The Louvre: from Mona to Marianne

What could I say about the Musée du Louvre that hasn't been said often and better by others? The scale of the collection is staggering and it is impossible to take everything in in a single visit. I soon found myself trying to move through rooms too quickly, aware of how much more there was to see. After a short while I realized that I was doing the gallery a disservice by rushing and decided to slow down again. Better to see fewer things well than to consume the art of the centuries like fast food. For the remainder of the four hours of my visit I wandered at a comfortable pace.

And I found that not all the sights were on the gallery walls: I also found it fascinating to keep an eye on my fellow visitors who were there in their thousands. You can learn a lot about human nature from the way people act in crowds—some of it touching, some of it puzzling, some of it comical.

I would have to place people's behaviour around the Mona Lisa in the 'puzzling' category. By the time I had followed the signs to the gallery where da Vinci's famous piece hangs behind protective glass, it was obvious that I was going to visit a celebrity. Few works in the museum have their own signposts so that you can find them from several galleries away. I could have waited my turn in the long line to see the painting from a couple of metres away, but it seemed to me that the crowd itself had become the story. I could not believe how many people, having queued up to see the painting, immediately turned their backs on it so that they could take a selfie.

I understand that people want to document their experiences, but many of them spent no time at all contemplating one of the world’s most famous pieces of art. They were oblivious to the object in front of them, which seemed to have little or no significance of its own. Instead the work was there to validate their importance or experience. It didn't point to anything grander, more beautiful, nobler, more challenging or universal than… me.

So, a short series of images of guys and galleries at the museum, starting with Mona and ending with Marianne ... and a tired fellow visitor.

Paris: Day 2

Day 2 wore me out. But in a good way. I spent about nine hours walking and standing, starting the day in the famous and overwhelming Musee du Louvre (more on this in another posting) and ending it off with a visit to the Sainte-Chapelle.

Sainte-Chapelle is not one of the bigger churches I have visited, but it is far and away the most memorable. It is extravagantly beautiful. Many of the cathedrals of Europe impress because of their rich histories and associations with the pious and powerful. Some churches, like Reykjavik's Hallgrimskirkja, capture attention because of their unique architecture. Other houses of Christian worship are notable for the purity and simplicity of their vision. But, again, Sainte-Chapelle is extravagantly beautiful.

I expect that many medieval churches were more beautiful in their day, but now we see only their bones with the plaster and decorative painting removed. Even so, how many churches of the period had the stained glass treasures that Sainte-Chapelle still enjoys? So much of the wall space is devoted to glasswork that the ceiling is supported by little more than light and dancing colours.

Built by France's King Louis IX (later canonized as Saint Louis) between 1238 and 1248, the church has now been annexed and partially absorbed by offices of the Palais de Justice de Paris.

But nothing can hold a candle to those windows. 

 

FullSizeRender.jpg
FullSizeRender.jpg
FullSizeRender.jpg
FullSizeRender.jpg
FullSizeRender.jpg

Les Rencontres d'Arles

For me, one of the highlights of our family vacation has been the chance to visit the annual photographic festival in Arles, France. While other gatherings are usually connected to photographic gear and business, Les Rencontres ("meetings" or "encounters" in English) are purely concerned with showing and celebrating photography as art. Founded by Arles-born photographer Lucien Clergue in 1970, the festival has blossomed and now receives some 100,000 visitors each summer.

With just a day to take in the showings that are scattered in different venues around the centre of Old Arles, I didn't manage to visit them all. I did see enough to make me thoroughly glad that we had added the town to our trip.

A few thoughts on the show, offered in no specific order...

First, I was most impressed by the absence of reference to technical details or specific pieces of gear. The point of the exhibitions was very much the artist's vision, not whether a Leica was involved, whether f/5.6 was optimum, whether the shadows were a little muddy, or whether analog / digital is superior. I found this a refreshing approach and a relief from many of the pointless discussions I've seen online. Just vision. Period.

I was also impressed by the importance of story in so many of the showings. In some cases, the story was explicitly connected to the artist's vision and conceived in advance.  In other cases, the story seems to have emerged less consciously over time as the artist returned to familiar themes, subjects or approaches. Perhaps "story" is sometimes the cumulative effect of a lifetime's work rather than a pre-conceived plan. In the case of one artist, Zhang Huan, the story he tells is communicated through a sequence of layers of calligraphy on his own face.

It was a pleasure to view images from several periods of Lucien Clergue's own photography and to appreciate how rich a body of work he built through studies of subjects available to him locally: patterns in wet sand, marshlands and nudes on the beach. 

David Bailey's retrospective was a treat, starting with 1960's UK fashion, celebrity and family. I enjoyed his larger format portraits and was reminded by many of the shots just how beautiful an effect film grain can produce.

A wonderful exhibit on "Typology, Taxonomy and Seriality" contained images from Richard Avedon, Karl Blossfeldt, August Sander, and Bernd and Hillary Becher (among others). This exhibit was held in the "Espace Van Gogh,"  the former hospital in Arles where the painter recovered -- and painted -- after cutting off a portion of his ear in 1889. The curated series illustrated over and over the variety (and sometimes beauty) to be found in "like" things: political figures, plant forms, members of early 20th-century German society, 1950s industrial installations, and the hairstyles of Nigerian women.

The W.M. Hunt Collection, however, provided a counterpoint to what I've just said about beauty-in-similarity. Hunt viewed the passion for collecting as foolish and seems to have gone out of his way to prove his point. Over a period of decades he collected large photographs of groups of people at conventions, fairs and events. Frequently panoramic in scope, the combined effect of the dozens of images in three rooms is the loss of the individual. The scenes of large "happenings" are so crushingly repetitive -- groups are sometimes organized into geometric forms by the photographer -- that there is little special about any of the people pictured. All those individuals have indeed been captured in a picture. Captured and assimilated. 

The "Trepat Collection" was an interesting demonstration of a collaboration between a wealthy Spanish industrialist and a number of avant garde artists. His success in manufacturing and marketing agricultural machinery allowed him to commission works by the likes of Man Ray, Lazlo Moholy-Nagy, and Walker Evans to help create a distinctive brand for his company. 

Other exhibits, such as the impressively large-scale collages by Vik Muniz demonstrated that photographs as artefacts can themselves be reworked to create new images. Others again, such as the work of Mazaccio and Drowilal, undermine celebrity, advertising and sentimentality in our image-soaked society. Denis Rouvre's presentation ("Identity, Intimate Territories") of low-key projected portraits with narration by the subject reminded me that, far from being an issue for the French alone, multiple identities are a fact of life for all of us in a globalized world of migrants. 

All in all, a thoroughly enjoyable day and I was only sorry that it couldn't have been longer. It was long enough to inspire me, though, and encourage me to work more carefully on my own photography. Less gear, more story. More vision. More "rencontres"!

 

All pictures taken with my Fujifilm X-E1 with Fujinon 14mm and 18-55mm lenses. JPEGs tweaked with Snapseed on an iPad. 

image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg

 

image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg
Source: http://

Getting medieval

One of the advantages of historical sites in some parts of France is that they escaped the heavy bombardments of the First and Second World Wars. In many parts of Europe it can be hard to find a site that isn't a total reconstruction. The beautiful Cloth Hall in Ypres, for example, was entirely rebuilt from rubble. And the buildings in many "medieval" town centres in Germany are often, for obvious reasons, no more than 60 or 70 years old.

So it was particularly refreshing to come across the beautifully-preserved medieval town of Pérouges in the Rhônes-Alpes region of France. Although a centre of the linen trade for centuries, the walled town was progressively abandoned as the Industrial Revolution favoured larger cities, such as Lyon. No bombardment, no war (at least not since a siege in the 15th Century, I believe), just a wave of economic and societal change.

It was also refreshing to see new life in the little town, which now enjoys the benefit of a small museum and the presence of some 80 inhabitants, many of whom seem to be involved in running restaurants, galleries and workshops. All of this has been done without resorting to the plague of Disneyfication: parking is a mere 2 Euros, there is no fee to enter the town and access to the museum is reasonably-priced. You can explore Pérouges to your heart's content for pocket change.

And explore I did. Un gros merci aux citoyens de Pérouges !

(All images are JPEGs from a Fujifilm X-E1, processed with Snapseed on an iPad.)

 

image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg
image.jpg