Written review by
Associate Curator, International Center of Photography
Nicolas’s portfolio is excellent. The quality of his portraits is impressive, and his visual voice is very personal. This series is very consistent, but somehow I feel like his most intimate, penetrating portraits are the ones he made of woman and children (though who is hiding behind that mask?...).
My favorite portraits are the ones that tell me a story, take me into their subject’s world: the old woman smoking her cigarette, image 2, is fantastic - dark, intense, mysterious, beautiful composed, beautifully lit – and for all these reasons it intrigues me deeply. I absolutely adore the portrait with a mask, image 5: what a beautiful photo, created by the tension within the body of this boy – or what I imagine is a boy, underneath his mask, a-la Where the Wild Things Are. This portrait is also very well balanced, and tells a story, something seems to be broken, what with this shirt awkwardly put on this equally awkward body.
The background, with the stairs and the white walls, is ideal: it brings the “lion” to the front - it emphasizes the drama behind the mask, created by it. Again, this photograph speaks to me because it is beautifully made, and also because the photographer is looking beyond the shapes, telling us a story, creating a character, setting the tone for a story. I love image 8 as well, is this the boy without the mask?
There is a lot of sadness, or melancholy, in the eyes of this child, and the composition only makes it deeper. The focus/out of focus effect creates a very deep atmosphere, without being gimmicky, and it makes the subject matter even more poignant. In a lesser way, I love image 9, that has a very classic elegance to it. I also like the way the subject looks at the camera, amused, bemused, interested, giving the image a little bit more substance than a fashion photograph would have had. In terms of composition, all these great photographs include what I would call magic lines: I see that Nicolas is extremely good with architecture, and creating harmonies between the man and his surroundings. It is interesting to see that almost in all his photographs there are stripes – either created by the light, or present in the clothes worn by his subjects, or by the architectural structures around them. These lines allow for deeper perspectives, and many more layers of understanding.
Images 1, 3, 4, and 6 are technically good, perhaps just a little too detached. They are very good portraits, well composed, well lit, but something is missing, the emotion that transpires from the ones I mentioned above is lacking somehow. Interestingly enough, the only portrait that doesn’t touch me in this series is the one he made of a man, image number 7: to me, it lacks in sensitivity. It is a good photograph, but it doesn’t have the intense quality that Nicolas’s other portraits have. Its nature is more artificial perhaps, and more intently sexy or sexual, in a “9 ½ Weeks” sort of way, a form of aesthetics that is classic but that does not interest me visually.
And the fact that the subject is posing so heavily, makes it even less intriguing: I love the mood in all the other photographs precisely because of the gravity of their subject matter.
I can only encourage Nicolas to pursue his quest for stories and magical lines, looking for more inspirational models such as this old woman or these children, more intriguing portraits. To me, they seem to be triggering his imagination the most, and consequently, the excitement of their viewers. It was a pleasure to discover his fantasy world.