Alain Charlot, Photographer

Alain Charlot, photographer, true poet, wary of words, speaks

«To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge – and, therefore, like power». Susan Sontag’s remark applies just as easily to the viewer, provided his sensitivity is touched. Elsewhere, Sontag, speaking about her visit to the Cathedral of Orvieto, remarks that «only when I bought a book on the cathedral a week later did I really see it, in the modern sense of seeing. The photographs enabled me to see in a way that my «naked» eye could not possibly see the «real» cathedral». It is of this dialectic space of distance and appropriation that discourse is born, regardless of whether we are conscious of producing one. Follow then the photographer’s way with words.

For Alain Charlot, «my initial ambition was to photographically catalogue the abandoned sugar factories, which are part of Guadeloupe’s forgotten industrial heritage. Having easily located several of them, I soon became fascinated by the atmosphere of these ruins. My first impression was that of a nowhere place, destruction, a complete absence of life while nature slowly regained its territory. The whole thing strangely reminded me of certain phases of life.

From there on, I wanted nothing more than to put some life back into these locations. For days, I patiently wandered around abandoned structures, attempting to become part of the landscape, fathoming their murky, oppressive atmosphere. I ended up feeling everything come alive, with the wind whistling through them making metal clang on metal, watching the dust whirling and catching stifling smells. It was as if nature wanted to repaint these images of desolation.

I tried to imagine the noise of the machines, the vapor in the air, the humid head and the courageous, proud factory workers, the lost beginnings of the modern age. Day after day, new images took shape before my eyes, imprinted on my retina, only to disappear once they had been captured. Each factory ended up revealing an unsuspected aspect of its beauty. I wanted to give them back their sense of pride and they seemed to want to help me.

Much like a child which keeps its new hiding place a secret, I became increasingly excited and attracted by these new discoveries.

Natural light played an important role in revealing these images which seemed to become a necessity in their own right. I had the feeling that much like a real person, the objects I chose to photograph wanted to offer the best of their personality, something they had never revealed, because they had been afraid to bare their soul.

In response, I felt obliged to make the photo interesting, to give it its own existence. It is impossible to interpret these images. It was the unconscious alone that revealed these still lives to my fascinated eyes».

Life being an affair of contradictory events and incoherent feelings constantly looking to reconcile themselves, there is no reason to be surprised when Charlot offers an attempt at interpretation: «The whole thing strangely reminded me of certain phases of life», only to affirm that «It is impossible to interpret these images».

Maybe it’s best to leave the last word to Roland Barthes: «I am in quest of the thrill of meaning when I listen to the murmur of language (…)». A thrill you can experience as you listen to the murmur of Alain Charlot’s images.

Source: Tropical magazine n° 17, season 2007-2008, page 146.

Text: Vladimir Klein

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