Photography is one of those passions that modify the way we look at things. The lucky people it animates can thus see the beauty, the messages where others pass without stopping.
Perhaps it was this particular sense of observation that allowed JC Marguerite to stop in front of the Women of the Père-Lachaise, and to dedicate a series to them.
Almost like a sociological study, this work shows how the representation of women was the opposite of how men were portrayed, in life as after.
Hello Jean-Claude, can you introduce yourself in a few words?
I have two passions, literature and photography. Novelist, I explore the link between the imaginary and the real – the hero of my first novel, Le Vaisseau ardent, is sensitive to “the other side of things”. It is a photographer’s approach, to express more than explaining, to translate into lines and masses, into shards and shadows, attitudes and moments at a moment and from an angle that mean much more than what the legend can say.
“It seems to me that this is the essence of photography, containing a singular element that modifies the perception of what is represented. “
In addition to writing, I continue a long work on the posters of the metro, when their deteriorations change their meaning. It seems to me that this is the essence of photography, containing a singular element that modifies the perception of what is represented.
What is your first memory related to photography?
I was fascinated by my father’s camera, a 6×9 black Bakelite camera with a lens that unscrewed itself with incredible play. As soon as I could, I bought a Lubitel 2, a 6×6 without a cell: I was judging light by the eye, a quality I lost with my first Nikon. There was magic in raising my head, estimating the light, adjusting my camera and waiting until I had developed the film to see if I was right. An approach that is difficult to imagine for those who have only known digital technology!
The series you are going to talk about here was entirely made at the Père-Lachaise cemetery. What is your connection to this place?
I moved a few dozen meters from one of the entrances. The famous tombs never attracted me, I went there as one walks in a public garden. But I had more the impression of walking around a sleeping city, with its very different neighbourhoods, poor or rich, hilly and tortuous or with narrow alleys. However, it remains a cemetery, visited by three million tourists every year: these two dimensions coexist, it is fascinating.
Your series is called “Les Femmes du Père-Lachaise”, you focused on the female sculptures that inhabit the cemetery. How did you come up with the idea for this series?
As much as the burials evoke the houses of this silent city, so much the statues represent its impassive population. When I started photographing the statuary, very quickly, a distinction appeared to me. Men are represented in a unique register: they are the heroes of their time, they mark history.
While women are treated in such a way as to expose a wide range of emotions – crying, passion, strength, sensuality, self-denial. They thus provide us with a disturbing testimony to the way we look at them generation after generation.
Do you plan to extend this series to other cemeteries, historic sites?
It is a subject that can be extended to infinity, and there is a great temptation to broaden the field of investigation. I have visited many cemeteries, in France and elsewhere, without noting any profound differences.
“[…] I think that reserving this series for women who are most often reduced to accessories is a better illustration of my intention.”
I am not interested in a systematic approach. The Père-Lachaise cemetery owes its reputation to the fame of its hosts, and I think that reserving this series for women who are most often reduced to accessories is a better illustration of my intention.
Why choose black and white?
From the outset, I was attracted by two types of photography, the humanist (Cartier-Bresson) and the abstract (Gibson), both rooted in black and white. When I started these images, I was working at the Leica M, which I always loaded in HP5.
” It allows us to go to the essential, to dismiss the anecdotal […]”
This was perfectly suited to the subject because black and white bring timelessness and dramatization rarely achieved in color. It allows us to go to the essential, to dismiss the anecdotal, and it requires those who look at these clichés to enter the image in turn. I like color, I see in color, I do a lot of it, but these photos get crowded on one side of the postcard as soon as we share them. Expressing oneself in black and white involves the other more.
So you worked on the film on this series. What did it bring to the way you built it?
I was in the middle of a digital transition when I did this work. But it was the format that caused me problems: the 2/3 rectangle didn’t fit. I bought a 6×6 and only 12 frames films, to impose a slow pace on me.
“[…] these constraints forced me to establish a link with the stone subjects […]”
It was very new for me, I was trained in reporting, action, and I was even quite clumsy with the loading of roll films! But these constraints forced me to establish a link with the stone subjects, without intellectualizing it, rather by pushing a kind of connivance to three, subject, photographer and light.
Do you have any advice on how to build a photographic series?
Certainly not! I am a novelist, I know that inspiration can come at any time, but it is not worth much if it is not reworked a hundred times.
What I have learned from other photographers is that there are the ” snatched ” images and the subjects that are studied in depth over time. It’s a double approach that suits me, I pick on luck, and I work like a craftsman who refines his masterpiece.
More images from this series here