Following Yann Arthus Bertrand’s publication last week in Arles, we received this comment from Jean-Marie Le Goff. We are publishing it and Yann’s response!
YAB – “The Encyclopaedia of the French”!!!
A usurped title for a future book whose sole purpose is to set up a vast promotional campaign to the glory of YAB, which distorts the spirit of the photographers who travelled through the villages of France.
On the website dedicated to the good cause, I read that YAB is setting out to “meet real people” and imagine him trudging from town to town with a tripod as heavy as a dead donkey and a view camera. And to realise that I’m on the wrong track, if I dare say so.
The whole photographic/sociological/anthropological thing is timed to the minute. The proof is in the organisation presented on its website ‘Les français’, whose home page shows a smiling multicultural and intergenerational group to illustrate the point. In short, a class photo from which nothing stands out, apart from the fact that two children aren’t looking at us, but I’m quibbling. The direction of their gaze encourages us to go and look at the off-screen area where many of the animals of our countryside graze and ruminate.
As for the rest, it’s all very YAB: a big brown background, characters in multicoloured clothes and impeccable rendering with perfect luminosity. Obviously, we’re a long way from August Sander (and not Sanders, as it says on the ‘Home’ page), Seydou Keïta and Irving Penn, whose work was based on authenticity, in other words vernacular photography. No, here we have a certain form of consensualism, which consists of presenting a benevolent image of the French. It lacks the mark of commitment, which means that the ‘viewer’ is left with little or no emotion. Once you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all… That’s why I’m puzzled by the reference to the creation of “useful photographs for our common memory”. There’s nothing in the approach to show us this, even though YAB, as an intellectual guarantee, tells us about his meeting with the demographer and historian Hervé Le Bras. This meeting is said to have triggered in him a “genuine demographic and educational project” that is almost entirely absent from the “Portfolio”. Apart from the locations, we know nothing about the people photographed. Which seems very little given the demographic and sociological significance.
Finally, it is specified that “this year, more than 30 studios will be organised across France”. Our photojournalist will be travelling in person to Cherbourg, Arles – a wonderful coincidence, at the time of the Rencontres – and Céret. I’ll leave you to find out more about the target locations, but we’re a long way from working-class France.
Above all, don’t rejoice too quickly. To be in the photo, you need to book a time slot – obviously Arles is now fully booked – and provide a duly completed ‘image rights’ authorisation form. Once this has been done, we’ll get back to you. One last important note on the sociological dimension: “prefer brightly coloured clothes”.
All this leaves me wondering, knowing that a whole team is in charge of putting together all the cogs and wheels of this approach, whose mercantile purpose is beyond doubt. In addition to the publication of a book, there is also talk of a film or an exhibition (perhaps both). Of course, YAB won’t be taking part in all the shots, but will the other photographers be credited? If not, our explorer of uncharted territories would be breaking the rule of image rights.
Jean-Marie Le Goff
What can I say to this gentleman who obviously doesn’t like me?
I’ve been criticised for my book Earth
Vue du Ciel, on my TV programmes, on my films Human and Woman …
You have to accept that you can’t please everyone
And all criticism helps you move forward
I’ve just spent a week in Arles
I rediscovered the world of photography, this new photography that is so far from what I like!
But it’s fascinatingly creative
But I don’t want to criticise or argue any more
But rather to help and share
This job is magnificent
How lucky we all are!
Let’s protect it together