Edition 2023

Aurélien Froment / Pierre Zucca

Optical Theater

Film stills photography, a means of promoting popular culture, is also a point of reference for many artists. Yet it remains a poorly known practice in the history of photography, as well as the history of art or cinema. Through the figure of Pierre Zucca, Optical Theater [Théâtre optique] presents film still photography as its own genre within the art of photography. Simultaneously promotional and documentary, film stills photography evidences the filmic reality. As image material, it is produced for press agencies to be cropped and colourised, before it reaches our eyes as front of lobby cards in cinema windows.

How do you turn the duration and movement of a film sequence into a single image? Pierre Zucca re-enacted film sequences, staging image-like tableaux with actors and actresses posing. Beyond the films they were meant to promote, Zucca’s film stills often echo each other, revealing both the precision and playfulness with which he composed these static, silent theaters.

Two further books with photographs by Zucca complete the exhibition: Yoga by Picture, a study of movement, and The Living Currency, on the commodification of private desire. Using pre-cinematographic techniques, from Marey to the 19th century tableaux vivant, in a surprising interplay between text, page and image, these books reflect the theatrical and choreographic features of film set photography.

In a time of generic digital stock images, without captions or context, Optical Theater presents loaded images: loaded from the singular stories they illustrated, full of peculiar and incongruous details, as much as of the world visions from which they originated.

Optical Theater was awarded a research grant from the Institut pour la Photographie, Lille, where an initial version of the exhibition was presented in 2021.

Aurélien Froment

With the collaboration of the Estate of Pierre Zucca. 

Optical Theater received a research fellowship from the Institut pour la Photographie des Hauts-de-France.

  • Institutional partners

    • République Française
    • Région Provence Alpes Côté d'Azur
    • Département des Bouches du Rhône
    • Arles
    • Le Centre des monuments nationaux est heureux de soutenir les Rencontres de la Photographie d’Arles en accueillant des expositions dans l’abbaye de Montmajour
  • Main partners

    • Fondation LUMA
    • BMW
    • SNCF
    • Kering
  • Media partners

    • Arte
    • Lci
    • Konbini
    • Le Point
    • Madame Figaro
    • France Culture