Photographer Marylise Vigneau's work is an exercise in wonder and a chronicle of Asia's many indecipherable mysteries
Photo by: © MARYLISE VIGNEAU
A young boy poses in Leh, Ladakh, in the trans-Himalayan district of Jammu and Kashmir in northern India in 2006.
Vigneau's influences are pictorial more
than photographic: "[Albrecht] Durer for faces and melancholy,
[William] Turner for the skies, [Paolo] Uccello and Caravaggio for
light and choreography." Robert Maplethorpe, Diane Arbus and Nadar also
inform her work.
Marylise Vigneau's attitude towards photography is simple. "I walk and wait to be surprised, intrigued, moved or amused." The fruits of this philosophy can be seen in her latest exhibition, "The Inner Circle of Strangers" - 32 thought-provoking images of central and southern Asia - on display beginning today at the Java Cafe & Gallery in Phnom Penh.
The title of her latest exhibition reflects many of her ideas about photography. "‘The Inner Circle of Strangers' emphasises the radical otherness but familiar mix of sadness and joy that can be projected from others." This ethos is well-represented in her touching, delicate, sometimes almost surreal observations. "I walk by, raise questions, wonder at things - the speed of life, peoples' choices," she said. "And the little click of the trigger comes as a reverence."
Vigneau's sense of adventure came to the fore at an early age. She grew up in Paris and attended various religious schools that gave her a taste for "peeping through keyholes and climbing walls. I delighted in dreaming of escaping, getting dizzy, travelling." In her early 20s, she explored Eastern Europe, which was still, falteringly, behind the iron curtain. "I used a notebook and a pencil, and then a camera, which I used rather clumsily."
Asia's myriad mysteries
A year spent studying photography helped her get over this weakness. "It had confirmed what I'd seen as a child - going away, escaping, travelling, freedom from studios and immobile places." She went on to study literature and had a child.
"When he was nine, he uttered those unforgettable words: ‘Mummy, how about travelling the Trans-Siberian?'" And that was how Vigneau discovered Asia, the scene for many of her pictures. Her work is centred on Asia, as it is a mystery to her. "A myriad of mysteries that I have no wish to decipher," she said.
Unlike previous exhibitions, Vigneau's latest works are in colour. "Colour is not important," she said. "For me, it is not the prominent aspect of a picture. Contrast is - juxtaposition of seemingly opposite elements locked together."
Irony in Kashmir
Good examples of this outlook are seen in her pictures from the Kashmir region on the India-Pakistan border.
The Kashmir border area, a tense flashpoint on a disputed border, was interesting to Vigneau.
I PATHOLOGICALLY NEED DISPLACEMENT WHEN TAKING PHOTOS.
"In some ways, it is a desperate place, which makes it easy to photograph, but I wanted to see behind the cliches, to see the humour in despondent situations," she said.
The dressers on the edge of the lake at Srinagar is another poignant image. "To see these things that are used for beauty, in a setting that they wouldn't normally be seen in, in a place where women traditionally cover themselves up, was, for me, ironic."
The ironic, almost surreal theme is evident in many of Vigneau's works.
"Reality is mischievous," she said. "I do not pretend anything. I don't explain anything. I don't tell any story. The only message is the one that people want to take away with them."
This reasoning may be behind the fact that there are no pictures from Cambodia in the collection.
"I love this country, but it doesn't inspire me photographically. I live here. It is familiar. I pathologically need displacement when taking photos."
Dana Langlois, owner of Java Cafe & Gallery, has followed Vigneau's work for years. "She has a great eye for composition, the use of space. One can see a story, but one of mystery which brings up a sense of curiosity and intrigue."
As Vigneau says: "Beauty is in the small details, the way things are organised."
Vigneau's "The Inner Circle of Strangers" opens today at 6pm at Java Cafe & Gallery on Sihanouk Boulevard in Phnom Penh. The exhibit runs through March 29.