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17 August 2008

Jeffrey Silverthorne, Rencontres d’Arles 2008

An American artist little known in Europe, Jeffrey Silverthorne has for nearly forty years been considering the body and its representation. His photography, whether in black-and-white or colour, borrows from both documentary and staging techniques with a fluent, exuberant feel for investigation. He tirelessly explores the particular way in which photography can play at once with reality and fiction.

In his photographs of dead people at the morgue, the Female Impersonators, or in his other portraits, he indeed borrows from documentary formalism; he sees himself as a witness. But like Diane Arbus – whose work he admires and whom he knows and feels close to – they convey an ambiguous, unsettling sense that you know and recognise them without really understanding what there is to feel beyond the subject itself, or who it is showing us the picture. Fiction and reality entwine, enigmatically and mysteriously.

This same taste for strangeness informs the set pieces abounding with mythological, biblical, pictorial and photographic references, in which the artist readily exhibits himself. The Silent Fires series openly displays the artificiality of the compositions: a canvas backdrop is stretched, the bodies and objects seem to be coated with paint, and the lighting contributes to the fantastical quality of the scene.

The startling and undatable use of colour in his portraits and staged works underscores their ambiguity; they disconcert the spectator’s eye.

Exhibition staged in collaboration with Lars Schwander and the Fografisk Center, Copenhagen.

Exhibition venue: Capitole, Rencontres d’Arles 2008.