Paris November: Guillaume Lemarchal

Galerie Michèle Chomette: Paysages exfiltrés – Guillaume Lemarchal

Galerie Michèle Chomette did have a small notice on the street, but from then on you were on your own.  At first we walked through into the courtyard, but it wasn’t there and we came back to the doors on our right and found a complicated entry system, that didn’t appear to work. We would have given up, but a more persistent Frenchman tried every button on the entry phone and had a long conversation with the only person who would answer, a young woman who lived on the first floor and had never heard of the gallery. Eventually she was persuaded to let us in to the building and we walked up the two floors to the gallery, which was showing the cold winter landscapes, Paysages exfiltrés, of Guillaume Lemarchal.

Although I’d taken the precaution of being accompanied by an interpreter, she proved of little assistance over the title of this show. Did it simply mean without using photographic filters – certainly it wasn’t the tobacco graduate school of landscape that many of the more  commercially successful British landscape photographers have flogged beyond death. But perhaps it (and we think the closest English equivalent might be “unfiltered”)  is also meant to imply something more philosophical than practical, that Lemarchal is not viewing the landscape through the conventional frames of reference of landscape art.

The spaces that Lemarchal photographs are empty. In particular although they show the residues of human action they are unpeopled, and often further abstracted from their history by a covering of snow. He likes to work in winter in northern regions, north Germany, Estonia and the Ukraine, and his palette is thus largely cool and unrelieved by warm tones.  They are open and inhabited by light.  Often there are deserted – or rather abandoned – buildings, perhaps once part of secret military installations, sites with a certain mystery.

Although it’s work that I think has a considerable presence and power, I didn’t warm to it – perhaps because of the very coldness of the landscapes he depicts. Lemarchal is a relatively young French photographer (b 1974) and earlier this year this work won the 2008 HSBC Foundation for Photography award.

I can’t find a good selection of this work on line, though there are small images on the links above, and a rather nice image of a piano here – click on it to see it larger. But the best place to see his work on line is on his portfolio site, where the  mémoires et murmurs page contains a number of these pictures. But there are pictures on his other pages that I admire more.

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