After criss-crossing many cities around the world, rigorously documenting the organization of ancient or modern cities, Anne Favret and Patrick Manez offer an overviewof the margins of commissioned –photography that they have been practicing for twenty years.–
Bars of buildings in the distance like ramparts, a man with a skull look toss us with great strides, a scooter winters behind a rose bushbed, packages of sweets live their abandonment, a passerby radiates from his yellow skirt a gray street, a young girl reveals herself by adjusting, a man has fallen asleep on a chained bench. What do we see in this visual inventory as if it were inspired by Prevert?
Their purpose here is openly poetic, in a work of editing and hanging images extracted from various ensembles: let us not look here for exhaustive captions, dates or places, we are in turn in the position of the stroller. The “great city” has been theheroof modernity for more than a century, the man who travels through it as an anonymous adventurer. But adventure is no longer, by definition, a struggle against the dangers of virgin spaces. Adventure is an exploration of the theatre that man has built around himself. Watching is learned, this must be repeated. The stroller is precisely the one who learns in the aimless traffic,Where the gaze subjected to theeambulation passes, flows, turns, oscillates: experiments. The look does not aim at any pre-targetingit’s notfunctional: no framed monument, no picturesque place contemplated. No, what these images show is not representation, in the sense thatwhere nothingwas meantto “make an image” within the urban chaos. So nothing predestined this passerby, this street corner, this furniture to enter into an image. What the photographers show us are the operations of the gaze and not the expected patterns.
The curious will say: but why this, and not anything else? The perfectionist will add: anyone would do the same! Anything. Anybody. This is what matters to the stroller: to leave the defined frames, to free his gaze and to let come to him optically what surrounds him – to make him permeable to the optical unconscious. Common place: we are surrounded by too many images. Certainly. But we are just as beset by images that we don’t see because the very function of the gaze is to inform the brain. This natural sorting of the gaze leaves out the visual substance that surrounds us and in which tiny events act. It took a kind of visual writing to draw our attention to what surrounds us and that we do not know. In literature, the 19th century invented naturalism,“the difficultyof well writing mediocre” was then overcome by Flaubert. The prosaism–is the name of this rigorous work of describing the common, a rhetoric whose virtuosity leads you to confuse what you are shown with the simple natural phenomenon of seeing. In Monsieur Jourdain of the early 21st century, we discover in front of the urban prose of Anne Favret and Patrick Manez that we see ourselves prosaically–unknowingly.
We make architecture and the whole city a distracted use. By the habit of a journey as by the absence of a place thatsheltersus, it does not occur to us to tell us: this passage was thought for such an end, this space was thought for such purpose. Unlike representations (film, paintings, etc.) that require the time of reading or contemplation, the urban space is open to us in an apparent evidence. From this very distraction, artists make their playground. Because they stop at what we come across without a glance, because they look at a trivial situation from which we turn away, because at last they renounce any hierarchy in the order of information that we constantly prioritize in our minds, Anne Favret and Patrick Manez make us aware of what surrounds us. There is no longer a “subject”because we are neither in front of a report, let alone a classic painting. We are faced with the construction of a real sculpted by the gaze.
On the occasion of their exhibition “Metroplex #1” at Atelier Soardi in 2008, this interview with Jean-Christophe Nourisson evoked the main questions that his own work has in common with the research of Anne Favret and Patrick Manez: our urban condition.
The interview was published in “Exporevue” at the time of the exhibition.