Making a portrait of the French with a 20x25 folding camera is no mean feat. Éric Bouvet and Yan Morvan did not choose the most historic and monumental of cameras by chance. In the age of selfies and stealthy shots, they impart an epic tone and an Olympian quality to their photographs, bringing stately Renaissance portraits to mind. Their work is also a matter of connecting and sharing. Using a folding camera requires skill and patience. Setting up the tripod, unfolding the accordion-like bellows, calculating the light, tilting and shifting foster a different relationship to time and people. It is still a matter of solemnity. The photographers took only one shot for each portrait. They gave themselves just one chance to get it right. Each portrait is a promise, a sermon. Lastly, their work is a matter of posterity and permanence. The 20x25 folding camera has a large film surface and is infinitely precise in the reproduction of colors and details. The negatives will still be readable in 100 years.

These are the tasks the photographers set before themselves with this project, which lasted over two years, from the political upheaval of the May 2017 presidential campaign to the traumatic Covid-19 pandemic. They traveled the length and breadth of France, except for the overseas territories, logging 60,000 kilometers. Knowing this is important because it says everything about a respectful, ambitious project that allowed the French to present—and represent—themselves. These citizens also spoke their minds: the photographers recorded their commitments, anxieties, anger and pride. The faces are plural, the voices choral. A base and cracks gradually come to light, from the national novel to a multicultural fresco, from emancipating history to the ideological battlefield.

Is France a territory, a heritage, a language, a climate or a fiction? Two centuries ago, the historian Michelet said it was a soul and a person.

Natacha Wolinski

Organized by SNCF Gares & Connexions and the Rencontres d’Arles with support from the Ministry of Culture, BNP Paribas, BMW France, Agence nationale de la cohésion des territoires (ANCT) and Fujifilm.

  • 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