Your photos are wonderful; for me, it’s ontological, (if you will pardon the use of this pedantic word). The photo is in the limits of its own being: that is the fascination. Thank you.
Roland Barthes (Letter)
Bernard Faucon has photographed children (real and/or simulated). However, the reason (the question) behind his undertaking is not the love of children, or the art of photography. Or perhaps because of the feeling of unease which these images inspire in us, because of the veritable enigma they set, motionless, before our eyes which cannot turn away from them although they are unable to fathom their mystery, we call into doubt (finally) that in Photography, the great Unknown of the modern world, there is on the one hand the subject and on the other the way it is photographed; in short, we doubt that Photography is nothing more than the conjunction of an argument and an art (although this the received idea).
This feeling of doubt is strong, on a par with the amazement these photographs inspire in us. But these words are inadequate because they leave us, as Westerners, prisoners of the tendency to reduce all changes in our identity to what arouses “pathos” within us. An oriental word (Japanese) would be better: satori; a jolt, a plunge, a rush of emotion which suddenly runs through the Zen disciple and enlightens him with its clearness. We cannot say what satori is, but for Bernard Faucon’s photographs, we can guess which region he comes from: it is the region of heterology, where different languages meet, where diverse natural species mix with each other: his manikins , which have already been captured in their original state, are now engaged in everyday scenes of play in the midst of a host of real objects, which are familiar, timeworn, used (candles, bottles, slices of melon, unmade beds, a moving swing etc.) in a décor where the romantic exalts the natural (the vastness of hills, of gardens, of the sea); or again in a more insidious way, heterology comes from the fact that the euphoric expressions on these wax faces are in a way perpetuated independently from the actions the manikins are involved in: what could be more disturbing than an air which continues and which denies the law of expression, that is of the correspondence between the inside and the outside, between the cause and the effect?
Artificial bodies, statues, manikins, automats, androids have always made men uneasy: this is, in the strict sense, a myth. The work of Bernard Faucon is obviously a variant of this myth. This is how I feel about the dialectic of this variant: the manikins of Bernard Faucon seem first of all to impose two images depending on their origin: the image of childhood (young boys in shorts, groups, games), and the image of the (shop) window where these manikins come from. But these images are negated, are denied: childhood, the mythical age of freshness, spontaneity, and purity is here compromised in the artifice of the frozen bodies (even if the gestures seem “alive”, the eyes remain fixed); and the shop window, like a glass box, opens out onto nature, the house and the room; through the use of natural surroundings, and through the balance in the poses, Bernard Faucon “de-windows” his manikins. Then a mysterious change takes place: the real body, which appears in certain scenes (as a victim), is hardly distinguishable from the manikins amongst which it finds itself, and makes one wonder whether it is made of flesh and blood: what separates the true from the false is extremely tenuous and disturbing: the true is not looking towards reality, but towards art which is conceived not as an expressive, humanistic value but as a basis for, or a fulfilment of, the artifice. The real body has an impossible “role”, and it is in this way that it demonstrates truth. Baudelaire had perhaps sensed this dialectic when he spoke of “the emphatic truth of the gesture in the great circumstances of life”.
Bernard Faucon arranges the scene that he is going to photograph. He exactly produces a tableau vivant. And he consigns this immobile scene to the very art of the Immobile: Photography (we will never enable Photographic theory – which is at a standstill today – to progress as long as we continue to pretend that the mission of this art is to bring to life or animate that which is not alive). Thus a circuit is established, but it is difficult to discern the direction of the movement. Bernard Faucon does not photograph a tableau vivant: he produces a redoubled photograph in tableau vivant: he accumulates two mutually informing immobilities. Instead of dividing the Image (as is usually the case) into content and form, referent and signifier, he sets two forms, two signifiers one upon the other and by doing so he denies the Image itself, which etymologically, through its Indo-European root (yem/im) refers to a “double fruit” . He produces an almost unbearable unity, “unnatural”, that is “super-natural”. In its very derision, the photographed tableau vivant forcefully calls forth thoughts of the Immortal: these infra-bodies, whose immobility is reinforced by all the artifice of life which surrounds them, are caught by the artist as if they were to be resuscitated.
Roland Barthes (Zoom n° 57)
Les grandes vacances (Summer Camp) by Bernard Faucon was first of all a break from painting. The camera seems in fact to have rendered redundant the use of the paint brush and intoxicating turpentine for many painters in the sixties – from Mapplethorpe to Duane Michals and Bernard Faucon. The latter is a figurative artist who could not fail to be fascinated by the power of clear depiction in the photographic proof, and its ability to imprint instantly the verisimilitude of an image, even if it was manifestly contrived, or highly improbable. It is in this gap between reality and representation that the work of Bernard Faucon has developed.
The manikins, with children’s faces which are both dated and timeless, were the first actors in the stagings which a surreptitious glance seemed to have captured. The suspended time of photography together with the frozen gestures of the plaster figures accentuate, after the manner of the works of Segal, the reality of their environment through their lack of realism and their out-of-placeness. It is from the subtlely rendered confusion of time – the immediate time of the natural décor and of the voyeur (the photographer or the spectator) and the time belonging to the indefinite past of the manikins – that the photographs of Bernard Faucon draw their power of seduction and their ability to bring back a childhood memory which is common to all and which is that of overflowing dreams.
And yet this reassuring tenderness which each of his photographs seems to reveal offers only illusory security. The manikins in the compositions carried out between 1976 and 1977 were quickly joined in 1978 by real characters who were insidiously slipped in amongst the plaster figures and who participate like them in this life out-of-time. The children, who mix in with the manikins, as in La piscine (The Wading Pool), only differ from the latter in tiny details: their gestures are not rigid, the grain of the light on the skin is different, and the movement of the hair is inimitable… Thus the human body, which has suddenly become reified in appearance, only has a fictitious truth, just like the manikins which have been freed from their shop windows, and on which the sudden confrontation with the real world confers an almost human credibility. Jean Hélion, during the manikin period, was fascinated by the similarity, except for a few minor details, between the inaccessible world of the manikins – the world of pretence – and the image of everyday reality; the painter like the photographer could not fail to be sensitive to the different degrees of reality which are still perceptible in the illusion of the image.
It is first of all through the treatment of light, the invention of a specific lighting effect which does not belong to any season or to any clearly defined time of the day, that Bernard Faucon gives his images their ambiguous truth. He is a photographer and it is from light that he draws the essential elements of the means he employs, to the point at which it becomes the only subject of the work as in the Epiphanies series. The particular attention that he accords to light is further underlined by the use, for the realization of his prints, of the Fresson process which, with its successive layers of colour, gives the image a specific character reminiscent of the pointillism of Seurat, and a luminescent quality independent of all lighting. “I reinvent light everywhere, even outside”, Bernard Faucon writes.
It was in 1981, with La Cène (The Last Supper) that Bernard Faucon ceased to use the manikins which had ensured his popularity. The manikins had enabled the photographer, thanks to their ready-made quality, to elude the long subjective process of painting, but they also introduced a new subjective dimension into his work, that of “the pastoral paradise of childhood love” and of fetishist sacralisation. “The manikins were supposed to cast out,” Bernard Faucon said, “now they themselves have been cast out. All that remains is the triumphant power of dislocation, the speed of which produces fire.”
After leaving the manikins behind, Bernard Faucon concentrated in his work on the essential dimensions of time and memory. La Cène, which presents the left-overs of a meal on a cleared table, is strictly speaking a ghostly scene, not so much because of the white dust-sheets which cover the tables and chairs, as because of an affirmation of a past presence, of the “metaphysical” feeling to be found in the most beautiful paintings by De Chirico. Fire, a frequent ingredient in his compositions is not one of those fires that leaves destruction and charred objects in its wake, it is the light and immaterial fire of spiritual anxiety which consumes all certainty but which gives rise to sudden illumination.
In this time out-of-time, preserved intact, buried as it is deep in the collective memory, Bernard Faucon’s Chambres d’amour (Love Rooms) offer a first approach to a new incarnation of reality. It is henceforth less artifice than the pacified presence of elements: flowing milk, light through a coloured glass, sleeping bodies… which proves that through the photographic image, Bernard Faucon has progressively managed to reduce the distance between the world and its representation. His work no longer speaks to us of staging – even if more than ever each element is assigned a clearly-defined function in the composition of the image, but of a universe which has found its coherence in the symbolic. (…)
Daniel Abadie, great Curator (Cimaises, January 1988)
Why is it that we love Bernard Faucon’s photos more and more (if indeed we have begun to like them)? The splendour of the colours is not enough to explain it. There are scenes which pass from rooms to landscapes. They display a crucial feeling which everyone can recognize but which is striking (not everyone has the ability or the skills to enable him to reach this level of visual awareness): it is the sensation which comes from childhood or which is destined for a contented old age, it is close and yet unreachable, past or to come, between regret and hope.
What is indescribably beautiful is plunged into an image, an overflowing dream on a blue iris, a mirage displayed withinin the frame of a Hasselblad. His work develops lightly and lazily, and by leaps and bounds. Bernard Faucon spends three hundred days of the year in a state of inactivity but straining towards exertion, he is surprised by his dreams, organizes tea-parties, reads snippets of what those close to him have sent him, creates soups, listens to little songs, washes in cold water, drives too fast, makes his head spin on merry-go-rounds, spends a small fortune on artifice and make-believe, spares no expense as long as it is for pleasure, offers dazzling and breathtaking spectacles to his friends, sets off balls of fire and unhooks the stars.
Then he gets down to work in summer: it is a jumbled hodge-podge which brings together lights, distant bodies and shiny odds and ends, a little sawdust, some strips of paper, grease, floating leaves and twigs. The wax and celluloid manikins have disappeared, but the emptied rooms and surrounding countryside exercise their bewitching charm.
Bernard Faucon’s photos are artificial luminous moments, they are reflexions, rustling sounds, they are graceful almost to the point of dazzlement, albeit fanciful. Perfect whiteness, whirling masses of broom, sprays of tiny droplets, dancing lavender, small glasses of sugared water for the evening, the calm after the revels when only the sacrificed fruit remains and the careless abandon of sleep. The children are the masters of the image maker: his imperious servants, his royal rascals.
Agathe Gaillard’s gallery which is exhibiting this new work after five years’ absence, gives the viewer in the first room a visual shock which may delight him: there are nine prints in huge format which constitute the climax of work which has been carried out with great, almost magical, precision. If we compare them to the first photos taken in 1976 which are exhibited in the basement, we can measure the vast distance that he has covered. Some, judging perhaps too hastily, are saddened by the way his work has developed, as if the end of childhood (of its externalization and of its silhouette) signified the end of his fertile inspiration. They have not yet perceived that childhood has apparently disappeared only to appear all the more clearly: it has become omnipresent in the photos.
Bernard Faucon will never disappoint because he has himself thought too much about the problem of disappointment, of loyalty to, or loss of self, of the necessity or the futility of perseverance: each image is at the centre of a struggle between the threat of renunciation and the illumination that it will bring.
Here there are twenty love rooms, Rudy explained to Mickie. He amused himself with making shapes out of a piece of paper that he had found in the depths of his pocket. On the triangular surfaces he drew symbols: there is the room which is filled with smouldering embers that an obedient servant is coaxing back into life, like the Japanese man from the ancient inn who silently returns to test the temperature of the bath water which awaits the guest, like the painter who for hours on end seeks for the exact shade of glowing red, a magic spell enables one to lie on the embers without being burned, they are hot but gently caressing, they make the softest bed, it feels good for two people to lie down there together; there is the room whose floor is covered with milk which never turns sour, it can be lapped up, and two thirsty tongues can squabble over it, but one can also float in it, bathe one’s back in its milkiness and do nothing but gaze at the ceiling which is just as milky-white; there is the room with the ghosts of those who have grown up, for a few moments they can be captured in the bodies they had when they first charmed you; there are the rooms where tempests of snow and sand have fallen to the ground to make a couch for you, its folds will rest your weary limbs, in fact these are tons of sugar which imitate sand and snow, but your lips will be the only ones that know this; there is the room in which the coloured reflexions of a stained glass window collide, like the notes of a choir rising in the clear air of a fine morning from which you can draw oxygen for your darkest and most suffocating nights; there are two rooms which are already inhabited, their gentle curves will relax you like the softest pillows; there is the burnt room which smells sweetly of ash, and there you will experience the strange calmness which comes after disaster, which beats in the heart of every fireman when the blaze has been overcome; there is the room without windows or walls which is so mysteriously built that that it would cause you to levitate in the evening landscape which gleams and glows with gold and silver sparks; I forgot to tell you that a skylight window in the burnt room can offer you the prospect of green in a miraculously untouched jungle; there is the room which is only composed of paper screens between which luxuriant nature never ceases to grow; near the bed in the nineteenth room an armful of rare flowers intermingled with weeds has been placed, the chromatic mix is most delicate, and on the wall above the bed there is a shrivelled starfish which had wanted to climb up there; in the twentieth room there is only a hieroglyphic posture – our concupiscence has retreated into the form of ancient signs; you can count them again, I have forgotten some of them; for each room you can choose the rules of one of the games, and an appropriate costume, which one do you want? Rudy asked, slipping three raised fingers on his right hand into the folds of the paper to vary the combination of words written on the outside and on the inside. (…)
Hervé Guibert, extract from the novel : “Vous m’avez fait former des fantômes »
Time’s Beautiful Images
Of the three sons in the Faucon family, Bernard is the oldest. He is also the dreamer, the silent one to whom Tatié, his artistic and whimsical grandmother, one day gave a Semflex camera which immediately fascinated him by the magic of its mirror images which gave a different and luminous reversed vision of the world. In the environment of the family home in the town of Apt, in the Provence region of France, Pierre the younger brother, and Michel the little neighbour became the characters in his first 6 x 6cm photographic slides, and a mirror-image self-portrait reveals in the background all the treasures contained within an adolescent’s bedroom. The medium format and the development of this type of film are not the most practical, but for a long time, he did not want any other: he mastered the square frame and colour in his early work The Time Before and never had any doubts about the camera as long as photography required a roll of film. But other interests came into play. Painting became a serious pastime; philosophy illuminated his last year at high school in Apt opening up the way to university where Bernard Faucon obtained a Master’s degree in 1974. However after graduation, he did not become a teacher. Instead he went into the business of buying up old manikins of children’s clothes from the warehouses of department stores.
From 1976, the idea of setting the manikins in front of the old Semflex started off a process which was at first playful and then became artistic. The manikins were transported into the magnificently wild setting of the Luberon region. These antique objects changed their costumes, adopted other poses, and were promoted to the role of models. Unlike the tableaux in wax museums which freeze a view of history using sculpted look-alikes, these anonymous figures of painted plaster with moulded or tufted-nylon hair seem to burst with joyful vitality which transforms their shop window smiles into the laughter of a group of friends. By the magic process which animates statues in fairy-tales and which sets toys to playing music, the manikin folk rescued from the flea market and freed from the servitude of representation found a new life: they discovered snow and swings and ventured forth into the forest and gazed at the stars. The scene was set for the intrusion of real children into the games of these large doll-like figures dressed as their fathers were at the same age. In Les Grandes Vacances (Summer Camp) it was not simply a case of adding the living to the inert, the present to past reminiscences. The work exercises its charm through the fusion of appearances and the division of roles in a fairy-tale atmosphere in which the manikins seem to be the initiated hosts, and the children the guests. These scenes which sometimes necessitated the use of heavy cinema equipment and crews, lead the spectator into the recesses of childhood which Bernard Faucon resuscitates rather than explores: the emotion on discovering the other, the poetic gift of the seasons, the recreation of war games, the communion of friends at ceremonies and the irresistible attraction of fire.
In 1981 Bernard Faucon suddenly decided to put an end to his Grandes Vacances which had earned him recognition and the beginnings of international fame, as if the childhood he had regained during the course of five truly inspired years needed to shield itself from repetition, change and its own move towards maturity. After the manikins had safely been stowed away, and the children had gone off to grow up elsewhere, the second phase of the work L’Evolution probable du Temps (The Probable Evolution of Time), a philosophical meditation on a rich and fleeting existence, lasted for three years. All that remains of the peals of laughter and the battle fields with their ribbons and balls are the deserted fields of lavender and the garrigue upon which the sun beats down so fiercely that flames burst forth – the silent echo of the bonfires of old.
The period of the Chambres (Rooms) which began in 1984 grew into a long series which had opened in 1981 with “La Cène” (The Last Supper). This piece shows the left-overs of a feast which the young actors of Les Grandes Vacances deserted when the last manikin, a fire-raiser, turned his back with a smile on the blazing landscape of “Neige qui brûle” (Burning Snow). It was not long before these rooms, the floors of which are strewn with a jumble of objects, fruit or sometimes crumpled sheets, were given the name of Chambres d’Amour (Love Rooms) following each other in a theoretical numbered sequence like the rooms of a labyrinth with no way out. Few bodies allow themselves to be caught in full daylight through invisible windows and glowing stained glass, as if love had fled from these pastel-coloured, cracked walls decorated with dried flowers or garlands. The charm of the sometimes wintry rooms haunted by what no longer is, remained bitter-sweet until 1987 when a trip to Asia enabled the photographer to discover gold. This was not the gold of treasure chests, but the laminated gold of temples which dazzles and appeases. Then the walled Chambres d’Or (Golden Rooms) develop in harmony with the outside world. Their external trappings, walls and nets are all of gold, ready to receive the Awakened Child, Buddha in meditation, ornamented with leaves of gold given in offerings. “Les Moulins d’or” (The Golden Mills), is the final piece in this exhibition. It is an enchanting gift to the sky and the wind of Provence, and it completes the Chambres cycle in which the ten boys in the ivory and gold tones of the film made for Parco, the Japanese chain of department stores, make their last appearance in 1987. Two years later the manikins posed once more for the series Derniers Portraits (Last Portraits) in small groups ready to embark for the Kyoto collections.
After Chambres came three more series, each one marking the end of something and the beginning of something new, as if each of Bernard Faucon’s projects carried within it the promise that he would free himself from the work in hand. Between 1989 and 1991, the diptychs Idoles et Sacrifices (Idols and Sacrifices) – twelve head and shoulders shots of adolescents in amongst exploding fireworks, and twelve landscapes stained with red – mark the photographer’s farewell to living models and announce in the same mystical register Les Ecritures (Writings) which are fragments of letters or loving dedications written on the fields deserted by Les Grandes Vacances. In 1993 it was once more the text which announced La Fin de l’Image (The End of the Image), in short poetic, sibylline sentences written in white pencil on young bodies of which nothing can be seen except for the fine tracery of lines on copper skin. However in spite of this arbitrary end, the photographer who so loved life through others did not seem ready to break with that part of himself which was still curious about the world around him and all its delights. From 1997 with Le Temps d’après (The Time Afterwards), Bernard Faucon simply allowed himself to be receptive to whatever images came to him during the course of journeys and chance meetings. The image was reborn in different formats, capturing brief expressions of happiness and esthetic emotions. This phase, which may be of indeterminate length, opens up new perspectives, this time in video. He films journeys which have no precise itinerary; a voice-over covers the long sequence shots which follow the continuous thread of an existence, reviving childhood memories, friendships and the passing of those long gone. With his monologue grafted onto the fleeting images, this work in progress, which does not yet have a title, holds its passengers within Bernard Faucon’s world, an indefinite mix of wonder and questioning.
Hervé Le Goff, Photography Critic
The photographic oeuvre of Bernard Faucon is a long poem which carries us to the heart of an esthetic and ontological experience of exceptional intensity. Bernard Faucon explores the unbearable lightness of beauty and celebrates the real through the fabrication of true fictions, and tirelessly questions the passing of time.
The bright fairy-tale atmosphere of Bernard Faucon’s stagings offers the prospect of purity and envelops us with that extra something which transcends existence. Whether the scenes are filled with characters of plaster or of flesh and blood, whether all that remains of them is their reflection or the traces of their passage, the intensity of Bernard Faucon’s photographs gives us the experience of a kind of ontological outpouring…
But it is not without risk that one plunges into the dazzling splendour of desire and of being: words intrude on the image to evoke the end of desire, and death. In 1995, with the series “La fin de l’image” (The End of the Image), Bernard Faucon staged the completion of a cycle which had begun twenty years before, and chose the moment at which he put an end to his exploration of photographic staging. Whether it was a need for renewal, a desire for a new playground or the feeling that he had reached the impassable threshold of an experience, choosing the moment to stop means defying time which carries all away…
Myriam Kryger, Curator
Travelling the path from Les Grandes Vacances (Summer Camp) to La fin de l’image (The End of the Image) took twenty years. Twenty years to examine and refine his approach to time, the time of life and the time of photography, and to explore the meaning of staging, the deceptive power of photography in its relationship to the real and its ontological truth, its manipulation of the true and the false. Twenty years to confront the limits of a medium, to push them back and conclude that there are in its very nature impassable thresholds which demand that we wisely confine ourselves to what has already been done.
The result is a body of work which is unique, strange and coherent, growing from series to series, built and moved by an interior need to question and to exorcise through an understanding of the passage of time.
From the very first images, Roland Barthes understood perfectly well what was at stake in the process of creation: much more than the image itself, the main issue is philosophical, and more precisely metaphysical.
« To photograph life at its most intense is to offer an empty shell – but to photograph the cover or the tinsel is to evoke flames. » Bernard Faucon.
« All writing is witchcraft. »
It would be beautiful, and fruitful, offering a wealth of new perspectives, were the critics finally to take Mallarmé literally and approach works of art with those same analytical tools used to study ritual ceremonies, treating them as apparition‑inducing rites.
Bernard Faucon’s work is unashamedly rooted in the fundamental awareness that the image is a rite, to be either rebuffed or conjured up by everything which summons that image, which forms it and which creates and maintains its effect. But what really gives his art its own striking originality is that, in an age of satanically‑inspired magic, he has taken the disturbingly unfashionable decision to be a master of divinely‑inspired ceremonies.
Modern fate has pulled down our best works so powerfully in search of what ultimate cursed ground? ‑ that we are profoundly moved to find somebody gambling on the gold of Angels. What do we prize more than Sade ? And how better can we express the miraculous power of the twisting effect of art, than by putting these Love Chambers back to back with Sade’s ferocious sacred orgy ?
Bernard Faucon’s twisting of Sade is in no sense a retrograde step, nor is it simply a matter of reintroducing already outworn angelifications. What he has done is to revive the concept of Heaven. The exceptional quality of Bernard Faucon’s Love Chambers derives from their representing a celestial transmutation of our delirious passion for anatomy and the inevitability of our infernal earthly sufferings. ‑ So much so that we are overcome to see this perfect ritual of whiteness, shored up against the most beautiful ritual of darkness.
The hint of magnificent carnality lies here, but in this instance the purifying process is stripped totally bare and rendered visible ; the sorcery of art is confidently invoked, as the sole means to avoid sinking. And it is easy to see how to measure the success of this impossible wager : a piece of gold falls back to earth in a fine, salvatory rain, as the recollection of those lost bodies.
The power to astonish possessed by these scenes ‑ which is at heart the same in each case ‑ comes from the exceptional feat, which is the hallmark of Bernard Faucon’s art, of managing to create the most striking effect of a presence by the most careful staging of an absence.
Of the lovers, scarcely a trace. Instead, the emptiness of the sands invading the final chamber, the rivers of milk and the ember‑strewn floors. The colours, scumbled, hazy, refracted and flecked. Golden straw, snow‑covered floors, duvets, a crumpled sheet, reflected faces, silhouettes and a shroud. Here, all the elements of the composition are removed from their random natural state, or from their anonymous social condition, to be carefully arranged as selected figures presented in an astute coupling of sign and effect.
There is no trace here of the usual anguish. Rather, a gaze, faint almost to the point of dizziness, which turns to a pure flash of brightness, a look of surprise, and an unbelievable softness. ‑ The Last Supper (1981) now has a worthy rival in these modern Plato’s caves in which we are astounded by the assurance of the Angel’s delicate touch keeping the bodies at bay.
The extravagance of Faucon’s talent sanctifies these images. Their overt and haughty disdain for the raw material of nature raises them to that new reality which Bernard Faucon pertinently refers to as a « fulfilment of existence », and overturns our ideas about love and our artistic processes.
It would be impossible for such detachment not to call down upon the young Master the jealousy of his all‑too‑human judges as He passes through. But Bernard Faucon is deaf to recriminations and objections, and be has already left the table by the time the other guest’s resentment threatens to spoil everything.
The essentially aristocratic art of the ellipsis, the refusal of confession, the horror of nature and that extreme generosity which allows everything to be sacrificed in order to conserve only the lustre, has today, for some of us, in photography, materialised in his pictures.
Jean Paul Michel, The Gold of Angels, William Blake & Co.