“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”


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” 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!

Five photographers at Galerie Cimaise

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The recurring problem with exhibition openings at Galerie Cimaise is that they are so popular! I manage to squeeze in the door. There is a buzz in the air. With “Entre deux mondes” the discerning Mourad Ghedira, with the help of Aline Kundig and Nicolas Spuhler, serves us a delicious cocktail of works by five photographers whose images take us to other worlds. (And the wine is exquisite!) Bravo Mourad!

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On walking in, I am greeted by Carolina Lehmkul’s chic, cool and feminine “Blink 1″, “Blink 2″, “Blink 3″ and “Blink 4″.

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Immediately on my right is “Douceur discrète” by Sylvie Schaffhauser. I am intrigued by this delicate, fragmented and uprooted image. It leaves me uneasy. It is the first of Mourad’s sales this evening.

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One wall is dedicated to four diptychs by Susanne Echeverria; each comprises a square portrait and a square landscape. These two juxtaposed images are “Indiscernable trouble.” My mind skips back to my childhood on the wet and grey flatlands of Britain’s East Anglia …. and to a childhood sweetheart.

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This busy corner is given over to five photographs by Tonie Bertherat. I love the image (“Arevamirp”) of a young woman wearing a helmet made entirely of sweets. I love the idea of making the helmet!

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Bertherat gives a masterclass in staged photogrpahy. I adore the nod to Vermeer with “Ejsiem” – Girl done up in plastic sheets with two pearl earrings.

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Froschkönigin by Wiebke Delahaye

I stand looking at a large photograph that speaks to me of all the young princesses out there kissing all those damn frogs in the hope a prince will materialise. I have the privilege of talking to Madame Delahaye herself. Her other world is that of Aesop’s fables. Her model for the photograph is her niece. If I have to choose a favourite piece at this classy but fun exhibition, this is it.

Photographic exhibitions that excite interest are rare. This is one such. With “Entre deaux mondes,” Galerie Cimaise sets the bar high. I plan to return when the crowd disperses.

The exhibition closes on 28 May 2015.