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The Book Column : Natalie Malisse : The Big House


How to translate the unspeakable? In “The Big House,” her first book published by Éditions du Caïd, photographer Nathalie Malisse revisits the places of her childhood to confront the nightmares that were born there.

For years, Natalie Malisse’s nights were haunted by recurring nightmares linked to childhood memories attached to the house where she spent every other weekend. In 2018, the Belgian photographer decided to return to this house, which she called “the big house,” to capture in images the settings of these traumatic dreams and the shadows of her childhood.

The endpapers covered with the wallpaper of her childhood bedroom set the tone. Then follow black and white photographs. These evoke more than they tell the violence of those moments spent in her father’s house. Natalie Malisse brings the idea of ​​dreams into her book. Turning the pages give rise to evanescent images, the same ones that appear unexpectedly in the heart of the night. Images where nothing is certain. The photographed places are here difficult to identify, composed of pieces of sets — a curtain, a piece of sidewalk — or objects whose presence cannot be explained but which bring back “buried memories.”

For Nathalie Malisse, some of these objects become symbols of the violence hidden behind appearances. They refer to the question of secrecy, the unspoken, which dominates the book. At a time when speaking out about violence against children is becoming more common, the photographer wanted to emphasize the violence of being unable to speak, the difficulty of denouncing. Echoing the law of silence, the verbal abuse suffered when she was only five years old is crossed out, testimony remains taboo.

The atmosphere of the book responds to this confrontation between the cry of wounded childhood and the enveloping silence of these monochrome images, of these places populated by subtly threatening objects, where life is suspended and faces are concealed.

The characters who populate “The Big House” are indeed all seen from behind, evoking both the anonymous beings of our dreams and silent witnesses. Only Nathalie Malisse looks us straight in the eye. She urges us to confront this past that is hers and to accompany her on this retrospective journey. This place where so many traumatic memories had been locked away, the photographer enters it with us, to open the door and let them escape: “The little girl is no longer alone in the big house.”


Natalie Malisse – The Big House
Published by Editions Le Caïd
2024 15.7 x 22.2 cm, 92 pages
ISBN: 978-2-930754-50-5
Available in good bookstores and online.

Book signing at the Echo 119 Gallery in Paris on Wednesday, April 3rd, from 6:30 PM to 8:30 PM.

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