As meticulous as they are, Gérard Rancinan’s photographs are not exercises in style but, in his own words, “thought bubbles”. As an awake witness to the metamorphoses of our society, he leaves nothing to chance in the images designed in perfect osmosis with Caroline Gaudriault, the writer who accompanies him in an uninterrupted conversation. For two and a half decades, they have traveled the world to meet their contemporaries, taking an artistic and critical look at them. In “Journey in democracy! » as in their previous exhibitions, it is their vision of humanity that they transpose through photography and writing.
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Most of the monumental photographs – which can sometimes bring together more than fifty characters – each required three or four months of preparation with teams of stylists, decorators and technicians. Coached by Rancinan, a dozen assistants ensured the synchronization of the poses and ensured that all the details were respected. Postures, expressions, gazes, everything must be perfect, remain faithful to the elaborate story and reflect to the millimeter what the photographer requires.
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Most frequently, each model assumes its own role. Thus, the young Blacks and Latinos of Los Angeles who reenact the hoisting of the American flag in Iwo Jima on a burnt-out car are they authentic gang members, well aware of the symbolic significance of their gesture: it is their part of the American dream that they claim, their desire to be integrated into a nation which, willy-nilly, owes them a facet of its identity.
Without doubt the centerpiece of the exhibition is, in the literal sense, the largest photo in the world: a fresco of 15 meters – in silver print – made up of five parts. It exemplifies the theme, infinitely metaphysical, which gives its title to the event: democracy, considered in all its grandeur as well as in all its fragility, with its limits, its imperfections, its contradictions, its dangers, its torments. To the left of the giant photograph, the bankers are raining down their conquering money. On the right, fundamentalist clerics are trying to stop all progress. In the center, reigns an ubiquitous monarch. Nothing is missing from the metaphor. It is the whole of humanity that is captured here in its rawest truth, sketched in a funny and pathetic way, tender and fierce. Rancinan does not place himself without reason in the filiation of Renaissance artists and committed painters of the 19th century, Delacroix, Géricault: he is less a banal reporter than an impertinent, implacable and ironic witness, who recounts his time without pretense.
The dialogues, cut with a sickle, hit the bull’s eye with every word
The same goes for Caroline Gaudriault who analyzes our society over the course of her observations and her exchanges with the current thinkers who seem to her the most significant, such as the political scientist Francis Fukuyama with whom she has signed, precisely, a book on democracy. His writings are neither the commentary, nor the extension, nor the banal reflection of Rancinan’s photos. Inextricably intertwined within the exhibition, images and texts mutually nourish each other, complement each other, enhance each other, confront and illuminate each other. “We ask questions without giving answers. We are not moralists or ideologues, but we assume our commitment and the responsibility that our work implies”, say the photographer and the writer with one voice.
On three levels, the 2,000 square meters of the exhibition not only show photos and texts but also films – including a very caustic 33-minute medium-length film, “The Immortals”, in a single shot- sequence. Here again, the work of Gérard Rancinan on camera, of exemplary rigor, is inseparable from that of Caroline Gaudriault, whose dialogues, cut with a sickle, hit the mark with every word: together, it’s all the ridiculous and all the tragedy of our time that they demonstrate and dismantle by noting, half amused, half dismayed, how democracy can easily become a grotesque caricature of itself. This could be an acknowledgment of failure; implicitly, however, it is all about hope. “Democracy, they say, is the opposite of the end of history: it is so fragile that it draws strength from our questioning. »
Exhibition “Journey in democracy! », Villa Tamaris, La Seyne-sur-Mer, until May 7.
Caroline Gaudriault, with Francis Fukuyama: “A small man in a vast world”, ed. Paradox.
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