HISTORY  OF  MY  PHOTOGRAPHS



When I was taking my photographs of the French countryside, I didn't guess they were a document. I did not understand why but I hastened to gaze and to photograph as if life lay with it. I photographed the man's track in the nature.

Eleonora and I peered into the past searching remote times. A village came to life again for us because its name had revealed the reason for its creation (Chanteraine for instance points out a spot where frogs sing), because it had loomed up out of the Middle Age, or on a Roman road, or on an ancient Gallic path crossing the country. A site, dating back to the paleolithic era, surrounded by round hills, seemed to be sheltering you; another one, dating back to the neolithic era, proudly arose on a spur; another one showed lands with geological features mainly suggestive to us (lias jurassic limestones, colluvial dried valleys).

So we learnt how to recognize the age of walls, of villages (those before the 8th century having their cemetery afar), the age of sites, of roads (Roman roads being straight, Gallic ones rustic), the setting of farms (the ancient ones just below hill's top). A glance informed us of the existence of water, the quality of soils, the state of farming. A landscape is filled with signs.

We also learnt to know nature. A mild and rainy spring brings on luxuriant growth; when cool, it turns bluer the green blades of wheat. In winter, when cold becomes sharp and all of a sudden makes you feel as hungry as a hunter, snow is to come; snow, instead of ruining fields, protects them from frost. In summer, that tree makes under its branches an eddy breeze which cools cows... and humans. So much to tell...

Nevertheless, I'm not a country man. When I was a child, I lived in a town. My ground was made of bitumen and I imagined that such it was elsewhere; I simply supposed that in the country, bitumen must have been covered with earth. This idea flew away from my mind a long time ago, but what has remained from childhood is the enchanting and delightful sight of nature. Nothing is filled with wonder like Nature; our fancy is a mere collection of things which have already existed.

This research has demanded much from us.

To go a walking is pleasant; however, it's not so easy to imagine the organisation and the obstinacy it requires.

The photos of Anzin Rail Way in Picardie were taken when walking the rails during three hours in a heavy rain, the wind blowing in our faces, while trying in some way to hide the lens at each shot, a 20 pound bag on the shoulder.

The trip to Luzy in Bourgogne was decided in five seconds. At midnight, the radio announced great snow falls and snow drifts on the motorway. Equipment hurriedly gathered, we left the Paris area for Bourgogne by car. We arrived at the first glimpse of the dawn, at 11 F below 0, in a sparkling, immaculate new snow. No more heating in the car - no time to repair - never mind! - and then two days of photos in silence and solitude.

            You'll find a little record of both of us in those times.
            I took a photo of Eleonora and she took a photo of me.
            ( Aquitaine in black and white, Page 7 - Ile de France in black and white, Page 12 )


The organisation means research of all kinds : history, prehistory, linguistics, geology, botany, climate, agriculture, technics... all is linked to the ground. Jean-Claude Dupuis, our Burgundian friend, helped us in a remarkable manner : with his advice, his knowledge of the maps, his deep research on ancient paths, a wide erudition has been displayed for us with kindness and willingness.

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I started making photos in Venice. Then, I had to travel in the French countryside and little by little I began photographing it. It was in Bourgogne. When taking the countryside photographs out of their boxes, I was surprised to find unchanged that peasants' world which had dimmed underhand yet vanished because of the production unities, the computers linked to international stock exchanges, modern agriculturists who resemble no more to their peasants ancestors.

I do not denigrate progress, which allows me to make this Cdrom and to eat my fill; however, I cannot help loving that world lang syne where earth and man were friends.

~ ~ ~

Years passed and the idea of making photographs elsewhere presented itself to me. In the Indies for instance, realising thus my childish dream as I saw myself on an elephant following the Ganges; or in China, in order to join up with the ancient Mongols... However, travelling far away is rather expensive... Therefore, I have stayed in France; and in the end I have been fully satisfied with it, because at bottom I am neither a traveller nor a tourist, and when I go somewhere, it is for the purpose of living there. Thus I have gone deeply into what I started on, discovering a true yet hidden humanity, that has made the root of humans' life for centuries, and probably millenaries. I am not afraid of what is damaged : life spoils and moulds us; what is new has never been in use.

The Cdrom entitled LA CAMPAGNE FRANÇAISE gathers photos of Bourgogne and Picardie, yet also of Jura, of a fen, of Vexin Français, Bois d'Arcy, Berry and Lorraine.

I have been in many other places in France : in Aquitaine, Gascogne, Auvergne, in Ségala and in the Alpes, in the factories of Northern France and of Lorraine; and also in Normandie, Bretagne, Ile de France, in Versailles and its surroundings. This is the matter of the present Cdrom : FRANCE LANDSCAPES.

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Eleonora has put in writing the texts for the Cdrom, gathered in the COMMENTS (save WRITINGS which obviously I wrote myself). She has decided on making me speak with the I pronoun, retelling the discourses she has often heard me hold and I fully agree with all that she makes me say. Only the text ABOUT THE FRENCH COUNTRYSIDE is completely hers.

I like very much man's face and I would have photographed him copiously, because he is the staff of the things. Unhappily, some men are only awaiting an opportunity to appropriate what others have created - and nowadays the law permits them to require money for an image of themselves that they have neither made nor conceived and that they freely present to anyone. I do not care to lose my life in senseless civil actions, so I have renounced to photograph men in order to publish the photographs of them - if there aren't any humans in my photographs, it is not without reason. I do what I will, as well.

I took 90,000 photographs, that's right, but I did that merely as an amateur. As a matter of fact, I ignore the rules of good taste and I have never learnt those of composition, and moreover I am not concerned with them, art to me being artificial and false. I am not a photographer (nor a writer nor anyone else) : I am a man, Venice and the countryside pleased me, I took a few records in order to show how life was in those days. Like in Venice photos, I did not try to shoot beautiful photographs. I love life, and life is not a matter of beauty; life is life and has neither rules nor models.

Would I say how I use to take photos, few words would do : I photograph what I gaze upon. So I think I have taken the photos of what a peasant sees when going to field, or a cow when browsing, even a train when on the way! I took photos "for my sake", without looking in the least to what was being done all around me, nor to hypothetical public demands : I did what pleased me; I photographed what I would have been happy to show to my friends. Publishing came into my mind much later - and without a real belief.

I have not photographed for several years, because the country of the peasants died with the peasants, and because the modern world appears to me of poorer sense. When I happen to look at my photos, I am always astonished at seeing them, as if they hadn't been taken by me. In fact, a reason does exist. In Russian tales, we hear of a princess who has been changed into a small frog; when I took my photographs in the countryside, I found her very often hopping by me in the wet grass : I used to sing her the song of Princess-frog, and then she would point out the photo I should take. Woe! Since fens and meadows have been drained, Princess-frog has come back no more...