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17 August 2008

Paul Facchetti, Rencontres d’Arles 2008

‘Independence is my school’. The words might sound glib had they not been uttered by a well-known art gallery owner in post-war Paris. Paul Facchetti continually and discreetly photographed his surroundings.

He was certainly adventurous, being Europe’s first exhibitor, in 1952, of Pollock in his gallery at 17 Rue de Lille. With a pronounced taste for novelty that never wavered (Michaux, Riopelle, Sam Francis, Dubuffet, Appel, Fautrier, Degottex, Stahly), he was one of those who enjoyed surrealism as much as abstraction, even in photography. Though he observed reality in line with the so-called humanist school, he retained a taste for the incongruous, with bold assemblages ranging from overprints to solarisations, and even in his more abstract explorations of the photogram. Even pre-war, he experimented with the carbro-print process in still-life vanities with tight framings; colour, he felt, lent a surreal effect to mundane objects. After the war, Fachetti’s black-and-white work on Paris in the ’30s and ’40s was shown at the Salon National de la Photographie alongside Brassaï, Boubat, Doisneau and Ronis; but his formal investigations displayed a much closer kinship with the Subjektive Fotografie movement led by Otto Steinert, whom he met in 1949.

This movement aimed to reprise the formal exploration of the pre-war period, notably by the Nouvelle Vision exponents in the ’20s, and develop a photographic art aware of its plastic-art function. Some of Facchetti’s photographs strive for surreal and even informal effects, emphasising how his sensibility led him on his gallery activity, which at the time was informed by lyrical abstraction. With Studio Facchetti, which became an art gallery, he gave up advertising in the late ’50s and unwaveringly practised the portraiture at which he excelled, photographing his gallery visitors – writers, artists and critics, and men and women of letters, then contributing to the life of Saint-Germain-des-Près.

With tight framings, Facchetti shoots at contemplative height. He never stares; rather, he captures the subject as s/he is always exhibited: obligingly offered to the eye in a calculated rapport, or skimming the grain of the skin, in the depth of wrinkles, displaying some bodily remains but rarely the withdrawal of the portrayed self. Paul Facchetti intensely scrutinises the contours of our intentions.

Exhibition venue: Magasin Électrique, Parc des Ateliers, Rencontres d’Arles 2008.