presented by LUCIEN CLERGUE
Born in 1934 in France. Lives and works in France.
Photographer, founder and former director of the Rencontres d’Arles.
I discovered Jean-François Spricigo’s work at the Agathe Gaillard Gallery in Paris, where I was struck by the distinctiveness of his eye and the mysteriousness of his images. These are photographs that ask questions, intrigue and, most of all, elude the traps of contemporary fashion; their emphasis, tone and vibrancy make Spricigo unique among the photographers of his generation. He works in black and white, an increasingly rare medium. There is a depth to his blacks that engulfs us; yet there are also subtle, quivering effects of light—the gaze of a cat, the eyes of a dog, ripples on water —which seem like attempts at escape. We sense here an interminable struggle with the angel, from which no victor will emerge, but in which the inner necessity of an authentic poet finds expression in images (and also, as we later discover, in writing). In conversation with Spricigo I’ve been impressed by his knowledge of the cinema and the attentiveness to detail that marks the true artist: the cat gazing, the dog swimming—these bring vividly to life secretive photographs that forcefully tell the viewer, ‘The eye is listening!’ So let us be engulfed by this ‘shadow-mouth open in the shape of a cry’—his lens—and not be afraid of the surprises this loner from the land of Jacques Brel has in store for us. I am proud to present Jean-François Spricigo at the 40th anniversary of the Rencontres d’Arles.
HOW ODD this photographer is, pointing his camera at the perpetual, unsettling muteness of things, showing them to us not as real presences but as they perceptibly vanish. It is in this evanescence, perhaps, that lies the true nature of tragedy. Jean-François Spricigo’s world does not extend much further than the scope of his vision. It is made up of banal moments, short trips, familiar faces, friendly presences and perfectly ordinary animals. Nevertheless this is a shifting world where everything is constantly metamorphosing as in the Greek founding myths, a world of light emanating from inside the image, like the lights that lead fairytale heroes to death or salvation. These images seem to emerge from an infinite depth of shadow: the movement that inhabits them is no longer that of photography but not yet that of cinematography. It is the movement of storytelling, narration and fable. All these photographs respond, react and give rise to each other in a potentially infinite network, covering the world like a map precisely overlaid on the geography it represents, as if the image were accurately transposing the dream. Spricigo’s photographs are speckled with fractures, dotted with traces, accidents, abrasions and absences. He accepts them and makes them part of his work; the throw of the dice has never been so present, even though controlled from beginning to end.
Here the grain—sumptuously visible, violently unsettling—becomes part of the developing narrative. But Spricigo is not undertaking some great philosophical project. He stays in the underworld, a world that belongs to him only. And yet he makes it ours: our search for a primal, fundamental image surfacing out of memory or childhood finds its accomplishment in his particular truth. That’s it. ‘That’s how it’s been’ for us too. That is where a seemingly limited, narrow universe touches the universal. Few artists have the ability to make frivolity and superficiality disappear at a touch, to go straight to the heart of the matter without ever straying. In an art form as fragile as photography, we discover Nietzsche’s concept of ‘the thickness of the skin’. The private world opened up by this work seems to find its essence in that last line written by Gérard de Nerval, on the night of his death: ‘Do not wait for me tonight, for the night will be black and white’.
Jean-François Spricigo is represented by the Agathe Gaillard Gallery.
Prints by DUPON Digital Lab.
Framing by Jean-Pierre Gapihan.