When Chloé Meunier speaks of photography, it is almost from a metaphysical perspective. Her cognitive trajectory is based on intuitive perception, but she leads us towards an understanding intimately linked to her deep love of language, a language rooted in emotion and empathy, a language as a root, rather than a system. She speaks of the “existing”, and this constitutes the basis of her visual thesis. She unearths the indefinable rituals of a private moment, a private encounter and a private gaze without really intruding. She evades politics in favour of a poetic line of thought while remaining aware of the polemical intricacies of her subject matter. In this particular case, the territory is fixed in history; the African and Caribbean community in London.
They must live together she writes, but with whom exactly? She affirms the documentary format could diminish their value, or belittle them and shows this with eloquence as in the image where at a party, a girl belonging to the community wears the British flag on her dress, hiding an uncertain identity in the shroud of the victor whose country has assimilated the vanquished as a predator consumes his helpless pray. She ventures a philosophical point in regards to the condition of our being in the social context, how the subjective element which makes each of us unique is present in the response of the subject despite this subjectivity being in danger of complete annihilation as a community needs to affirm itself en masse. She uses an intriguing term: unhooking and there is perhaps even a pun at work here, since the photograph tends to unhook us from ‘real’ or more precisely phenomenological time but it is also a reference to the detachment that takes place when an external eye looks into a space either wise alien to us all, and brings to attention elements that would have remained obscure and non existent in fact to the subject being photographed. The eye of the self may become assertive or caught in a daydream as it expands in the new landscape of knowledge offered in the photographic scenery.
The individual most often will appear out of sync with its immediate surrounding such as the typical case of the Albino. There is a peculiarity about the subject aware of itself, in the time/space continuum. i.e. as Chloé writes: “the existing”; in effect a principle of self assertion stands as a single point in the present rather than a digit mingled with other digits in a line of numbers placed on a linear historical scale. But as with all immigrant cultures, the pre-requisite of survival is based on two opposite principles: One, the enhanced affirmation of their anterior identity, their ancestry, two, the adaptation of the individual belonging to such an extraneous culture within the context of a structure by which such a culture can only exist as a subsidiary form, subject to rules that caused the demise of this very identity through the devastating effect of colonialism.
Several questions come to mind. How can the viewer not see the people gathered in these pictures as exotic objects? Are white Europeans, especially ex colonialists such as French, English, Spanish and Portuguese people still influenced by the moral grain of their invader past? The focused attention of the photographer on this section of society points to a peculiarity that is not connected to individuality but on the contrary, to the loss of individuality by segregating a kind, a generic cultural species where the mark of the self has been displaced by the desperate common will of a people to survive, to resist erasure, submerged in a soup of rehabilitative politics.
These pictures are like echelons in the ladder of social integration. Who are the people relating to us through the neutral eye of the photographer? There is here a definite conflict operating between two perspectives. It is partly deliberate. On one hand, the human being among their kind, this man, this woman, this child, each a citizen of the world with an intrinsic understanding of their human rights, those dictated by the inquisitors of the great French revolution…And yet, the very fact of their, and our attachment, our responsibility to a larger body, a corporation, our family, our circle of friends, acquaintances, colleagues, peer groups, hobby groups, our loyalty to our local environment, our community, our town, our congregation, our church, our temple, our submission to the state, our allegiance to the ideal of the nation, the father or the mother land…the very fact of our subjugation to the laws of the land and the morals of our predecessors, to honour their posterity, all means we must relinquish self will and adopt a mode of operandi devoid of discernment or interrogation.
Who is looking and why?
In this image, a young boy stands, clad in a white uniform, his hands behind his back, harmless. At the forefront, a man dressed in the same way stands holding a rod firmly in front of him. He is headless. Chloé has deliberately cropped the upper part of his body out of the picture…Not a father figure so much as a generic symbol of patriarchal authority, as faceless as it is merciless. A few expectant heads seem to float up to the top of a partition separating the congregation from the sacred ritual ground where the ceremonies take place. The women have covered their hair with a white puff pastry hat; they look like chefs waiting for the bread to bake. There is a sense of foreboding, of ominous anticipation. The boy looks anxious, his feet entangled with entropic cables as if he had just ben released from a snare and paraded as the catch of the day or worse, as if the cable was about to tie his limbs in knots, like a snake preparing its pray for a long tortuous swallowing. He has no choice. We are witnesses, also seemingly harmless yet absent; who are we?
In this aspect, the photographer not only allows us to stare from our hiding place at a private moment in the realm of a public event, it lures us all into a domain that remains closed despite our perfect visual interaction, a domain that a deeper photography will unravel slowly, not now, as we watch, but later, as we remember.
Copyright © Pascal Ancel Bartholdi 2012