At a Glance
Poetry in Pictures, black-and-white photography by Marylise Vigneau. Opens September 14, 2007, with a reception with the photographer from 6 p.m. until 9 p.m. Closes October 10, 2007.
The FCC Permanent Collection, four decades of Cambodian history in photographs.
Peripatetic photographer Marylise Vigneau puts poetry in her pictures. It’s an inescapable impression: either by title on content, her stunning black-and-white images, somehow, sound beautiful.
Her series “Whispers” portrays mute, graveyard landscapes littered with fallen European statuary and stark, abandoned horizons.
“Echoes” is a visual travelogue of Asian nations extending from India to Nepal to Burma. At each stop she captures the humanity at hand: in Pakistan it’s the faces of high mountain villagers, in Afghan refugee camps it’s the longing looks of impoverished families, and in Burma it’s children peering inquisitively towards Vigneau’s lens. Even “Silence,” a selection of Eastern European portraiture, has the hushed elegance of time worn, weary faces.
“My process is utterly simple,” Vigneau says. “I walk and wait to be surprised, intrigued, moved, or amused. I hope for an encounter. And then I ask for permission. The way in which people present themselves in front of the camera seems to me more interesting than spontaneity.”
“I do not pretend anything. I don’t explain anything. I do not tell any story. I walk by, raise questions, wonder at things. And the little click of the trigger comes as a reverence. And this is all that really matters,” she says.
Raised in Paris and educated in various religious schools, Vigneau developed a taste for “peeping through keyholes and climbing walls.” Since an early age, she’s been on the move.
“I delighted in dreaming of escaping, getting dizzy, traveling. When I was twenty, I fell in love in Vienna. The Iron Curtain had not fallen yet, Eastern Europe offered me its charades and I explored it passionately,” she recalls.
Using first a notebook and a pencil, and then a camera, Vigneau also spent a year studying literature in Paris. Her influences, understandably, are vastly varied.
“My influences were pictorial rather than photographic. Dürer for faces and melancholy, Tiepolo or Turner for the skies, Uccello, Mantegna or Caravaggio for lights and choreographies, Bacon for dissolutions. However, among photographers, I would mention Mapplethorpe for his incendiary classicism, Diane Arbus for her stupefied tenderness, Nadar because of Baudelaire and because his portraits, posed for so long, seem to fix imminent faintings, Edward Weston for his sophisticated simplicity, Imogen Cunningham for grace and frailty, Elliot Erwitt for humour and Cartier-Bresson for the obvious,” she says.
But the wanderlust of a born traveler soon outweighed academia.
“A year spent learning in a Parisian school confirmed what I had foreseen: get away — I wanted to get away from studios and other immobile places. In my view, photography cannot be dissociated from wandering.”
First it was Europe — “dying Europe,” she calls it — that sparked inspiration.
“Wars, a contented vulgarity, generalized capitalist surrender, chit-chat and decerebration have gradually undone a civilization. Human beings appear in my pictures as silhouettes, ghosts, quotations. Graveyards, recomposed waste lands, slow deliquescences — my pictures remained depopulated for a long time. In Europe, I have no interest in unsublimated reality,” she says.
When her son was nine he uttered an unforgettable question, “Mummy, how about traveling on the Trans-Siberian?” This is how Vigneau came to Asia.
“In Asia I rediscovered faces. They are beautiful, undeniably, but beyond facile exoticism, above all, they are a myriad of mysteries which I have no wish to decipher. Radical otherness, newly found lightness, relative innocence of the gaze, which is suddenly re-enchanted. This is what I found there and which refreshes me,” says Vigneau, who’s last exhibition was held in Vienna.
In Vigneau’s latest Phnom Penh exhibit “Regard(s),” opening on September 14 at the FCC Phnom Penh, she takes the exploration of travel even further — fitting for a woman who lists her hometown as Vienna, Paris and Phnom Penh and her occupation as “lady of leisure.”
She even quotes the great writer Gustav Flaubert by writing in her promotional flyer, “Of all the possible indulgences, traveling is the one I prefer the most.”
“I am not showing any pictures of Cambodia. I love this country but it does not inspire me photographically. This may also be because I live there and I pathologically need displacement when taking pictures,” she said.