Here we find the developing work of three young artists, Oscar Dumas, Julie Fisher and Pierre Toussaint, offering to audiences extraordinary stories, all of which have in common, by unsheathing an artist’s sensibility, the will to go beyond the obvious. The work of Oscar Dumas evokes ‘tourist scenes’. Not for him a reportage on stereotypical touristic anecdotes; rather, he uses tourist situations as if they were paroxysmic representations of our link to reality, as mediated by the image, thus altering our representational system and aesthetizing our view of the world. The idea is to see the real as one sphere of the symbolic realm, the signs of which form signifying structures that lead onward to other images. Julie Fisher’s Les passeurs (Passers by) explores the sudden appearance and disappearance of living beings in the heart of strange, inhospitable environments such as a freezing desert. For her, photography stems from a desire to look the world in the eye so closely that traces of the unformed, the unsayable, are perceptible to the sense of touch. The Metronome series of Pierre Toussaint is made up of instantaneous encounters between bodies and a camera in a city environment. The act is planned but gives way to chance, which regulates the encounter in its own way. The element of surprise comes from the formal, primitive communication between body and urban texture. Here one finds expressive fragments of human nature—anonymous, rooted—on their way to becoming ‘authentic visual events’. Just before receiving their diplomas, these three students were selected by a jury consisting of François Hébel, director of Rencontres d’Arles, Géraldine Lay, photographer and production director at Éditions Actes Sud, and Bertrand Mazeirat, manager of the Domaine du Château d’Avignon.
The ellipse, or ellipsis, is a stylistic symbol that consists of omitting one or several elements theoretically necessary for understanding; it thus obliges the reader to reintroduce mentally what the author subtracts. When art becomes discourse, the works of Sophie Ristelhueber and Willie Doherty find their place in the semantic form of the ellipse, they co-opt its strategy of invisibility, absence, silence, offering as they do more to reflection than to vision. Sophie Ristelhueber’s work constitutes a meditation on territory and its history, through a unique perspective on ruins and other traces left by man on places saturated by war. In her first book, Beyrouth, photographies (1984), Ristelhueber shows us in wounded things the physical traces of a conflict: buildings that have been collapsed, crushed, pockmarked with bullet holes; her images alternate between splendour and decadence. The Fact series alternates aerial and ground-level views of the Kuwaiti desert, all completely free of reference points or scale. The artist arrived in Kuwait in October 1991, seven months after the end of the first Gulf War. She shot pictures of damage the traces of which would soon be swept away by the wind. As in Beirut, it’s through the oppressive absence of life that she paradoxically affirms its presence. Dead Set (2001) uncovers vestiges of Roman colonnades and deserted public housing in Syria. This series shows life arrested, unfinished, as modern construction sites taken over by silence meld with antique columns: in Rainer Michael Mason’s text for Sophie Ristelhueber’s book Opérations (Éditions Les presses du réel, 2009), she said, ‘I photograph real things that are already gone’. Willie Doherty builds emblematic images linked to current events, specifically terrorism in Northern Ireland. The artist assembles all his work around the linchpin of conflict and the modalities of interpretation thereof, using photographs, video, and audiovisual presentations. In his work he searches for the deserted places, the sites showing spoor, areas expressing a loss of identity, an absence of the other. Everywhere he finds signs great or small of past violence, which the photographic images record, thus assuming the obligations of memory. The tools of distancing that he employs—for example, the confrontation between text and image—both destroy and imitate reporting techniques and the clichés of social realism. How can one bear witness and create art without ever referencing current events? These two talented artists ask questions and provide answers, each in his and her own way, regarding the strained dialectic that exists between art and politics.