Copyright - Anne De Gelas

So much life, so many lives: the arrested literature of Anne De Gelas

It is Denis Roche who associated photography with a form of arrested literature (1), identifying it as a suspended narration, determined by the pauses imposed by the discontinuity of the shooting process, in which lived time, incorporated time, occupies a central place.
This conception, which makes of photography an almost daily necessity, seems to us to find a direct echo in the work of Anne De Gelas . With this artist, the photographic image finds its place in the midst of private notebooks, travel diaries, artist books, and alongside texts, drawings and fragmentary archives.(2) Beyond the autobiographical, this expression has always been envisaged by Anne De Gelas as a humanism, since this annotation of everyday life refers to a universal need in humankind to represent (for itself) the course of time and of one’s life, and to transmit it. ‘I am not the heroine of my work, there is neither a heroine, nor a hero’, she says. ‘The narrator? Let’s say that I unravel the thread. My body is my work tool, it is through my body that I manage to best express the feelings that traverse me or unsettle me. My material is made up of my life, or rather life. I sometimes recount it in fragments from a chosen angle according to themes that are dear to me. It is indeed not an autobiography’.(3)
This echo to a human condition restored through the prism of an individuality finds a particular repercussion since the artist was confronted with the premature death of her companion, who was also the father of their son. The year 2010 marked both a personal and artistic change, indicating the return of the self-portrait that the artist had practised less since the end of her photography studies, 20 years earlier. Filling the image with her presence, as we understand that she has been amputated of that of her loved one, De Gelas also welcomes that of her son, both castaways, following the disappearance of the lover and the father.
While universalism here assumes the features of the ordeal of mourning and absence, it is also that of human finiteness. Yet this undeniable realisation of finiteness and of temporariness – of the fragment – is precisely at the centre of the photographic ontology, which reminds us, tirelessly, of our condition through that of the image itself. As Anne-Lise Large observes, ‘photography in its entirety is steered by the question of the fragment, in terms of both photographic content and form: life becomes fragmented in the image, but the image itself is a fragment. (…) There is no trial. On the contrary, each time, it is a decisive, definitive shot – cutting out any return. The fragmentary imperative presents itself from the start as a constraint that is intrinsic to the medium itself. (…) And if photography defines itself more than ever as a practice of the fragmentary imperative, it is first and foremost because there is no end to the absence. We fragment to “distil” the absence, and immediately the whole fragments itself endlessly – everything is lost and everything becomes fragmented’.(4)
The feeling of loss clearly transpires in the collection published in 2013 under the title L’Amoureuse. Two years later, Mère et fils prolongs the absence by a series of images that chronicle the life afterwards, reconfigured, but also showing the rootedness of those who are still part of life. These two black-and-white editions, centred on the rigorously staged portrait and self-portrait, featuring many shadowy and blurred zones, remind us that the locus of the image is a locus of experience and that photography proves itself to be a tool that is particularly well suited to formulate feelings that are inexpressible verbally, in a form of arrested literature.

Danielle Leenaerts

1 Denis Roche, La disparition des lucioles (réflexions sur l’acte photographique), Paris, L’Étoile, 1982, p. 99.
2 Among this output, let’s mention the publication of the Carnets in 2003 by Galerie P.
3 Quoted in: ‘Paris: L’Amoureuse, d’Anne De Gelas, L’Œil de la photographie ’.
4 Anne-Lise Large, La Brûlure du visible. Photographie et écriture, Paris, L’Harmattan, ser. Eidos: Photographie, 2012, p. 39-40.