Drowning World by Gideon Mendel (Arles-2017)


Drowning World explores the human dimension of climate change by focusing on floods across geographical and cultural boundaries. Rather than the literal depiction of disaster zones, Gideon Mendel focuses on the personal impact of flooding to evoke our shared vulnerability to global warming. Since 2007, Mendel has documented floods in 13 countries. The Submerged Portraits series are intimate portraits of flood victims. Their poses may seem conventional but their context is catastrophe, and their unsettling gazes challenge us deeply. The marks left by floodwater, especially in domestic spaces, are the focus of the Floodlines series, which presents the paradox of order and calm within chaos. The Watermarks series consists of enlargements of flood-damaged personal snapshots, sometimes anonymous flotsam fished from the water or mud, sometimes given by homeowners.

This series of portraits of people in flooded domestic situations is not situated in any one place but across continents; this gives the work extra value. While this exhibition attracts me because of the subject, I found that when I was covering the flooding near my home in Somerset, I was responding to the brief which was the sublime and beautiful in the landscape rather than people personally effected.



United States, India, Brazil, Haiti, United Kingdom, Nigeria, Thailand, Bangladesh, Pakistan … individuals from these countries are all featured in this first row of photographs; location portraits that show people with respect in the horror of their situations.


There is also a collection of photographs found at different locations. These are illustrated in eight large frames while others have been blown up to a much larger size and printed. By focusing on the landscape, I was aware of not infringing on people undergoing hardship yet Mendel has entered the privacy of other people’s lives to show the turmoil and tragedy they are experiencing which is appropriate since the world needs to know of the plight of people who suffer in natural disasters. Said to be the result of climate change, they are going to effect more and more of us and we need to better understand their impact.


 Mendel has also photographed ruined interiors, another reminder of the personal effect such disasters wreak.



There are more portraits of different people looking stoical as they pose in the floodwaters of their homes; there are also blow ups of the details of buildings such as windows reflected in the water.

There is a room showing video chapters, nine in all. One is struck by the silence and the people none of whom smile in any way as is often the case when being photographed. I wonder if there is a deliberate attempt on behalf of the photographer to emphasise the seriousness of the situations these people find themselves in. Might some have had a more optimistic acceptance of what had happened? The fact that there are no smiles at all in the video clips makes me question the photographer’s intent if not influence. Asian people are more accepting of disaster and I think of the Steve Mac Curry smiling tailor photograph showing the man with his sewing machine on his shoulder neck deep in water yet still smiling.

Perhaps humanity is a little more stoical than Mendel wants us to think!?

In regard to my own work, I see how I might have made more twilight images, focused more on details and used some video. I chose to exclude people because of the brief and not wanting to impose myself as a voyeur. Some of the photographs included are of the area I covered in Somerset and tend to be interiors which is interesting; mini-landscapes of domestic interiors meeting the dirty water.



Joel Meyerowitz (Arles-2017)

The American colour photography master Joel Meyerowitz began his career in New York in the 60s. As a street photographer, always out and about in the heart of his city, Meyerowitz slips and dodges through the urban fray, his eyes ever on the alert. His complex compositions toy with the notions of imbalance and deframing, and seem suspended as if by a thread. For the first time in France, the Rencontres d’Arles will exhibit forty original prints by Joel Meyerowitz, with a selection of his first photographs in black and white and in colour.


The first photograph is a black and white of a young couple in Paris from 1967; they are conscious of being photographed. Next is a young guard from Florida, the night before the moon launch of 1969. The two images complement each other as both show young people, none of whom appear to welcome the photographer’s presence.


More black and white photographs follow … from New York and one from Paris. What is this group of images saying? There is no obvious meaning neither is there any great technical virtuosity evident but these scenes are encounters between people.


Next is a family scene from Atlanta in 1971; 5 people in front of a window.


Atlanta is the scene for a couple of other images from 1971. People and place finely observed.


A group of four images and it seems clear that Meyerowitz is playing with composition here; subject is perhaps secondary though these are documentary records of America in the 1960’s.


There is a photograph from Spain (1967) of Circus girls on a tightrope before a car photograph made the following year in America; the possibility of accident and the scene of an accident both images mirror suspense.


As Meyerowitz moves to colour, one of the first professional art photographers to do so, there is an immediate change in the dynamic. Meyerowitz in the mid-1970’s also seems to be changing his subject matter with more spontaneous wider view compositions that capture action. At least, a photograph titled Broadway and 46’th Street, New York City, 1976 answers to this description. There is parallax and detail lost in shadow but this seems to be part of the picture’s overall appeal.


Back to earlier black and white work; more drama in public places. A couple involving dogs, a couple women. What is going on in these scenes? People interact haphazardly as in much of Meyerowitz’s work; we can not draw conclusions without making assumptions.


Another colour photograph, this time two camel-colour coated couples in New York from 1975; they are approaching a mysterious cloud of steam that drifts across the street.


Back to 1960’s black and white work mixed up with colour . The subject is still the street and what is going on in it with a couple centring on the automobile. In one photograph, top left, one of the three colour photographs and made in Paris, someone has lost their hat to the wind and the hat hovers precariously at the top of the elevator while another woman holds tightly on to hers and another woman laughs. People look on. Meyerowitz seldom reveals such obvious meanings in his images!



Back to colour and the late 1970’s with a young dancer standing alone on a street corner with the Empire States Building towering in the background; the light is a soft golden warmth. The figure looks as though she has been posed.


One wall of the gallery shows a giant blow up of a Meyerowitz photograph that shows a couple standing on the edge of a cliff by which a large sign warns them that doing so is “very dangerous”. Is suspense a Meyerowitz theme? There are also six photographs hung over the huge one, small framed images that show residences, secure places in contrast to the danger implicit in the larger photograph, places where people can sleep.


Continuing a beach theme, the next group of photographs are of scantily clad people, colour portraits from the 1970’s. These are tender particularly if they are of strangers which would appear to be the case; people posing for a photographer on the beach. The place is given sometimes the name of the person pictured. “Land, Provincetown, 1976” is a colour photograph of a wayside restaurant with cars and an ornate tower in the background.


The final display of photographs is 12 colour as well as black and white images, from different times ranging from the late 60’s to the early 80’s. They are singular images and do not appear to conform to a whole. They perhaps are personal choices made by Sam Stourdze, the curator of this exhibition and organiser of the festival as a whole.


The final photograph of the exhibition is a small sized image of the one blown up to fill a wall; two women standing with their backs to the photographer and beside a sign that warns them that the cliffs are dangerous.

One aspect of Meyerowitz’s work I like is that it is complex but straightforward, his street scenes are spontaneously caught and his portraits are carefully arranged, he is not hoodwinking us! I also like this body of work because Meyerowitz is a consummate professional, he knows what he is doing. There may not be much rapport with his subjects but he understands them.















Masahisa Fukase (Arles-2017)


“Fukase: The Incurable Egoist is the first retrospective of Masahisa Fukase to take place in Europe, allowing much previously unseen material to leave Japan for the first time. Fukase is widely regarded as one of the most radical and influential photographers of his generation. This presentation considers all aspects of Fukase’s practice from the 1960s onwards, drawing on vintage prints, graphic work, as well as archival magazines and publications, to show the extent of the artist’s working life. Dealing with issues of family, love, friendship, loneliness, mortality and death, activated photographically through performance, self-portraiture, play and comedy, the exhibition establishes Fukase as one of the most innovative and original Japanese artists of the post-war period.”

This is one exhibition I very much want to see at Arles this year. Japanese photography is very different to most of what we see in the West. This exhibition of Fukase’s work is called The Incurable Egoist and is apparently his first European retrospective. Sadly, following an accident, he lived the final part of his life in a vegetative state. The exhibition is curated by Simon Baker of Tate Modern, London.

Just before going in, I chat with an English artist who has seen it but could not make much sense of it. I am aware the work can be challenging and am prepared to take time to understand it. Commentaries are on the walls in some places but I am not sure I agree with them … for instance, spirals are surely uplifting symbols rather than merely endless; one finds them on ancient stones.


The first photograph that grabs my attention on entry is a head and shoulders black and white of Fukase over which he has drawn circles and other jagged lines embuing his image with a sense of presence. His face is partially obscured yet one senses a human presence.


To the right of this are a couple of large Polaroids which combine different images; while one is a self-portrait with coloured pins stuck into his face, the other is of his cat!

I have seen and written about Fukase’s Ravens elsewhere but shall devote more time to this body of work; I recently bought the photobook which has been republished and so available for a reasonable price unlike the original 1986 version. The raven is a symbol that conjures up a mythology which can vary from place to place.


There are 30 prints here and a group of smaller ones placed inside larger frames; these have been drawn over by Fukase and are selected from over 1,000 prints numbering 120. Most are close ups of Ravens, Fukase used a 1,000 mm lens, but some are of other objects such as balloons, helicopters even a turtle dove. The drawings seem to echo the dynamics of the flying objects.


Often referred to as the Solitude of Ravens, this work was made in the aftermath of divorce from his wife, Yoko. The Ravens are not always solitary however and we sometimes see them in large groups. The photographs are not of high technical quality but it is lack of focus or flare and other imperfections that make them appealing. Silhouettes work effectively in conveying a somber mood as does bokeh. Some images are lithographic in quality.


Ravens has been released as a series a number of times. Later editions employed colour and used layered negatives. Ravens: Noctambulant Flight makes use of montage techniques and there are inherent references to Yatagarasu, the three-legged raven of Japanese mythology. Fukase however referred to the “dangerous unrestrainable nature of montages” and decided not to continue working with them. Some of these images are striking such as the kneeling naked woman in the raven’s wing or the raven and the sea. Some of this work appeared in books and magazines, a few of which are visible here.



Cats were another subject Fukase liked to photograph as do millions of people, cat photographs being very popular on the internet. The star was his cat Sasuke; one series focused on his open jaws but he was particularly fond of catching his own reflection in the cat’s eyes. Fukase an incurable egoist or simply narcissist!?



A video screen plays showing a sequence of photographs. His wife featuring naked in a family photograph where other family members are attired is an interesting juxtaposition; other images show a range of subjects.


Homo Ludens focuses on the body particularly that of his first wife pregnant. These are playful images involving distortion and intimacy. Play is in fact the title given to this room of Fukase’s work. Reference is made to the book Homo Ludens (1981).


Fukase also photographed family. One body of work is called Memories of Father who was also a photographer and ran a studio in which his wife worked. Another body of work is called Family; some of these images are original in approach such as the inclusion of a naked woman in an otherwise formal family photograph.


Private Scenes is among the last body of work Fukase produced. These images are stretching the limits in their use of the medium with the use of painted colour on black and white prints.  Many include his self portrait but are not merely self portraits since they include scenes in which he plays a role even if only of witness.


Hibi means cracks or fissures which is what one series deals with. These are intriguing designs yet with a darker meaning attached. They have been made into a book which is available in the foyer of the exhibition; Ravens is elsewhere.


Bukubuku is an alliteration in Japanese for bubbling. In this series Fukase uses an underwater camera to photograph himself in his bath. The work is introspective and humorous, well conceived and photographed; narcissistic perhaps yet unique in self portraiture.


Berobero is about the custom of touching tongues. Fukase photographs himself doing so with a number of people some well known photographers like Daido Moriyama and Nobuyoshi Araki. With colour brushed over they look a little strange but remain momentos that savour intimate moments. A sign on the gallery wall suggests that if one is inspired by this series one might like to post onto Instagram #berobero And #rencontresarles

On the way out I see a few Polaroids I had missed on the way in; lurid colours suggestive of self-harm like a pin in a tongue. This is unpleasant to look at while most of the work in this exhibition although not necessarily attractive (the family portraits are an exception) does not induce such feelings of discomfort.

Is Fukase really an incurable egoist as the exhibition suggests!? Perhaps Fukase thought the same! I see him as someone exploring himself, trying to understand who he is which in a society like Japan might be considered an honourable trajectory or way to live one’s life while in the west a form of self-indulgence.

















Michael Wolf (Arles-2017)


“For the first time ever, working in close collaboration with the Hague Museum of Photography, the Rencontres d’Arles is presenting a selective overview of the autonomous works created by Wolf. Wolf’s key 21st-century theme is “life in cities”, as he observes it in vast metropolises like Tokyo, Hong Kong and Chicago. The striking feature of these impressive series is the changing points of view adopted by the artist in order to show the complexity of modern city life. The magnum opus of the exhibition is The Real Toy Story installation (2004), featuring over 20,000 plastic “Made in China” toys found by him in junk markets and second-hand shops in the United States. Amid this overwhelming array of mass-produced stuff for kids, Michael Wolf shows sympathetic portraits of individual Chinese assembly-belt workers producing toys to satisfy the manic worldwide demand for cheap consumer goods. “

Wim Van Sinderen


I know little of this photographer other than the name. His show is regarded as one of the important ones at this year’s Arles festival and is held in a former church as some other exhibitions are. Wolf is a German born the same year as myself.  He is a fine example of a photojournalist who has become a visual artist! The exhibition is a retrospective and focuses on “Life in Cities”.


It starts with early work from 1976. Black and white work from the Ruhr region made for his thesis demonstrates “His ability to uncover the symbolic value in seemingly insignificant details reveal how urbanisation affects the reality of people’s daily lives.” The prints seem dark and brooding yet expressive; the lack of captions is not important as the meaning of the images is apparent.


In the middle of the church are a series of large photographic prints which are close ups of high rise buildings. I need to inspect them from close quarters to make sure they are not models. The 3D effect is remarkable! In themselves these photographs are like designs and I wonder whether some of them have not been digitally altered to make them look bigger than they actually are yet this seems to be unlikely. The series is titled Architecture of Density and is more recent work having been made between 2003-2014 in Hong Kong.


Another series focuses on rooftops of Paris. Here space is collapsed so that vistas appear flat and more like designs though their function can be discerned.


Corner houses in Hong Kong is another fascinating series both visually and historically.


Wolf has also made a series of Parisian Google Street View blow ups.


Another series is in a room constructed to occupy a space 10′ by 10′ which is the size of the many rooms Wolf has photographed in an older tower block in Hong Kong. Each photograph features a portrait of it’s inhabitant sometimes inhabitants and the surrounding they have created for themselves. Again Wolf manages a powerful lifelike 3D effect in his imagery.


A series about Chicago shows both the faceless repetitive architecture of Chicago and simultaneously people working away inside the buildings. A twilight effect and an interesting viewpoint with people largely unaware they are being photographed.


In Tokyo Compression, Wolf shows people who have been pushed up against the windows of commuter trains. Many clearly do not wish to be photographed but cannot stop the photographer who is outside looking in. Some of the expressions are agonised as both their external and internal space is being invaded. Cleverly made yet questionable, a reminder of photography’s dark side and sometimes controversial means.


The Real Toy Story consists of a mass of plastic toys attached to a wall in which there are compassionate images of workers who make such toys. The effect is remarkably realistic.


Apart from collecting a huge amount of toys, he has also collected small chairs in a variety of manifestations.


There is a wall of video installations showing very short often 30 second movies of ingenious applications Wolf has encountered in Hong Kong.


Another wall shows a collection of items Wolf has made as a result of photographic work which includes objects like coat hangers and umbrellas.

While I like the psychology behind what Wolf is doing, as a photographer I am also impressed by his ability to render such, at times, life like imagery.












The Kogi Indians (Arles-2017)

“Who are the Kogi people? Where and how do they live? What type of dialogue can we have with them? To what end, regarding the pressing questions of our age? 40 photographic works by Éric Julien show a profoundly human society in which everything is “sign”. A society whose last heirs, refugees in the upper valleys of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, look with sadness upon their little brothers, “the civilised, as they call themselves,” destroying the web of life.”


This exhibition is not easy to find and I have to make my way through a labyrinth of rooms in a bookshop eventually finding my way, thanks to arrows on the floor. The exhibition is downstairs in a cellar.

This body of work is an in depth investigation of a tribe largely untouched by modern civilisation; it questions whether or not they enjoy a happier life. Are not these people enslaved by fear? Although free of many of the trappings of modern life such as money, these people are not free of the human condition. They are surrounded by wild animals too!

Such people as the Kogi do live in harmony with their surroundings.

The film which shows alongside the exhibition gets a little tiresome after awhile; it is narrated by a French speaking man who is at times seen talking to camera. The tribe themselves are seen in the background going about their way of life as if they are secondary yet my inability to understand what is being said in French is a reason for not liking it!

Will seeing the film from the beginning improve my impression!? The film starts with Gentility Cruz, a man related to the tribe talking; it appears he has Kogi origins. Certainly he knows about the Kogi who live in a very organised society.


The insight into the society although mediated by this one person is nevertheless a valid one; the narcotics they use are for religious use for example. While such insight is helpful it is still this one individual talking. The ability of the tribe to construct elaborate sturdy bridges is another aspect of their lives. These people also know about the movements of the sun and moon. The film does show a little of them going about their daily life without commentary yet mostly it is concerned with interaction with the filmmaker.

The modern tent looks a little out of place with the traditional mud huts the indigenous people have made. Dialogue with these people is not easy. At one point a tribal wants to talk about light but the interviewer is clearly not interested.


Even when the tribal people start dancing, their music is allowed not more than a minute before the guide starts talking again.

There is touching footage showing intimate scenes yet the voice continues without interruption. The message seems to be that these are not savages but people with their own developed civilisation. People who are at peace with nature and themselves. They believe in themselves. They are not lazy though some may consider them so! Can they be free of greed?


The still photographs allow the viewer more freedom; no view is being imposed although there are placards informing one about the people. The way they relate to ancient stones is interesting though we are not told much.

The exhibition includes an installation of a traditional Kogi house, a kind of wigwam.

The support for the Kogi people is to help them get back lands that have been taken from them! There are said to be about 25,000 Kogi (kagaba) people with a civilisation stretching back 4,000 years. The Tchendukua organisation represents their interests.


There does not seem to be a photobook for this exhibition so one is left with an impression generated by the film which gives me an insight but not one I can trust perhaps. The notion of territory is a strong one and probably promotes self righteousness yet for me the Kogi appear to have some kind of spiritual understanding.




Urban Impulses (Arles-2017)

“The project Urban Impulses: Latin-American photography is a visual essay about a city which finds sense in its own movement. The exhibition covers half a century of Latin American photography, and several hundred images chosen from the Leticia and Stanislas Poniatowski collection. The perspective here looks to reconstruct the imaginaries of the cities on this continent in works carried out by the very photographers involved in the creation of the conflicted Latin American identity. The present exhibition displays the contradictions of a hybrid continent, between the pre-hispanic and post-colonial world, and the market society which inevitably takes hold of the processes which consolidate cities. We see here the transition from rural to urban, or better still, that way in which the rural and the popular coexist in the dreamed metropolis. These Urban Impulses project into the future. Chaos is at work in them as an emancipatory force, and on this path, nothing can wall it in, Latin America cannot be made a minority.”
Alexis Fabry and María Wills

Another large exhibition representing a country or in this case, countries, since the region represented is South or Latin America; furthermore the images are urban. With 111 photographers represented, it might not be easy to draw conclusions or make overall comments.


The first room is about night life. Among the many images are some more abstract colour untitled cibachromes (1979-80) from Jorge Heredia; their strong colour contrasts are striking and were presumably made at night but they do not reflect the bawdry almost predictable scenes of the other photographs in this room.


The second room is called “Living Walls” and is about the messages such places convey often via text. A black and white photograph by Juan Travnik made of Buenavista Aires in 1995 strikes me, a reminder of a time when photography was easier on the eye. There are other black and white prints here but they seem too dull; this image has enough contrast.


The third section is not a room but a wall alongside of one; the subject matter is identity for many different races have made this continent their own. There are the original Indian tribes and the latter Spanish and Portuguese invaders but this is only the beginning; some South Americans are white! A few better known photographers are represented here such as the Mexican Graciela Iturbide yet the one photograph that strikes me is of a group of advertisements for consumer goods over which a black X has been roughly painted while in the centre is a photo of a weeping woman and her child; the issue of wealth and poverty existing side by side is a contentious one!


On the other side of this hall, is another grouping of photographs called Here and There. This is largely about life on the street and amongst the many images I see a couple of series that grab my eyes; Juan Castaneda shows a mosaic of images called Via Rapida, 1982 and Escalera, 111 from 1983 which capture cars on a highway from above and people on an escalator.


The next room, an extension of the hallway, is called Local Colours; the colour here is metaphorical with some of the photographs being in black and white! In fact, the black and whites stand out as they focus on more abstruse subjects rather than the blatant use of colour in advertising, for instance.


The exhibition continues upstairs in a gallery titled Shouts! Here the emphasis is on political upheaval and the important role photography has played in documenting and publicising such activity. Sometimes the work of photographers falls out of their hands and into the hands of those who want to use them; one photographer who stands out is Eduardo Longoni from Argentina where he was born in 1973. The politics that is illustrated here is largely unknown to me.


The seventh section is “I want to be me!” And is about identity not just of the individual but also groups such as LGBT. This relatively small section is followed by Urban Geometry which is concerned with architecture close up and over wider areas; both colour work and black and white proves effective here.



“The Damned” is the final section and contains  images those who are marginalised by society.


view of Space Van Gogh

This is a great exhibition with lots of interesting photographs yet the success of it surely depends on the curators Alexis Fabry and Maria Wills Londono. Nexpresso funded.

Dubuffet; photographic tool (Arles-2017)

“This exhibition is the first review of the Dubuffet Foundation’s photographic archive of the artist’s work (paintings, architectural models, or elements of the show Coucou Bazar). Since he began his artistic practice in the 1940s, Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) created a reference system for his photography. Starting in 1959, he organized a secretariat responsible for, among other things, documenting his works as they became scattered across the world. This set of several thousand images (negatives, prints, albums) is in keeping with Dubuffet’s goal of creating an exhaustive documentary archive of his œuvre, both to serve his “work in progress,” and to control for the spread of his work. The archive displays Dubuffet’s attention to the quality of the photographic reproductions, as well as the technical progress of the photographic medium itself. Photography counts among the numerous tools employed by the artist in realizing his works. A source of iconography for certain of his series, its many-faceted nature allows, among other things, for the reproduction of the same elements for use in different works. For his exhibition Édifices in 1968, he uses photomontages that integrate his architectural creations for public spaces. Photographic projection arrives in the 1970s as an enlargement procedure used to realize some elements, such as the platforms for Coucou Bazar. Finally, a retrospective organised by Fiat in Turin in 1978 broke new ground with a striking mise en scène that associated original works with bright projections by other painters. The exhibition also included a multi-projection devoted to his major work, La Closerie Falbala. “
Anne Lacoste, Sam Stourdzé and Sophie Webel


This exhibition is about the work of Jean Dubuffet, a Frenchman, who was born in 1901 and died in 1985. It is about a photographic record of his artist output made at his request. Dubuffet thought that seeing his work as a totality would help him to better understand his work although black and white was not able to catch their colour! It is an interesting use of photography. I personally find that having catalogues of my images to be very helpful not just in accessing them and seeing what I have got but for reflecting on my work.



There are photographs of Dubuffet models imprinted onto photographs of Paris to make them look like real installations. In fact, a sculpture of his is being made into a high-rise building nearby in Arles. Dubuffet did not just photograph his work, there are lots of photographs about what went on around it that include fellow participants.


One photograph of note is by Lee Miller; a black and white of Dubuffet and a friend, author Georges Limbour, close up to and looking out of a window; the photographer shoots from outside looking in. Made in 1955 in England.

Christopher Rihet (Arles-2017)

“Speed and acceleration are at the heart of the modernization process sweeping us up in a race involving every facet of daily life. Modern life is based on constant risk. Accidents are its essence. Crashes bring grief and misery, but can no longer be interpreted only as brutally tearing the victims from life, like ancient natural cataclysms that arbitrarily struck and devastated populations. It is a part of existence from the moment life begins. Sometimes accidental death seems like a natural culmination of modern life, making the celebrities in this album the tragic heroes of our times. Their lives were the flower but their deaths may have been the fruit. Christophe Rihet found the places where they died. He photographed their invisible graves, and by the frame offered to the revealed image, here he transforms their brief false move into a move into eternity. He shows us the road in a different guise, as an open-air mausoleum.”
Camille Riquier


Straight photographs of places where well known people died in road accidents with brief factual descriptions of what happened. The photographs are made in the twilight hours which gives appropriate atmosphere to the locations.

A simple strategy on behalf of the photographer but it works. The series is compelling even at the end of a long day of viewing 4 other exhibitions I find myself looking closely at every photograph and reading the extended captions.

Mathieu Pernot (Arles-2017)

“I met the Gorgan family in 1995, while studying at the École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie in Arles. I knew nothing about these communities, and was unaware that this line of Roma had been in France for over a century. My first works were in black and white, placing me in a documentary tradition in the face of what I still found strange. The discovery of several archival documents that they possessed quickly taught me that a diversity of forms and points of view were necessary to take account of the density of life that came into my view. It was in 2013, more than 10 years after those first photos, that we met again, as if it were yesterday. In their company, I lived an experience which surpasses the experience of photography. The exhibition recreates the circumstances of each member of the family, and recounts the story that we wrote together, face to face, then side by side.”
Mathieu Pernot


“Les Gorgan – 1995-2015” seems to be a classic example of documentary photography in which the photographer is participant rather than onlooker. Pernot lived with these Romany gypsies as a friend and witnessed their plight over the years.


The photographs are varied in composition and read like family snapshots. Each major family member has a wall to his or her self so one gets a sense of the people involved. The imagery tends to focus on the people rather than their circumstances though these can be inferred from the backgrounds. Although these people live in poverty on the edge of society, they are portrayed as being very human.


It is their day to day life we see being enacted. The video is showing in a booth at the end of the gallery is more revealing. Rather than showing special moments, it records more ordinary moments, the passage of ordinary life.  One becomes more aware of their natural dignity and what they are really like as people.

One series of photographs about Johny born in 1964 shows how much these people age during their  lives, a result of the hardship they undergo.



House of the Ballenesque (Arles-2017)


“The House of the Ballenesque is a place where the different parts of my photography and installation art come together, a place where all things are possible. Each room in this house represents an important aspect of my aesthetic. My journey in photography has proved to me that the home is a place of deep discovery. Where people seek refuge from the outside, they often make the most perilous journey inward. There is something suggestive of life lived in its fullness with all its complexity in the weighty presence of the unmade bed, the frayed couch, the broken window, the rickety chair, the skew picture, the wounded plastic doll. Working from the metaphor of the mind as a house, the viewer is guided along a path of association based on analogies between images, from darkness to light, from cellar to attic.”
Roger Ballen

Before going to see this exhibition, I listen to “I fink you freely but I like you a lot” a music video Ballen made with a group called Die Antwoord which I find eerie, amusing and at times horrific and which also contains some great dance moves.



What to say of the shabby interiors of the house Ballen has converted into an art installation!? The lower floors contain little if anything photographic. Upstairs there are photographic prints on the walls.



The atmosphere is uncomfortable. Death is present in the skeletons and bones, there are ghostly projections, chains, faceless figures, snakes, rats yet it is not overpoweringly horrible.



Something allows one to see beyond the misery and sadness; Ballen himself is not a monster.



The work seems to be a powerful and original example of surrealistic art.