Arles – 8 – straight portraiture and more

Stephanie and Eileen looking at Arabian portraiture

Stephanie and Eileen looking at Arabian portraiture

Our third visit as the OCA group takes us to see two exhibitions of Arabic studio portraiture. These come not just from another place, Cairo in Egypt and Beirut in Lebanon, but from another time. Such studios no longer exist to such an extent as modern technology has brought the photo-booth where instant identification photographs can be made; in fact, the OCA group come across one of these booths in the Parc des Ateliers which creates a great amount of enjoyment.

A photo booth - a modern approach to straught portraiture here being subverted by fellow students

The photo booth – a modern approach to straight portraiture here being subverted by fellow students

In both sets of photographs, those from Studio Fouad in Beirut and Van-Leo in Cairo, that were made between 1945 and 1975, the prints have been hand coloured; one sees painting and photography working together, hand in hand, rather than vying for supremacy and authority.

a display of portraits

a display of portraits

The characters in these portraits are largely unknown yet have interesting faces and demeanours while their clothing too is something to be admired. There is beauty in the presentation yet of a stifled kind since the subjects are posing, assuming faces that will mark them down for eternity. Interestingly, they are largely Muslim yet they remain unveiled for these are the well to do who are aware of the wider world even if they are not familiar with it.

Stanislav and Jesse Alexander in discussion

Stanislav and Jesse Alexander in discussion

For the cultural historian, there are rich findings here and the photographs are well made so the information contained within them is clear and accessible.

entrance to the Eric Kessels exhibition

entrance to the Eric Kessels exhibition

We make a short walk to the Place de la Republique to see work by Eric Kessels who has a couple of exhibitions on show, the first called “24 hours” being an installation of a mass on photographic prints all of which have been uploaded onto the Flickr website within the space of 24 hours. There are said to be about 400,000 photos but it is obvious that the pile we see is not all photos since there must be some construction to keep the almost vertical pile in place; this suspicion is confirmed by staff at the exhibition. The installation is a stark reminder of the way our world is being super-saturated with imagery; to photograph this installation and to add to the many images already present in the world is to achieve next to nothing since here one is struck by the materiality of this immense pile while in a printed image it occupies no significant space. The installation can be seen by a viewpoint at ground level and another upstairs from where one can look down on the sprawling mass of prints.

24 hours of photos

24 hours of photos

In the same building, there is another more extensive presentation by Kessels, this time of photographic albums. One is reminded of the previous exhibition in which family portraits look out at one but here, the portraits are grouped, they have found a home in albums made by their owners. These are poignant documents yet seldom made these days although digital equivalents are available.

a pile of old photo albums - poignant reminder of a largely bygone age

a pile of old photo albums – poignant reminder of a largely bygone age

A lot of these images have not been well made lacking in focus, blurred at the edges, stained, scratched, marked in some other way, unintentional double exposures, creased, predictably and often poorly composed, sentimental in nature and yet intriguing cultural artifacts.

family photographs blown up big - a defiant act in the growing disregard of family albums

family photographs blown up big – a defiant act in the growing disregard of family albums

There are large photographs revealing family albums that have been blown up in size; they assume different forms. Some family photos have been morphed into carpets! This exhibition is a nostalgic view of the family album and the importance of photography to the family as a whole; it contrasts with contemporary photography that has abandoned such objects for online collections and modes of communication.

There was a discussion about the family album at Arles, available from the Rencontres d’Arles website in French.

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