Written review by
KATHERINE OKTOBER MATTHEWS,
Chief Editor GUP Magazine
It is evident that Laurent finds great pleasure in taking portraits, perhaps most of all because it allows him to form a connection with another person. In his pictures, you can see him searching for the ‘moment’ of connecting with another person’s essence. His subjects appear relaxed and comfortable in his presence, so it is evident too that there is an interaction going on throughout the photographic experience – they are collaborators. Also because of this comfort, the resulting pictures have a feeling of calmed time; I don’t get the impression of rushing or anxiety to ‘make a picture happen’, but rather it feels that Laurent is comfortable to take his time to get the portrait that he wants.
The portraits are more descriptive than suggestive, so the outcome is more in line with editorial work than conceptual artwork. Considering Laurent’s background as a studio and assignment photographer, this makes sense, and this series is consistent with his established vision. It does make me wonder, however, to what extent he challenged himself in the workshop to produce something progressive. The work is clearly more environmental and anecdotal than his formal studio work, and therefore does feel more personal, but I wonder where is the evidence of Laurent taking risks to try something entirely new to him, something which is out of his comfort zone? Probably there are some images he took, which are hidden on a memory card, that he decided are ‘failures’… but in a workshop the point is to try new things to escape old patterns, so I only wish that Laurent was not so concerned with presenting perfection. To be perfect is to be safe and to be predictable – and in art, we are far more interested in risks that people take.
The series that Laurent presents does give one very good indication however, and that is that he is a fierce and ruthless editor of his own work. I strongly have the impression that he would rather show fewer images which stand up to his own criticism, than to show more images which he’s slightly doubting about. This again points to this idea of pursuing ‘perfection’, which in a workshop setting especially doesn’t need to apply, but I think will serve him as a double-edged sword: it will help him by making sure he only delivers work he will be proud of, and it will hurt him as he will be too proud to be ‘foolish’.
I would like to emphasize: it is OK to be foolish. I don’t mean to have foolishness as a goal, but as a consequence of trying, sometimes you will look like a fool. And this is fine.
One image which is to me the most successfully mysterious is #6. The image gives us much to question about this woman: she’s looking at us, but we cannot make eye contact; her expression is stoic and her posture is confident, yet she is split in half like a sign of uncertainty or chaos. She’s beautiful and yet the distance of her gaze and the split reflection makes her feels unreachable. It’s an image which embraces contradictions, and therefore has us as viewers trying to reconcile what those opposing ideas mean.
Image #5 meanwhile seems to hold for me much of the ‘humanism’ that I think Laurent wants to pursue with his camera. There is nothing hidden about this woman, she feels entirely open and present. The image draws this out. While some of the details of this picture, like the detailed embroidery of the woman’s sweater and the slight amount of light illuminating the texture of her curly hair, make the image feel almost like fashion photography, there’s a groundedness in the woman’s expression which pulls us back to Earth.
Images #1 and 2 bring to mind for me a ‘rule of thumb’ I’ve heard from some photographers, which is: if you include two pictures of the same thing, it’s probably because you know neither one of them was the right one. Because there are two photos of the same woman and scene, but she looks in a different direction, as a viewer I ask myself: why two? Why both? Do I learn something more, or something deeper, by seeing these two viewpoints? In this case, I don’t think so. Possibly there are some moments which are better shown with two snaps, but then maybe it’s better to be fully committed to this idea and show them as a diptych rather than two separate images.
Overall, I see a confident portrait photographer who is skilled at working with people to make an image together – this is great. If Laurent wants to work more in a direction of artwork, I would propose looking for ways to be suggestive rather than descriptive; if he wants to enhance and make richer his humanistic work, then it’s most important to choose the humans and situations – that is, ones who embody the traits and circumstances of humanity that you most want to express.