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18 August 2009

Jean-François Spricigo – Discovery Award, Rencontres d’Arles 2009

Presented by Lucien Clergue, photographer, founder and former director of the Rencontres d’Arles.

HOW ODD this photographer is, pointing his camera at the perpetual, unsettling muteness of things, showing them to us not as real presences but as they perceptibly vanish. It is in this evanescence, perhaps, that lies the true nature of tragedy. Jean-François Spricigo’s world does not extend much further than the scope of his vision. It is made up of banal moments, short trips, familiar faces, friendly presences and perfectly ordinary animals. Nevertheless this is a shifting world where everything is constantly metamorphosing as in the Greek founding myths, a world of light emanating from inside the image, like the lights that lead fairytale heroes to death or salvation. These images seem to emerge from an infinite depth of shadow: the movement that inhabits them is no longer that of photography but not yet that of cinematography. It is the movement of storytelling, narration and fable. All these photographs respond, react and give rise to each other in a potentially infinite network, covering the world like a map precisely overlaid on the geography it represents, as if the image were accurately transposing the dream. Spricigo’s photographs are speckled with fractures, dotted with traces, accidents, abrasions and absences. He accepts them and makes them part of his work; the throw of the dice has never been so present, even though controlled from beginning to end.

Here the grain—sumptuously visible, violently unsettling—becomes part of the developing narrative. But Spricigo is not undertaking some great philosophical project. He stays in the underworld, a world that belongs to him only. And yet he makes it ours: our search for a primal, fundamental image surfacing out of memory or childhood finds its accomplishment in his particular truth. That’s it. ‘That’s how it’s been’ for us too. That is where a seemingly limited, narrow universe touches the universal. Few artists have the ability to make frivolity and superficiality disappear at a touch, to go straight to the heart of the matter without ever straying. In an art form as fragile as photography, we discover Nietzsche’s concept of ‘the thickness of the skin’. The private world opened up by this work seems to find its essence in that last line written by Gérard de Nerval, on the night of his death: ‘Do not wait for me tonight, for the night will be black and white’.


Anne Biroleau

Jean-François Spricigo is represented by the Agathe Gaillard Gallery.

Exhibition venue: Grande Halle, Parc des Ateliers, Rencontres d’Arles 2009.