He photographs the songs of Charles Aznavour!

This is photography in a league of its own. Imagine you have the words of songs on paper with no opportunity to hear them sung. Imagine also that the songs are amongst the most iconic of French songs sung by one of the most iconic of French singers. In his exhibition “Viens voir les comédiens,” photographer Patrice Fileppi sets out to deliver via images the passion, heartbreak, despair, nostalgia, jealousy and love-misery that the songs of Charles Aznavour engage. Does he succeed? You bet!

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Fileppi gives me a tour of his exhibition. His iPhone allows me to hear Aznavour croon the most famous line of franglais: “You are the one for me, for me, for me formidable!” The corresponding photo is immaculately and beautifully staged. It radiates the misty-eyed moment of madness when a frenchman declares his love for a freckle-faced English beauty. The pigeons and the bronze horses share the startled excitement as she runs towards her new amour to throw her arms around his neck. The dress and indeed the freckles reflect the texture of the polished marble of the fountain (that in turn subtly alludes to multiple ejaculations.) A London bus goes by. It bears an advertisement urging us to fly British Airways; this is maybe how our gallant arrived in London. Was he invited over by a call from an O-so-British telephone box?

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An elderly gentleman watches old films at home. We have no idea what is being projected. Whatever it is, it has reduced him to a kind of stupefied half-smile of nostalgia and regret. His hands are clasped as if in anticipation of a particular moment in the film. He is twenty years old again. Aznavour’s “Hier encore” is about times passed, time lost on stupidities, loves lost and a life that has achieved only a well-furrowed brow. In creating such a poignant image, Fileppi surrounds the man with fragments of his past but denies us, the viewers, a glimpse of what is moving him so. A large oil painting shows a half-open garden gate with nothing beyond. Despite its extravagant frame, the painting sits on the floor leaning against the wall. It is not hung because preference is given to a jumbled gallery of small photographs of people. The man wears a thick woollen pullover that gives warmth and protection against a cold and menacing loneliness.

Whist on a relaxing holiday in 2011, Fileppi’s mind idled. He then heard an Aznavour song. He then found himself really listening to “Comme ils disent.” He was profoundly moved. In his mind a scene appeared. He then wanted to photograph this scene… but first he had to create it. And so the story starts. This former electrical engineer – self taught in photography – tells me the exhibition “is a visual reflection of the emotion I feel while listening to the songs of Charles Aznavour. It is a tribute to him.” The exhibition comprises twenty large square photographs each representing a song that has touched him most. Why the square format? It is a timely allusion to those old vinyl album covers!

Fileppi is welcoming, modest and generous with his time. I spend a couple of hours discussing his work. I come to appreciate his creativity and attention to detail. Both are admirable. I begin to understand the days and energy invested in these twenty images and why the whole is the culmination of four years work. I realise that, above all, Fileppi is a photographic story-teller. This is why I am drawn to his exhibition; it is strong on narrative. And I am always drawn to the narrative behind beautiful stuff. Furthermore, the narrative of Fileppi’s beautiful stuff is intriguingly layered. There is the narrative of the whole project. There is the narrative of each Aznavour song. There is the narrative of the interpretation from words to image. There is finally the technical narrative of Fileppi’s scene-setting for each photo.

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For a modest sum, Fileppi sells a sumptuous catalogue of these photographs in high resolution next to the words of the parent song. For fans of Monsieur Aznavour, my copy just happened to fall open at the pages dedicated to “La Bohème!”

This exhibition is hosted by “Images de Marque” at 12, Grand Rue (Old Town) in Geneva.  It runs until Friday, 28th October. Don’t miss it and don’t simply wander around looking. Seek out and let yourself be carried away by those wonderful narratives!

“Révélations” at the Musée Rath

I visit “Revelations” at the Musée Rath in Geneva This is that rare kind of exhibition that you can just get lost in. It is where the cultural, scientific and political history of this extraordinary town meets photography. Archives have been searched, venerable institutions have collaborated and local photographers interviewed. The exhibition is beautifully designed. No surprise that Philippa Kundig had a hand in it!

What an extraordinary invention photography is! In a week of troubled politics on both sides of the atlantic, I am reminded of just how powerful images can be. Here, I limit my self to three photos indicating the diversity of what’s on show. I hope to whet your appetite.

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Jean-Louis Populous, La rue du Marché, 1848

Yes… 1848! What an amazing image! Down-town Geneva nearly 170 years ago. I am fascinated by this photo. Where was the photographer positioned? What kind of camera? Where are the people? I imagine the taking of such a photograph was such a big event that the whole street was cleared.

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Anne-Julie Raccoursier, Remote Viewer 3 (part of), 2007

Anne-Julie Raccoursier’s contribution is two huge juxtaposed photos. One shows an aerial view of a graveyard for military aeroplanes with a road running through it. It is simply mind-boggling. I guess we understand that fighters and bombers are built and sold and maybe used in armed conflict but I am not sure we give much thought to what happens to them when they are redundant. Well, now we know!

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A. Stephani, Radiograph of a giant Dolium (Tonna Galea), 1971

My absolute favourite is an x-ray image of a sea shell. I try to determine why it appeals so much. There is something very beautiful about the rhythm and progression of the lines and curves of this creature as revealed by radiography. It speaks of the mathematics of natural forms; of fractals and the Fibonacci sequence. But there is something else; a fleeting, gorgeous pop image. Perhaps I shouldn’t admit to it, but it reminds me of Marilyn Monroe standing over the subway grate. Now, that’s a photo!!

Everyone is a photographer now and “Révélations” has something for everyone. This dazzling exhibition reveals the importance of photography in our lives and how it has advanced humanity. Go to Musée Rath. Take your time.

Nick Brandt’s African ghost animals at Fotografiska

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I’m in Stockholm and have the afternoon off. Facebook tells me there’s a new exhibition by British photographer Nick Brandt at Fotografiska. I’ve seen his wildlife photos before, but I have never seen anything like his news series, “Inherit the Dust.”

Brandt has developed life-size prints of his fantastic animal portraits, glued them to huge aluminium and plywood panels, and carefully placed these in polluted, abused and dystopian parts of Africa, where animals once roamed freely and lived in harmony.

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The panels were left long enough for the inhabitants to stop paying attention to them, after which Brandt captured the scenes as black-and-white panoramas through the lens of his medium-format Mamiya RZ67 Pro ll.

The most poignant panorama shows a family of elephants beneath a road, next to a group of homeless and glue-sniffing kids, juxtaposed to a billboard (in the horizon) of a man relaxing in a park with the text “lean back, your life is on track.”

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“Underpass with elephants (lean back, your life is on track).” inheritthedust.nickbrandt.com

Brandt’s “ghost animals” are a stark reminder of what poaching, climate change and capitalism actually put at stake here. Together with the marginalised, poor people living in these places, they are the victims of our destruction of nature.

I buy a copy of Brandt’s book, make a donation to the Big Life Foundation and leave the exhibition feeling embarrassed and hopeless. I wish that parents bring their kids to Fotografiska. They need to see this now, and I bet you: they don’t want to inherit the dust.

Isaac Griberg’s “Vortex”

I first see it on Facebook. Then it is featured as Editor’s choice for 500px. A remarkable photo. Here it is…… Isaac Griberg’s “Vortex”

Vortex

This photograph is perfectly composed. It is clean. It is full of intrigue whilst being intensely mathematical. Although I know it is a staircase in a carpark, it could be an engineer’s view of some massive turbine built to move lakefuls of water through those huge Swiss mountains. It generates a feeling that I will get sucked in to a tumbling whirling nightmare. It also oozes fractal forms from the natural world. Am I inside the shell of a mega-mollusc with each step representing a another slow year of life?

And I love its yellowness. Bravo, Isaac!

The remarkable “dramagraphy” of Michel Lagarde

“You will never see anything like it” I was told. Oh yeah? Can another exhibition of photoshopped images really be that amazing? Anyway, I hopped on a tram for a squizz at the current exhibition at the discrete but discerning photographic gallery Espace Cyril Kobler. I have never seen anything like Michel Lagarde‘s “dramagraphies.” I repeat: I have never seen anything like it! I thought I knew about Photoshop. But this stuff is funny, charming, bizarre and, importantly, technically perfect.

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Les Emigrants

The first piece that catches my eye – because it is so topical at present – is “Les Emigrants.” Fourteen men in old style music-hall clothes are packed into a tiny steam-driven tug boat. Most peer forward. One is the captain. One is trying to catch fish. Others are in a dispute of some sort. One looks directly at the camera utterly surprised. The scene makes me laugh but at the same time, I wonder what the story is. The black and white image is clear and crisp. The whole thing is like a beautifully composed frame from an old silent movie.

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I look more closely. All the men are the same man! O… M… G… How did he do that?

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L’Escamoteur

“L’Escamoteur” shows a kind of behind-the-circus scene where some scruffy old guy is tricking another in a top hat with the old ball and three cup trick. The gendarmes look on; they are clearly amused but at the same time try to give the impression they have seen it all before. While their attention is diverted, bets are taken and a pocket-watch is picked. It makes me laugh out loud.

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Again, all these characters are the same person. Now I understand. These “dramagraphies” are also carefully staged self-portraits. My admiration for Monsieur Lagarde is growing.

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Quand la mer monte

The two figures in “Quand la mer monte” are, inevitably, Michel Lagarde himself. At this stage, I really want to know more. After extending a warm welcome Cyril Kobler himself, explains the technical aspects of these images. Indeed, part of the exhibition shows the multiple precise steps in their construction. All were completed between 2009 and 2014.

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Lagarde was originally a designer of theatre sets and so has always worked with models. For his “dramagraphies,” he starts with making a model and takes a photograph of it. M. Kobler shows here the single model used for “Quand la mer monte.” From this starting point he uses Photoshop to alter this image and, in this case, re-insert it in perfect perspective. He then introduces other elements including the self-portraits. Everything including all light and shadows are precisely layered in. The final fantasmagorical output is the result of hundreds of carefully composed image-files, gigabytes of data storage and anything between twenty and forty days work. Lagarde’s beautiful stuff is a wonderful constellation of love of theatre, imagination, story telling, lighting and total mastery of Photoshop.

The photographic work of our host, M. Kobler, is also well known. He admits he might be viewed as a traditional. So here he is, putting on an exhibition that is not of photography but uses photography. How does he feel about Lagarde’s work? He is full of admiration. He sums it up in two words. “Truly remarkable!”

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El Publico

My favourite, “El Publico” has at least 18 self-portraits. It shows an unruly theatre audience unable to contain its excitement in the stalls. You can hear the shouts and the trumpeting. However, the on-stage action is not in view. These guys have just witnessed something they have never expected to see. Something terrifying. Something outrageous. My guess is that the two halves of the magician’s beautiful assistant who was brutally sawn in two has miraculously reappeared on stage in tact and smiling!

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These three Lagardes show their fright, cynicism and astonishment.

This is a must-see exhibition. So get on the number 12 tram. Get off at “Peillonnex.” Take the family. Take your friends. You will never see anything like it!