These photographs are an excellent illustration of the resources people can reveal in situations of severe stress. This is a call for our attention from men deprived of their freedom, men who have a message for us, with educator-photographers Marco Ambrosi and Michel Gasarian acting as intermediaries. Working in black and white and colour respectively, they offered two different approaches aimed at giving the participants the chance to express themselves by taking photographs and then reworking them with image-processing software. This is why, in addition to an exhibition in the penitentiary in Arles, it seemed a good idea to incorporate the results into the Rencontres.These photographs are the outcome of a project undertaken with prison inmates in the prison in Arles. The project was part of a broader educational programme suggested by the prison administration and organised by the community association PREFACE Léo Lagrange, a partner of the GAÏA group. Pedagogic team of PREFACE Léo Lagrange
Apart from the fact of being a photographer, what led me to take on this project was its humanist side. My personal contribution to social change involves photography and I dare to consider myself an ‘art sharing agent’. Well before I knew that these images would be shown at the Rencontres d’Arles, I challenged the participants with a question: ‘What do you want to say to the outside world?’ Then I established a framework for thinking the question through: ‘Supposing you were invited to show your photos in a gallery and they asked you to sum up in ten photos your feelings and thoughts and what you want to recount of your very different existence?’ Once they had overcome their mistrust, discussion got under way and ideas emerged that began to find expression to in the form of images.We turned our technical limitations into positive resources: the fact of being unable to print in colour gave us the title for the series A Life in Black and White. We did not have the right to include recognisable people in our photos, but I was convinced that the body, that ultimately private territory for each human being, must not be denied: and so the body became a ‘field’ to be written both on and about. We sought out titles for each image, wrote them out by hand—the body again—and put the two together.To round things off, one of the participants summarised all the ideas and discussions in the text that accompanies the exhibition.
WORKSHOPS IN THE PENITENTIAL OF ARLES ESCAPE TACTICSA WORKSHOP BY MICHEL GASARIAN
When any art workshop gets under way, it’s often difficult to see what direction it’s going to take and what twists of good / bad luck it holds in store. Something as obvious as this in a normal situation is by definition much more complex in prison. Everything resounds there as if in an echo chamber: from voices to sounds, from glances to movements, from thoughts to feelings. Time and space are suspended, precariously, like a life in parenthesis or in a loop, an opaque bubble where patches of transparency have to be invented day after day. Transparency that was brought about here by photography and people’s imaginations. This was a workshop focused on the portrait and its representation, on an identity at once protected, preserved and thwarted. So we had to build, improvising with the materials to hand, with objects and artefacts and distorting mirrors. Everything that distorts creates new forms and in this way art generates meaning out of the unexpected and the unforeseeable. Jean Dubuffet defined art brut as ‘works created by people unscathed by the culture of art’. We are not far from being that, even if the tools and materials have changed. Now the computer palette and digital recreation are involved, different techniques meaning different possibilities.The aim of the workshop was an initiation into photography together with thinking about the image. We looked briefly at the discipline’s history and its technique (using a 24x36 reflex camera): settings, diaphragm, shutter speed, depth of field, framing, film sensitivity, etc. At this point things opened up, leaving freedom for reinterpretation and the creation of fictional characters: a world and a context for expression that offer a brief escape from the other context that is imprisonment.
Michel Gasarian, represented by Signatures.
Exhibition venue: couvent Saint-Césaire.