Photographic series by Stephan GLADIEU produced in March – April 2020 in Paris during confinement.
In the 17th century, faced with the scourge of the bubonic plague, the first doctor of Louis XIII fashioned a protective suit allowing him to treat the sick while keeping his distance. This “Plague Doctor” costume was immediately recognizable to all as a figure of authority and knowledge.
Imagined by Doctor Charles de Lorme in 1619, it consists of skin breeches and leather boots, a large cape surmounted by a plastron covering up the shoulders, gloves, hat and glasses and a mask enhanced with an exuberant nose in the shape of a beak – filled with aromatic and medicinal herbs – the length of which would allow the air to be purified before reaching the respiratory system of the carers. Doctor Plague did not move without his staff which allowed him to reach the sick, rich or poor, from afar…
At the time, we did not know the mode of transmission of the plague which ravaged all of Europe. With his iconic costume, Doctor Plague became the only bulwark against disease wherever the plague spreads. Even today, he is a classic figure of the commedia dell’arte and European carnivals.
Thus, threatening at first glance, the character of Doctor Plague has established himself as the symbol of hope: the hope of life in the face of death, the hope of knowledge in the face of ignorance, the hope of the doctors’ dedication to the impossible.
I wanted to bring Doctor Plague back to Paris, in the midst of the Covid-19 crisis, to make us reflect on our times and on the limits of our behavior, which we measure, a little better I hope, the absurdity after a few weeks of confinement causing depollution and deconsumption: our casualness to destroy nature, to plunder the earth, to consume and to discredit both the immobility and the voluntarism of the institutions.
In this empty Paris that I offered him as a contemporary decor, he embodies the one who comes to shake us up, pulverize our certainties, confront us with our contradictions and remind us that we can neither control everything, nor refuse death.
Pandemics have always deconstructed societies because they expose them, revealing their drifts, putting a crack in their faults. Today, the wisdom of most democracies has been to rely on the knowledgeables, the doctors and the scientific committees, to decide what to do collectively to protect one another and to offer a future together. I see in it a powerful and wise tribute to this dear Doctor Plague who once risked his life to save that of others. Dead at 90, an extraordinary longevity at the time, he is one of those who helped to eradicate the scourge of the black plague in France.
Faced with the fragility of life and unexpected death, the politician has sovereignly made the choice between economic prosperity and citizen health by replacing the Doctor in his role of central referent of our modern society. Let us trust them and let all stay at home.
DOCTOR PLAGUE IS BACK
Photographic series by Stephan GLADIEU produced in March – April 2020 in Paris during confinement
School Gallery Paris I Olivier Castaing
322 rue Saint Martin