjective. We may not agree on what love is, or how it is supposed to look, how it makes us look, or how it makes us see, yet it has been the subject of some of the most important and moving photographic work of the past century.
Another history of photography
Love and intimacy have inspired many great artists to produce moving and significant photographic works throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.
“Sentimental Journey” (1971) and “Winter Journey” (1989-90) by Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, and “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency” (1973-1986) by American photographer Nan Goldin are among the most compelling examples of this practice.
Love Songs proposes situating these two series in the context of the work of other major photographers, all of whom have pushed the boundaries of representing intimacy within their practice. Comprising powerful bodies of work by both French and international artists, from the 1950s to the present, the exhibition Love Songs sets out a completely new history of photography.
Love, a way of seeing
Love Songs is also a proposition about romantic relationships explored through the question of the gaze. Although love may be considered as a kind of universal experience, the exhibition shows how, in reality it is inseparable from subjectivity, and the way which we ‘look’ and ‘see’ while in love can entirely change the way in which we see the world around us. In “L’Œil de l’amour”, for example, René Groebli photographs his young wife, the moments of closeness they share, and invites us as viewers to share a way of looking that transforms everyday life. Through Emmet Gowin’s lens, by contrast, family and domestic life are treated as precious, almost sacred subjects. Elsewhere, Sally Mann explores the ways in which the loving gaze treats the body of a loved one when it falters due to illness, reflecting on questions of trust, kindness and acceptance. In his project Double Bind, Leigh Ledare juxtaposes his own images of his ex-wife Meghan Ledare-Fedderly with photographs of her taken by her new husband; here the photographer questions the representation of the same model in the context of two different intimate relationships. Depicting different ways of loving, different sexual orientations, and different kinds of relationship, Love Songs invites viewers to immerse themselves in a variety of personal worlds, and experience different subjective visions of love.
When photography meets intimacy
By concentrating on the way photographers create works of art inspired by their personal lives, Love Songs seeks further to question the potentiality and limits of the photographic medium. It asks whether love can ever really be ‘captured’ on film or whether the camera’s ‘objectivity’ renders this impossible. But more than this, what might these works say about the role that the photographers give to us, the viewer? While photographers cannot be accused of voyeurism when it comes to their own lives, what effect does this access to intimacy have for the audience? The works of Hervé Guibert and Alix Cléo Roubaud, in which we enter the private spaces of the bedrooms or bathrooms that the artists occupy with their loved ones, might even make us feel as if we are taking the place of that intimate “other”, the photographer. With artist couples working together like JH Engström & Margot Wallard or RongRong&inri, the viewer, is again put into the heart of their relationship, alternates, taking the place first of one partner, then the other.
Love Songs : Photography and intimacy
March 30 ‒ August 21, 2022
MEP Maison Européenne de la Photographie
5/7 rue de Fourcy
75004 Paris France
On the occasion of the exhibition Love Songs, a catalogue is being co- published by the MEP and Atelier EXB. It includes all the series presented in the exhibition as well as Lovesody by Motoyuki Daifu and Another Love Story by Karla Hiraldo Voleau, which are being presented during the same period in the Studio, the MEP’s exhibition space dedicated to emerging artists. Introductory essay by Simon Baker, director of the MEP and curator of the exhibition.
Love Songs, Photographies de l’intime, published by Atelier EXB. Texts in French, hardcover, format 19,5x27cm, 224 pages, 230 images, €45.