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Photographic Essay

On the foot steps of Nicolas de Stael

Jerome Perez, photographer


2020 : Photographer and Photography


65 years after the tragic death of Nicolas de Stael, in a way, the story is repeated. Painting has paved the way to photography. With the birth of photography, painters were challenged and they found a new direction. With the trilogy internet-social networks-smartphones, the photographers are in their turn in rough waters and must be inventive for their future. 


Invention of photography in 1826

Painting reigns as master of the pictorial arts. It is figurative (landscape, portrait, still life). Niepce invents photography that is instantaneous and offers a very good representation of reality. From 1826, figurative pictorial art has two competing means of expression: painting and photography. Painters brainstormed how to make a painting that the photographer can not achieve. The answer is the impressionist movement which moves away from the pure figurative, in about 1875, with Renoir as historical master.

Modern Art

This period (1900-1940) will experience an explosion of creativity among painters with important movements such as cubism, fauvism, surrealism and abstract. The leaders give up the figurative which becomes the favorite genre of the photographers. Surrealism seduces some photographers like Man Ray. Kandinsky in 1913 will become the father of abstract painting. This effervescence has been very beneficial and increases the list of great masters: Matisse, Chagall, Leger, Braque, Monet, Van Gogh, Cezanne ...

Contemporary Art

From 1945 to present, painting has not seen any new figurative movements. Abstract painting offers infinite creative possibilities and production is fruitful. Painters have found their destiny, and do not compete against photography. The two pictorial arts are complementary.

Analog Photography Era

Until 1990, we are in the era of the rolls of film, figurative mostly (photojournalism and reporting, street photography). The star photographers belong to agencies like Sigma and Magnum. The photography is democratized, but the profesionnal photographer stands out for its technical and artistic mastery. He found his place, his value, as the painter, and enjoys the golden age of photography.

1990 : Internet and digital photography were born simultaneously

The World Wide Web was born as well as the first sensor and digital back camera. Ten years later, the internet has a worldwide coverage and the quality of digital camera reaches the professional level. The film is definitely dead and we move from the photo-graphy to the photo-file.


2000 : The photo-file days

Digital technology is adopted by all, from the average person to the greatest artists in the profession. The place and the value of the photographer depreciate slowly but surely. The major photo agencies disappear, proof of this crisis.

2005 : Social Networks

In 2004 was released Facebook followed by Instagram, Twitter, Snapshat... The broadcasting of digital photos is timeless, global and free. The professional photographer then competes with the entire population. It is the gratuity that outweighs the quality.

2010 : Smartphones

The iphone 4 was released in 2010, ie yesterday. Since then, it's an invasion. The addition of the internet, social networks and smartphones rings the death of the role of the photographer in the golden-age sense, before 1990. The images have never been so invasive. This is the new paradigm.

2020 : Abstract Photography Era

Remember the reaction of painters to the discovery of photography. It took 40 years for abstract painting to stand out as the royal route that will ensure the continuity of this pictorial art and painters. Since 1990, 30 years ago, the world of photography is shaken by technological revolutions and photographers must find their new place in this new world. I think painting and photography are two pictorial art cousins. The painters showed the way because they were confronted with a paradigm shift before the photographers. The idea that the future of photography is in the abstract genre seems obvious to me. Like Modern Art, photography is experimenting with an inventive era where the use of software is pushed beyond the limit. The photographer seeks his place and his value. 

Personally, the appeal of the abstract is irresistible to me, without any absolutist dogma that would oppose it to expressionism and the figurative. In photography, the abstract is coming from reality. If not, is it still photography?

Definition of an Abstract Photography

My approach to abstract photography necessarily includes 4 fundamental components:

Light - Color - Shape - Matter

When these 4 components form a harmony during the time of a conscious spark, I press the shutter release and I have an abstract image. This photography produces emotions.

Relationships between my photography and the painting of Nicolas de Stael

"With Nicolas de Stael, everything is frontal. The artist captures the snapshot after having meditated a long time "according to Jean-Louis Prat. It is a vocabulary and approach similar to the photographer. At first, this is what challenged me and made me want to know more. The painter does not oppose the figurative to the abstract, he advocates harmony. That's common sense. His theory of instinct, chance, accident is very seductive. Honest and humble. For example, some quotes by Nicolas de Stael:
"I believe in chance exactly as I see it at random with constant stubbornness. This is even what makes that when I see, I see as nobody else ". "I can only move forward from accident to accident. As soon as I feel the logic too logical, I naturally go to illogical.
"For me the instinct is of unconscious perfection and my paintings live of conscious imperfection".

His way of living painting is identical to my way of living photography.

My photographer's view

Serge Poliakoff, 1953: "The existence of abstract art will be much longer than that of movements such as Cubism or Fauvism. It will have a multi-faceted evolution. Abstract art is like a big tree whose branches are moved by the winds. It allows freedom of mind to flourish and the artist to express himself, free from the limits of figurative conventions. I am convinced that I will never see during my lifetime the rebirth of a figurative art, and that, for a sincere abstract artist, it is impossible to return to the figurative ". We know that Poliakoff is right. We live in a time when photographers are moving in all directions offered by new technologies, especially software that explode in number and functionality. Are they the branches of the tree Poliakoff speaks about for photography? The future will tell. For my part, I made choices that put into practice the values ​​that I defend. In agreement with Heraclitus: "If you do not wait for the unexpected you will not reach the truth". And in the spirit of Pierre Courthion: "We must cultivate the rare gift of transforming into an intuitive vision the extreme quality of the substance". One can only be humble in the face of form, color, matter and light (photons) otherwise photography could not exist.

To stay in tune with these values, my technological and technical choices are: Using a digital Leica and a single 90mm lens. Development of digital negatives DNG without any cropping, and adjusting only the exposure and color, as one would do with a roll of  film.

Shooting always includes a shake to make the invisible visible. As René de Solier said: "To throw a stone in the water, on a field where the eye does not care about the hues of waves, vibrations, but of the surface discovered inside the element, then matter ".

My creative process always begins with the dream of emotions that I wish to offer to the viewer through the image. I do not know when I can find the conditions in the real world to capture these unreal images. So I wait. Nature is all-powerful.

Harmony Project

Closing the loop. Nicolas de Stael ended his life on March 16, 1955, on the terrace of his studio on the ramparts of Antibes. This will be my starting point, 65 years later. I follow the journey from South to North, until the composition of Celadon in 1948 whose colors mark an evolution. I will collect all snapshots in the Winter season for the quality of the light that I prefer to any other. Without being aware of it, the South will be more figurative as a continuity of the years 1954-1955 by Nicolas De Staël. Then heading up North, I will become more and more abstract, like the painter until 1953. During this exercise, I come up against the environmental differences that are urbanization and air pollution. To relive the South of the 50s, you must get lost on an island and not on the Côte d'Azur. On the side of Normandy, the sky is still transparent, the light still exceptional. It is an ideal playground, a dreaming place, a creation paradise. Reason why the project evolves on its way to the abstract.

And the loop is now closed.

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