Pierre Uhrich, september 2006

Jerry Berndt, september 2006

Xavier Girard, december 2006


We are made of self and id, of flesh and mind,
and also of nucleic acids, of traditions, of hormones,
of experiences, of past and recent traumatisms ;
though are we condemned to drag behind us,
from the cradle to the grave, a
a mute and faceless brother, who shares however with us
the responsibility of our acts, hence of our pages.

Primo Levi, Other People’s Trades, 1989.

At first, there was the dogged denial of this chestnut street dealer to let me take a picture of his seamed face, in that end of afternoon hot sunlight. I remember having thought there would only be one single model I might picture all time without request: myself.
With a non negligible benefit: I am always there, even when I am absentminded, when I carry my camera with me.

The cinema taught me that an image has first to express a connection to the world, its appreciation being made in terms of the artistic requirement and of the aesthetic moral (of course) of its author, literally of his point of view. Susan Sontag states this in a different way in her book On photography (1977): “Basically, the camera transforms everybody into a tourist of other people’s reality, and finally of its own.” Nevertheless, it appears to me that in most cases a self-portrait achieves the exact opposite path, from its own reality to some other’s one. Here is where I think about Gilles Deleuze, who, when mentioning the Leibniz concept of monads, speaks about a subjective individual who represents the whole world, but is only able to plainly express its small part close to him, what Leibniz calls a department of the world.

Those pictures were made during everyday life, without premeditation or location check. I am claiming the documentary style of this work. Others than me, urban westerners living at the end of the 20
th early 21st Century, might maybe recognize themselves in my connection with my department of the world.

Pierre Uhrich, Paris, September 2006.

I first met Pierre in 1992. We were quietly seated in my Boston studio talking about photography when he finally drag out a box of prints.
“Take a look at this and tell me what you think” he said.
I took my time to watch them. Then, in a funny way, I said “Oh I see, it is like Looking for Waldo”. But in my head, I was mostly thinking that this was a bunch of narcissic crap.

Fortunately, Pierre did not took what I said seriously. He went on working on his project, obstinately, alone.

A few years later, I thought again to his pictures. I was in a parking lot, checking my appearance on the rear-view mirror of a car before a meeting. The revelation was total. I had finally understood.

In all places we are looking for ourselves, in our reflections in the windows and mirrors, distorted in the water puddles, or running after our shadows.
The world is full of our furtive reflections.
And Pierre’s images are an endless variation of this I is an other that we try to capture but which always slips away, which fragments and refracts itself, knocks against and breaks onto the frame and the surfaces of the world. And we seldom find ourselves as lonely and doubtful as the Pierre in those images.

Look carefully. Pierre is one of the most creative photographers I know, inventing, reinventing, and creating his vision inside a very small set of parameters. Those pictures are not only a representation of himself, but a vision of us all.
These are real images. And Waldo had nothing to do with it.

Jerry Berndt, Paris, September 2006.

Paper published in the Journal Sous Officiel, Marseille, 6th year, N°030, Frimaire 2006 issue, pp. 19-21

Pierre Uhrich

“A landscape, it is like a face”

(Jean-Luc Godard, Two or Three Things I Know About Her, 1967)

Pierre Uhrich is a photographer. Fragments 1990-2001 (Dukan&Hourdequin Gallery, Marseille, 30 November 2006 – 20 January 2007) is his first personal exhibition. He says: “I learnt to look through the cinema” – words of a film enthusiast – first in Besançon, where, while being a student in physics [1], he is an inveterate movie theatre goer and discovers either the classics or the blockbusters. In the middle of the 80s, he moved to Paris because of the French Cinémathèque. Like Thierry Jousse, he can say: “It is the Paris of Breathless (Jean-Luc Godard, 1959) that I first wanted to find back and which shaped my walking in the real city… It is through the cinema that I constituted myself as an urban inhabitant…” [2]. Born to the cinema with the end of some kind of “history of cinema”, he is a member of the generation of the “last heirs”, those of which Serge Daney said that they were: “… the last to have seen in flesh and blood Dreyer or Lang, when they were invited by Langlois in the French Cinémathèque, in other words in our home” [3].

During these first years in Paris, the cinema is the Atlantic island of the young Uhrich, a dream of Paris peasant (Louis Aragon, 1926) or of Nadja (André Breton, 1928). The story begins, it is the one of a man who, after having gone through the movies of Jean Renoir, Mizoguchi, Kurosawa, John Ford, Cassavetes, and the French New Wave, walks in a city where the shop and café windows, and even the mirrors left in garbage cans, send him back his face, his body, his lonely awkward gait of cinespectator (Jean-Louis Comolli) which “…came to meet him”, as Murnau’s phantoms. The pictures of these Fragments are the story of that meeting.

The founder fathers of the Cahiers du cinéma will be his “initiators”: André Bazin helps him to acknowledge the place of the cameraman and the “point of view” adopted by the director, as well as the question of ethics (which will also be the one raised by Serge Daney during his years in Libération), Jacques Rivette reveals to him the importance to be given to the face, and Jean Douchet the appreciation of the feelings, of the sensitivity and of the sensation in the author’s cinema, Douchet, sesame of the New Wave, of whom he follows the film analysis sessions every Monday evening in the French Cinémathèque, and of whom the studies founded on the place given to the spectator and on the analysis of sometimes tiny details will become deciding factors.

He starts by taking pictures of Paris streets like Godard in Pierrot le fou, or like Walter Benjamin’s saunterer, somehow as Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment (he also quotes Doisneau). One imagines black and white pictures, with that kind of pulsation, the dissymmetries, the movements, the blur, the jazzy side, the out of framing, and that sense of duration issued from the cinema takes.

And so, once barely out of the projection theatre, as a “street watcher” [4], as a sleepwalker, the face either too luminous, still lighted and even overexposed by the cinema screen, or too dark, drowned in a film noir shadow, he becomes a photographer. The bar he took in Paris, 1993 as in a Melville movie, and which makes us think so deep to the American movies of the 30s, is also the favourite place of the film buffs, where the talkative movie is transformed into images.

But if he chooses photography, his “fixed cinema” (as Dominique Païni talks about Bernard Plossu’s work) [5], he owes it, so says he, to Denis Roche, and to the exhibition the Gallery Maeght dedicated in 1991 to the pictures published in the book Ellipses et laps [6], images taken between July 1972 and August 1990, in an attempt to hold “the doubtful shadow and the approximate light” (Samuel Beckett), and about which the writer describes, in the “Photolalies” [7] way “the grows of the circumstances” as if in a movie.

“That day, he remembers, I felt a tipping up, I understood that pictures were able to describe the passing of time.” He says no more, but we understand: with such an expressive power, such an emotion, such a sense of actual faerie and of storytelling, that only the Cinémathèque movies had made him experience before.

One image in particular holds his attention, the one called mardi 11 juin 1985, that Denis Roche took in Köln, and into which you can see the writer walking towards a brick wall where a sarcastic skeleton is tagged, the feet steady on the ground, firmly decided to block his way with its arms apart. In the series of pictures dedicated to the writer-photographer self-portraits with his wife, Uhrich is mainly hit by the running sequence where Denis Roche successfully registers the appearance and disappearance of the model, delivering that way, maybe, the best definition of his current work: “a disappearance which appears”. A disappearance which will haunt the images he takes of landscapes where the photographer’s shadow is drawn as if overprinted (Juan-les-Pins 1993, Amiens 1994, or Rockport 1994), or can barely be seen behind the list of the names engraved on the Vietnam war memorial in Washington 1994.

The Fragments of a self-portrait [8] he has achieved since with his Leica M6 (the fetish camera of a given modern “history of photography” that many are claiming today maybe a little too quick to be finished, just as the extreme care given to the “selenium toned silver halide prints” superbly printed by Jerry Berndt) are carrying the mark of that revelation: photography can tell time. Even if it is about fragments, those are, says he, images of him, “fragments of my existence”, snapshots of a life itself fragmented between the physics laboratory where he works and his “intermittent activity” as a photographer, without any relationship between both lives.

The self-portrait would then have as function to describe the other profession, the one of his double, or the Other People’s Trades [9], the one of a ghost, of an anonym coming back from another country or another landscape and checking on his spectral face the extent of the roundabout by which he had to go to meet his own image. Which is, as we can feel it, as familiar and unfamiliar as the landscape where it may disappear or from where it breaks surface again. He says from his journeys: “it is only a matter of circumstances to which I always stay a little outside”, and from the places where he takes pictures: “these are places where I transported myself”, as if it were somebody else, or the other, the professional traveller, the man always misplaced like Chaplin or Monsieur Hulot (Jacques Tati), as if photography had the power to film this other, this “self-portrait of mine” as Van Gogh repeatedly used to say, or this “dressed body” that Kafka had decided to send instead of him to attend a Wedding Preparation in the Country.

One considers of course here the American legacy of Atget (to which a lot of Uhrich windows lead to think about), to Walker Evans (but without the sociologic investment of the FSA photographer) with his taste for frontal subjects and his fascination for images inside the image (from postcards to signs and commercial posters without forgetting the anonymous picture), and to Robert Franck for whom pictures were also: “strange objects, half buried, coming from another time, objects gifted of a curious resonance, information carriers, wanted or unwanted messages, real or not. Objects which disturb, tell stories, pretend to be dead and often justify the interest we take in them.” [10]. And sometimes to the windows and rear-view mirrors of Friedlander.

In Paris 1999, a character fades away into a light blur: night time, screens, speed, echoing landscapes (Miles, Coltrane or Texier jazz), the city lights have caught him back. In Toulouse, one night (Toulouse 1998), he achieves a self-portrait in front of building façades, the head cut by a line separating two reflections, like those portraits in butcher’s stalls, somewhere in that “undecided objective zone” which Francis Bacon hunted down. Other images, obstructed by an oblique line – Paris 1992 (2) – or by a crossing of lines taken full speed in the train Reims-Paris 1993, possible citation of Through the Train Window, 1950 by Evans or of the train journey pictures of Plossu, are staging the obstacles of the photographer (Denis Roche), like as many indirect authorizations, notches, junction lines (plot lines, crossbar lines, broken mirror lines, neon tube lines) between the landscape and the photographer.

His self-portraits are often seen through a screen which acts simultaneously as a projection surface and as a grid. In Paris 1991, the operator appears behind a grid, or in Paris 1997, he is reproduced in many copies in the oval mirrors of a shop. Everything looks as if, hampered by the continuous excessive presence of his character, the fragmentation, the fading away or the image multiplication was setting the photographer free from its domination. The shop window, the cast shadow, the multiple screens he interposes between his model and himself, the rear-view mirrors, or the broken one’s are only here to make morally acceptable the take of the picture and to release the photography from its ascendancy.

It is inside this cinegenic estrangement, this intimate beat between presence and absence, face and landscape, motion picture and photography, screen and mirror, myself and the other (the physicist and the photographer) that the self-portraits of Uhrich are staying, ghostly.

I almost forgot: one of his favourite piece of music is called Mosaïc Man (Henri Texier).

Xavier Girard, Marseille, December 2006.

[1] Studies in physics which will lead him to the laboratory in Observatoire de Paris in charge of the French Time Metrology.

[2] Thierry Jousse, La ville au cinéma, encyclopédie, under the direction of Thierry Jousse and Thierry Paquot, Cahiers du cinéma, p. 9.

[3] Serge Daney, Devant la recrudescence des vols de sacs à main, conversation with Philippe Roger, Aléa, 1991, p. 108.

[4] ibid., as Jean-louis Comolli says it so well in Du promeneur au spectateur, p. 29.

[5] Dominique Païni, Les lois de l’accommodation, in Le cinéma fixe ? Bernard Plossu, Ecole des Beaux-arts de Rouen, 2002.

[6] Denis Roche, Ellipse et laps, introduction by Hubert Damisch, Maeght Editor, Paris, 1991.

[7] “I am calling “photolalies” this mute echo, this whisper of unspoken conversation which spring up between two pictures, well beyond a simple thematic or graphic connection”, Denis Roche, Photolalies, p. 5.

[8] Original title of the show, by insisting on the indefinite article. Like Mallarmé’s dancer or like the heros of Kafka’s Narrative fragments, the face of Uhrich as a photographer is literally no-one, but a projection screen, a cast shadow, a landscape.

[9] Title of Primo Levi’s book from which Uhrich has chosen to reproduce a quote at the exhibition entrance.

[10] Robert Franck, Photopoche, CNP, Paris, 1983, I would like to make a movie

Fragments 1990-2001
Pierre Uhrich
Dukan&Hourdequin Gallery
83 rue d’Aubagne, 13001 Marseille
30 November 2006 – 20 January 2007.