The photographs by Alexis Poliakoff presented here are not what one would ordinarily call “snapshots”, or reportage: they immediately show something organized or “set up” according to certain of the photographer’s directions (Alexis Poliakoff was assistant to film directors Claude Chabrol and Jean-Luc Godard). This should be sufficient reminder that no photograph is taken straight from “reality” and to take aim through a camera lens is already to impose an order or begin to make sense of what will be fixed on the film. No photograph is taken without intention, without a project, even vague. This is why photography, when it distances itself from it’s “middle-brow” function, as analyzed by Pierre Bourdieu, that is, a way of holding onto conventional memories of family trips or reunions, can only restitute aspects of “reality” that by way of selection imply a certain value. (Even if the aspect of memory or feelings is present in Alexis Poliakoff’s portraits of loved ones or self-portraits.) This principal has a double action when the photographer asks his subjects to become “actors”: to pose in this or that way, to make certain gestures, etc. The humdrum of daily life then gives way to an interaction somewhere between the photographer’s request and how the subject interprets it. He or she can take the initiative of only partially fulfilling the request, even if the final pose eventually brings something serendipitous and satisfactory.
At the end of this dialectic or one-upmanship, what “once was” is no longer the “reality” of the immediate. It’s the result of an exchange between more or less explicit desires, of a compromise defining a doubly fictive scene: product of a verbal dialogue and a dialogue of the senses and since it’s static, it initiates a virtual story that resolutely asks the viewer to imagine what came before and what could happen next.
The clothes and certain details of the sets indicate that these photographs were taken a few dozen years ago, making themof triple interest to their author: not only sentimental/autobiographical and documentary, but also aesthetic, because it’s clear they follow rules of composition. This is also the case in the series of cropped, square format photographs that because of the way they are created, deserve additional examination.
This group was created from photographs initially part of a parody of a photo novella - of which the episodes were privately distributed in 1975-76. These photographs, part of a story like those described above, implied the possibility of a before and after; they were also “set-up”, insofar as we can surmise by examining the “over-acted” scene in which a character has his hand on his forehead, while a corpse in a far from realistic pose, lies at his feet. Cropping these shots to keep only a close-up or fragment pulls them out of the narrative flux. (It is, to say the least, difficult to imagine a story that can bring them together disputing the autonomy of each one.) Through cropping, an image becomes a portrait (in its entirety or in parts), a nod to film buffs, an allusion (more or less erotic) or an enigmatic scene (who is waving a gun? Does this woman look behind her because she’s worried, or just curious?) It’s also or above all reworking the formal play of the compositions now made possible : emphasizing the diagonals and the oblique, doubling up ellipses, more decisive opposition of blacks and whites. The cropped images, even if they preserve an emotional resonance for their maker, once the characters and objects are transformed into signs without meaning, underline the effectiveness of the modifications and fully defend a category of work that refuses all direct rapport with a first given. From one image to another, the recurrence of an object or a person evokes more a combining of elements than the reality of a serious referent: all hors-champ (temporal – before and after – and spatial – situation or context) is in the process of being erased for the benefit of what is now presented within the frame. The photographic object affirms its relative independence from what is photographed, and participates in the creation of a singular universe. This universe as expected, is first and foremost that of Alexis Poliakoff, but it is also a proposition shared with the viewers.
Galerie Pixi - Marie-Victoire Poliakoff
Founded in 1990 by Marie Victoire Poliakoff, Pixi Gallery shows the works of contemporary artists and houses Serge Pol.