From 2008 to 2010, Chris Marker, 90 years old, invaded the Parisian metro and photographed it’s occupants on the fly. His photographs are a way of making a portrait of a common space that had always intrigued him by the stunning connectivity that it brings about between people. It is his last work to date.
There is no need to look for extraordinary scenes or atypical framing. Passengers is not a hunt for the unexpected but in fact an observation of the daily voyage of Parisians. It is with this idea that Chris Marker descended into the metro of the French capital, and sat down, like them, on the green benchs and the folding seats. During these two years, he concealed a small camera and shot portraits of people in front of him, attempting to find a regard or an attitude.
The idea is a remake of the work of Walker Evans in the New York City metro in 1941. On these lines, Chris Marker captured the intimacy of the passenger and tried to understand the reactions facing a subterrainian environment. There he portrays a multicultural and multiethnic world, complicated, oppressed in which his subjects – the majority of them women – seem to be lost in their thoughts, fixed regards, towards the ceiling, the ground or outside, while adopting a dream like humour, far from bored or nonchalante. Others sleep, head against the window. The story of an inhuman voyage that every Parisian mentions during a dinner.
As far as his time is concerned, Evans had the talent to not hold onto this aspect, and delivered unique images : a child daydreaming, head against the chest of his mother ; an accordian player working for a few dollars in the middle of the train ; a man reading the news of the Daily News. With Marker, there are not musicians or children looking at a book, no tourists reading a map, nor an old man with a cane. If a few regards or attitudes capture the attention, the diversity of behavior in the metro is not totally represented in the 200 images of this work in color, a first for the artist. The excesses of homogeneity eclipse the surprise of one single image.
If at first glance, the photos seem to have been taken with a Smartphone, they were the object of very precise post-production work. Marker had, in reality, taken the rudimentary shots and then had them retouched with the help of a computer program, adding effects or pixelising them, as well as saturation and color. Almost impressionist and supernatural, the result brings an electrical and toxic dimension to the atmosphere.
But Chris Marker is not only a photographer. The sublety of his work resides moreso in the philosophical reflection that accompanies each of his works. Here a man tries to approach the « different ways in which people construct between themselves invisible walls and confine themselves to deal with the modernity of life in the city. » He then searched for a great number of random comparisions between the passengers and classic figures in art history, as the portrait of Mona Lisa. Chris Marker speaks abou it : she could be sitting in front of you, there somewhere among the craziness of the Parisian metro. All it takes is to recognize the model and the posture. A facet that is not very indulgent to this intriguing work.
Passengers by Chris Marker, exposed in May at the Peter Blum Gallery of New York, is a part of the grand retrospective dedicated to him this year at Arles.
From July 4 to September 18 at the Palais de l’Archevêché
8 Boulevard Lices
04 90 43 35 10