NEW YORK — Americans have been in the thrall of German photographers such as Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff and Andreas Gursky of late. These darlings of curators and collectors portray banal industrial structures and retail interiors as things of...
NEW YORK — Americans have been in the thrall of German photographers such as Thomas Struth, Thomas Ruff and Andreas Gursky of late. These darlings of curators and collectors portray banal industrial structures and retail interiors as things of inherent beauty, and museum galleries as scenes imbued with larger meaning.
But while the Germans have captured the spotlight in this country with sweeping urban landscapes, grand gestures and the use of technology, two photographers who came of age in the Seventies are having a small moment of their own.
Hermès Paris, in an act of national pride and commercial synergy — the company owns a stake in camera maker Leica, which both men favor — is staging an exhibition of the work of Yves Guillot at the Hermès Gallery at 691 Madison Avenue here, through Nov. 13.
Guillot will be reunited with his mentor and teacher, Ralph Gibson, for a “discussion” of their work during an opening reception tonight at 8 p.m.
Guillot and Gibson an American, who achieved great critical success in France, have never faded from the French consciousness. Both photographers are concerned with the interior life of objects and beings. They produced much of their early work in black and white and continue to eschew digital enhancement.
The title of Guillot’s exhibition, “Twelve Tables: The Murmur of Things,” says it all. Or does it? For Guillot, tables are not merely functional artifacts that exist in almost every civilization. They can be portraits or self-portraits that allude to events and emotions experienced by the people who occupied them and have left traces of their presence.
“There are tables for every hour of the day,” says Guillot. “That’s why there are 12 tables. It’s a kind of reportage, but it also has a certain kind of artistic attitude and ambition.
“The table series is not finished,” adds Guillot. “One picture takes me to the next picture. It speaks.”
Guillot and Gibson take an intellectual approach to their work, a fact that Guillot attributes to genetics. “France is France,” he says. “We have a certain academic attitude. I think I’m a bit Baudelarian like many other artists and intellectuals.”Gibson is known for his carefully constructed black-and-white photographs of nudes such as “Afternoon of the Artist” (2003), where the camera captures the torso of a nude model over the shoulder of an artist seated and holding a sketch book withhis head visible. On the right side of the sketch book is a photograph of a classic Greek sculpture that the artist appears to be drawing. The photo looks like a collage, but Gibson says, “It hasn’t been digitally altered. It has a lot of what I’m known for, closed space and cut forms.”
Gibson, who may be better known in France than he is in the U.S., despite the fact that his work sells well here, was born in Los Angeles and grew up in the “Wild West” environment of the Forties and Fifties.
“I had a great yearning for the depth of European culture,” Gibson says in his studio on a recent afternoon. “Photography was effectively discovered in France as part of the national heritage and remains France’s most active discovery from the 19th century. Because of this heritage, the French look at photography in the same way they analyze literature.
“Yves has helped me a lot in France,” Gibson continues. “I’ve had a lot of success in France based on the fact that my work is influenced and informed by writers such as Marguerite Duras.”
The influences of Man Ray, Cartier-Bresson and Brassaï also can be seen in the work of both Guillot and Gibson. The latter said that his early experiences enter his work. “I worked in the movies with my father, who was an assistant to Alfred Hitchcock,” he explains. “When I was searching for my visual signature I was studyingVilla-Lobos, Ingmar Bergman, Antonioni and Alain Resnais.
“I’ve always worked in the nonlinear narrative,” he says. “Those photographers had a tremendous impact and presence.”
Lately, Gibson has been photographing a series in Brazil where his camera focuses on bright color visible through doorways and windows. “I’ve been moving closer and closer to the subject as with the guitar series,” says Gibson, referring to the sensuous images he is collecting for a book with text by guitarist Andy Summers of the Police.Guillot has also discovered the allure of color. “Color adds another level of reality,” he says by phone from his home outside Paris. “After I finished a serious work that I’d been working on a long time I was a little depressed. One day when I was cutting the grass in my garden I suddenly realized it’s green. That was when I realized I would turn from black and white to color.”
Regarding whether digital imagery enhances art photographs, “I’ll know it when I see it,” says Gibson wryly. Guillot says, “When you’ve been using Leicas for years you smell them and they speak to you. I won’t change my technique, but I’m not phobic.”
Neither man is complacent. Guillot professes a desire to go to the extreme part of Siberia. “I want to breathe any kind of air and see forms in color and make good pictures,” he says.
Gibson is contemplating his own mortality. “In January, I’ll be 65 years old. I realize I can work for another 15 to 20 years. One quickly calculates there’s not enough time left to do all the projects I’d like to do.”
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