Written review by
Director at GEO magazine
The first goal of this documentary photography work was to learn how to get images that could give sensations and emotions. Ultimately, make them tangible, that the observer could feel their strength. Working at Belleville in Paris you explore perfectly the regular guidelines that have made known Petersen’s work. Your photos, as his own ones, talk to us abut vulnerability, voyeurism, humanity, curiosity, human fragility… There is also an aspect, which is essential to me in his photography, that I hardly find in your series: spontaneity (in fact you are conscious on this, I think, when you say in your presentation text “they look more like a quotation that a chance encounter”)
Petersen used to talk about the victory of spontaneity over preparation, about the superiority of the unexpected, of the intuitive, over what is programmed. Lets see your series: in the first image, regardless of some technical details we could talk about, it is difficult to me to find the freshness of a natural and frank image. I may be wrong, but I feel you have already in mind the photo you’re looking for (a composition you liked, an image you remember and you want to repeat), and you forget that the scenes must appear spontaneously, and also that their communicational strength comes from this spontaneity, from your intuition, from your instinct to capture a photo.
The second image doesn’t allow me to abandon this idea. In a certain way, everything is artificial to me, a perfect pose. Nothing is intuitive in it. Of course I believe you when you say that are “chance encounters”, but they are so ideal that look artificial.
The third and fourth images look more credible to me, more sincere. They talk to me about the neighborhood more than any other. I see more frankness in the eyes of this transvestite than in the other two. He is very conscious about the role he represents: he pose, he watch directly to the camera, tries the position tested I’m sure one thousand times… The distance between you and he/she is adequate, the one that is needed to express as it is. And you got it perfectly, you let it go, you feel that giving that space you can get something interesting. Well done.
I don’t know what to think about the fifth image. Technically I don’t get what you’re looking for and concerning composition It’s almost the same. Or I am missing something or I wouldn’t have taken it to this presentation like more the sixth image.
It has strength, it blurs distances, it makes me wonder about the character, about his world.
With the dog’s picture it happens to me the same thing that happened with the fifth: it gives nothing. There is nothing original in it, beyond the composition exercise and the curiosity of the frame.
The next image, the one with the naked kneeling person looks more in line with the goal we have. I don’t understand the spontaneity of the moment but it has a strength that immediately makes me to question things. From all the pictures of this series I think this would be the most powerful, the best achieved. Not because of what it says but because of what it doesn’t says. I would have opened the series with this one to then proceed with the rest.
Then we have some neighborhood scenes, which have strength but don’t convince me. They are simple images that don’t ask you any effort. Although they reflect the neighborhood reality but don’t give any insight of it. Finish your series with some better images as for distance and spontaneity, more in line with the goal of the work, although without totally reaching it. Some, like the girl with her hair in the wind, reflects that mean mystery that we suppose the neighborhood has. The tattoos, the hair on her face doesn’t go well with the girl’s dress, at least for me. However, is precisely from this contradiction of forms and styles that, in my opinion, comes its force. I think it is a good symbol to the contradictory reality lived in Belleville.
In short, I think that although you understand the value of intuitive photography, instinctive, you don’t get it completely with your images. I would ask you to leave behind your influences and let you go. Explore your instinct, you will be surprised with the result. Yes, I consider more important to look after the edition. There are photos with very much visual force, great intensity, that being lost among others with much less force, in stead of earning strength they fade away and may go unnoticed.