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19 July 2009

Lucien Clergue, Eros and Thanatos’ consecration / Recent works

I could parody Picasso by saying, ‘Photography is stronger than me, it always gets me to do what it wants’. In this case I take photographs with traditional colour film (black and white would be pointless) of a bullfight or a nude model, then I roll the film back, carefully lining up the marks, and during my travels I take more photographs in museums over the same film. The result is not due to PhotoShop; I lay my cards on the table and everything is visible—even, as Cocteau put it, ‘the invisible that made the terrible mistake of appearing’—but the colour clashes between daylight bullfights or nudes and artificially lit museums create new tones which differ from the original ones.

In the case of bullfighting, my initial idea was based on the ex-votos left in churches by toreros who had escaped the bull’s lethal horns, images like Jesus diverting the bull’s attention with a cloth and so saving the torero’s life. Some people might interpret this as a mix of the cult of Mithras and Christianity. In the case of the nudes, the matter is more complex. Grunewald’s Isenheim altarpiece at the museum in Colmar in France has long been a major influence for me, and inspired my series of variations on the Temptations of St. Anthony. At this point more connections appeared—could that naked woman facing Jesus, also naked, be Mary Magdalene, the long-haired saint? Many other mysteries cropped up, and each viewer will find his or her own solution.

Here my models play an essential role; a touch of the actress suits me just fine and I often set them up in triptychs to create a sense of drama. This work is a celebration of film photography: I don’t intend to change techniques at 75! And believe me, there’s still a lot left to be done.

Lucien Clergue


Exhibition venue: Abbaye de Montmajour, Rencontres d’Arles 2009.