Sébastien Atlani

Sébastien Atlani

Night in Barcelona

by Sébastien Atlani (France)

Une promenade nocturne dans Barcelone, beaucoup de monde dans les bars et 2h la sortie. Entre une fête improvisée sur une place où les jeunes jouaient, les autres dansaient, et les rencontres d’inconnus multilingues sur le trottoir, le mouvement est incessant. Cette balade photographique s’est ponctuée d’une pause longue dans un bar du quartier Raval, ambiance dansante et enivrée, comme un peu de cubas à la carrer del carme. Retour, les ramblas 4h, vacillant mais toujours en mouvement, toujours du monde, toujours plus alcoolisé.

Portfolio from the Introspective Photography workshop with Michael Ackerman, June 2014.

Written review by ANDREAS J. HIRSCH,
Independent curator, writer and photographer

It is the small hours that carve out the human condition: lust and pain, joy and despair, furor and madness – all of them only vaguely hidden under the surface of everyday life, come out at night. The photographs of Sebastien Atlani in this series emerge from this context, pay witness to unstable emotions observed, to human drama encountered in the streets of Barcelona.

There is one of the photographs that sticks out from the set of images, it is number 2, showing a male and a female figure kneeling and sitting on the pavement. Their bodily movements, their facial expressions are blurred by their movements and that of the camera – and still: emotions are strongly delivered, even stronger as a lot of what could be observed is left to our imagination.

The figure in the foreground on the right hand border of the frame enhances the feeling of being observers or voyeurs of human drama. The two identical cars in the background could be taxis, but at the same time could plausibly be police cars as part of the theatre of the night – we do not need to know, their presence adds to the mood of the whole scene loaded with alcohol and substances. At least as far as I am concerned, this one photograph is completely sufficient, it contains all there is to be said or – respectively: shown. I do not need the rest of the set of images, this one image is worth the whole effort of joining the workshop and of roaming the streets at night.

At first glance it may seem that the artist went out of his way to take those pictures, leaving his usual working methods and materials behind.

But this is not the whole truth: What links this photograph to some other work of Sebastien Atlani, namely his bichromates, is a certain dissolving of the persona depicted, something that does not filter our view of a person, but something she looks out from.

But there are also significant differences worth looking at between his work utilizing a historic photographic process and these recent examples of what would basically be considered street photography. In the photographic portraits that were used for the bichromates a calm mood seems to prevail – any desparation seems to come out through the process, namely through the delicate patterns the brushstrokes form and through which the photograpic image is rendered visible. While the abovementioned photograph and the bichromates share a certain graphic quality although the process of reaching it is quite different, the bichromates contain a special quality through the two different layers – the original photograph and the work with the brush – and their complex and ever shifting dialogue.

Held against this, photograph number 2 could seem flatter, since it does not obviously command such an interplay of layers, but there is the combination of emotional immediacy and photograpic style that enhance each other and at the same time create a degree of abstraction which can also be found in the bichromates. Emotion observed and emotion constructed can never be fully held apart, since there is always an element of construction in the photographic observation and an element of observation in the construction.

Interesting enough both works may remind us of some of the paintings of Francis Bacon, although they arrive there from different directions. The element of a dissolving of the persona can also be found for instance in a piece by Chris Landreth titled "Ryan", which won him the Golden Nica of Prix Ars Electronica in 2004. As with "Ryan", the bichromates make us feel as if we see through holes in the other person, something that will hardly fail to affect us deeply. Photograph number 2 – with all its aesthetics somehow remindful of works from the PROVOKE group of photographers from 1960ies Japan – somehow achieves the same.

Since there is no need at all for the artist to choose a path here, he could in the future be found using both methods alternatively and profit from them instructing and inspiring the other and vice versa. Observation and construction, exploration and introspection appear here as two different sides of the same artistic persona – and on a more general level: as two aspects of photography as such. The interplay of immediacy and abstraction then also inherently belong to the signature style of this artist. We will see them in further fruitful dialogue, to which I clearly look forward.

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