DOCUMENTING THE CONTEMPORARY WORLD
The different visions of the twenty or so photographers presented here have all paused or a moment at the same crossroads: the photography Foundation established in 1995 by the CCF which subsequently became HSBC. Having been the first artistic advisor to the Foundation, and involved in the publication by Actes Sud of each of the monographs edited since that time, the bringing together of their work in this publication makes enormous sense to me. At a time when the Musée d’Orsay and the VU’ Agency and Gallery are celebrating their twentieth anniversaries and Beaubourg is about to mark its thirtieth, the progress made by photography in the last decade, both in terms of its output and its reception by the public, has been spectacular. Photography has come of age, finding its rightful place in galleries and museums. As an anecdote, I cannot help recalling the early days of the Foundation: they were difficult. I remember the problems of selecting ten “acceptable” projects from the meagre thirty or so submitted to us. Nowadays, the Foundation receives several hundred. It should be remembered that, from its earliest days, the Foundation chose a role that noone else played at that time or has played since: that of discovering and encouraging. No other scholarship or award was interested in young artists – young in the sense of up and coming, whether they were twenty, thirty or fifty years old. The majority of awards are for overall achievement. In other words, it is necessary to be established and recognised. On the contrary, the “rules of the game” adopted by the Foundation demand that candidates have never yet been published. The winners’ reward: publication of their first book and the organisation of an exhibition. As a Foundation for discovery, it has chosen the documentary field, without any restriction on style: conceptual photography or reportage, as long as it demonstrates an interest in the contemporary world. There again, the positioning was innovative, at a time, ten years ago, when all discussion was about “photographie plasticienne”. A “label” that has scarcely any sense today. The old antagonism between journalists and artists has been shattered by the force of the groundswell that has had spectacular and stimulating consequences for the presence of photography in the field of the visual arts. The disappearance of these “out-moded” categories has liberated enormous energy, opening the way for deliberation on the notion of documentary style and the development of new visual propositions.
The award winners’ careers, since their first exhibition, stand as eloquent witness. Each, in his or her own way, turns a questioning eye on the contemporary world, its challenges, its failings, its risks and its chaos, bringing about a radical break with the tradition of reportage. Photography has attained maturity at the very moment that the arrival of digital technology is raising new challenges. The most spectacular is clearly the increasingly subtle and complex exploration of colour.
Finally, I would like to highlight a particularly interesting tendency that is to be observed within the visual arts. Numerous painters, video makers, sculptors and installation artists, now use their work to address social questions, traditionally tackled by photographic reportage. Photographers are consequently forced to position themselves even more precisely, both in terms of the themes they study and the approach they choose, defining their directions and their aesthetic commitments. In this regard, it is interesting to note that photographers have acquired a level of maturity such that they no longer simply propose “collections” of images, but champion projects, developed around coherent decisions as to how they wish to be exhibited, published and disseminated. In short, what has become remarkable over this decade is their willingness to take a stand and to generate meaning.
Artistic Director of the exhibition.
Text of the foreword from the book published at the Editions Textuel in December 2006: Photographies contemporaines-Points de vue.