presented by ALAIN DESVERGNES
Born in 1931 in France. Lives and works in Brittan, France. Photographer, founder of the École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie and artistic director of the Rencontres d’Arles from 1979 to 1982.
Paul Eluard liked to talk about certain moments in life as ‘untouched by the passing of time’. For Octavio Paz by contrast, ‘The moment is as uninhabitable as the future’. It is this disturbing coming and going between past and present that lies at the source of Laurent Millet’s fondness for the landscapes he spends his time rebuilding. Are these Raymond Depardon’s Native Lands? Or, like the search for the ‘possibility of an island’, is this a quest for promised lands? More likely the pursuit of lands of promise by an eighteenth-century artist who uses his ‘Claude glass’ to achieve a new vision of landscape. Magritte said, ‘That is how we see the world: a painting is superimposed on the landscape so as to become indistinguishable from it’. Simon Schama added, ‘Beneath conventions that limit our vision, the vein of myth and memory must be revealed’. If Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s films are letters sent out into darkness, Laurent Millet’s photographs and films are letters hurled at the windows that separate him from the clouds. His taste for materiality leads him, via etymology, to invent sentences that constantly take us down his personal highways and byways. His modernity bursts forth like those beams which silently strike water and the times. The times of reality and imaginary worlds. The interplay of forces going counter to the interplay of movements without questioning the natural world’s haughty indifference. He likes these times that allow him to get under the skin of clouds, under the shimmer of bubbles. Tracking down these bubbles may seem pointless until we realise that they orchestrate our vertigo. In tune with the times, Laurent Millet is also in tune with the void he glimpses when looking down on swamps haunted by his strange Tempestaires. He is trying to force water out of its silence, to see and hear if the foam will answer. Mallarmé once said that St. Cecilia was the musician of silence. Laurent Millet listens to landscape as it speaks to him.
Witches still meet by ponds to brew storms. This begetting of bad weather is done mainly at night: armed with long poles or huge wooden shovels, pock-faced characters vigorously beat the surface of the liquid in time, causing it to rise over thirty feet in the air. Their frenetic arms soon send the water whistling skyward. Its slenderent extremities turn to spray and reach the high regions of the atmosphere, assembling and condensing there. When day breaks, the stormcloud is begotten.
A translated extract from Folklore de France by P. Sébillot
Hast thou, spirit, Performed to point the tempest that I bade thee?
W. Shakespeare, The Tempest
The droplets turn to spray, gather and form images in the sky, following fantastical orders. The sorcerers described in this text are makers of storms but also of images: they have us believe that they are as much the masters of foul weather as are the figures in the sky, which all come from the depths of water whose gloom, helped by the night, communicates easily with the gloom of the air.
The images travel into the darkness of the water, open up the surface in a stroke of anger, scatter in the air, and finally arrange their drops according to the wishes of the one who is able to watch them. The image, born in the pond—the landscape’s eye—, remains liquid and, like the pond, obeys the same physical rules governing the movement of water; the laws that lead to the formation, movement and gathering of clouds.
I dream of an optical and meteorological photograph; of an image whose body is no less a phenomenon than hail, the blue-tinged light of lightning and the lacework of spume between rocks in a storm. I dream of an image with a body of silver and rain, which, ever so slightly, is beginning to be what it represents.