IMAGE AND DIVERSITY

DIVERS-01

Being born some­where is not just a stroke of fate, with chance hand­ing out favour to some and dis­as­ter to oth­ers. Ini­tially, we are a prod­uct, the result of a chro­mo­some cross between par­tic­u­lar gen­i­tors, dis­pos­ing of their own phys­i­cal and intel­lec­tual char­ac­ter­is­tics. First of all, we belong to this bio­log­i­cal asso­ci­a­tion. And thus we become part of a sig­nif­i­cant his­tory. In the fran­tic race towards the egg cell, one sperm may win over hun­dreds of mil­lion oth­ers, but each one car­ries the pos­si­bil­ity of a par­tic­u­lar being. How could one imag­ine, with­out feel­ing the ver­tigo of infin­ity, that no gamete-ovum cross­ing has report­edly ever given an iden­ti­cal result ever since mankind is mankind. A biol­o­gist would prob­a­bly find this aston­ish­ment puerile in regard to the nat­ural chem­i­cal attrac­tion process, but per­son­ally, as a pro­fane observe and igno­rant artist, it leaves me dumb­struck. Or, as one per­ti­nent inter­net user writes on Face­book: “If one day you’re feel­ing low, remem­ber that you’re a win­ning sperm!” Per­haps if each one of us were con­scious of this mirac­u­lous priv­i­lege, we would look at our­selves dif­fer­ently. Every­thing thus dif­fers. Each expres­sion of life is unique, and what more is, it is tran­si­tory. Is it not just one string of fleet­ing images, impreg­nated by cer­tain light, cer­tain char­ac­ter and a cer­tain mood, to the point of ques­tion­ing what this peren­nial and famil­iar iden­tity that we pre­tend to pos­sess really is? What image is ours? The ques­tion is dar­ing, but nec­es­sary for the sub­ject we want to treat. To me, it is not about stir­ring up some sort of meta­phys­i­cal con­tro­versy, but only to approach the ques­tion very humbly, from the sim­ple point of view of a pho­tog­ra­pher. I would like to start with a reveal­ing exper­i­ment DIVERS-02in which psycho-sociologist Fabi­enne Bernard and I par­tic­i­pated. We were help­ing com­pa­nies who expe­ri­enced mal­func­tion­ing due to incom­pre­hen­sion in between their staff. The idea was to fight against fixed ideas and narrow-minded sim­pli­fi­ca­tion – which are by the by largely the root cause in most con­flicts – by allow­ing each par­tic­i­pant to pro­duce the pho­to­graphic image for each of their col­leagues, as they saw them. The result: no por­trait was like another. The indi­vid­ual was shat­tered into dif­fer­ent rep­re­sen­ta­tions. Both dis­turbed and enriched by the plu­ral­ity of visions. I have stud­ied shamanic rit­u­als for years, and I would say that this is exactly how shamans oper­ate. First, they attempt, in one way or another, to desta­bilise the per­son to recon­struct them afresh through a puri­fy­ing, act­ing force. Our lit­tle photo ses­sion had the same effect on this dis­united team. It loos­ened up the sit­u­a­tion enough for the coaches to build new, more sta­ble foun­da­tions for the human rela­tions. The evi­dent con­clu­sion is that we often see our­selves only through habit. We are stuck in clichés and stereo­types that pro­tect and reas­sure us. We base our­selves on a cer­tain image of our­selves and oth­ers. We’re look­ing, but we don’t see! In psy­chol­ogy, you call this the halo effect. It brings out the inhib­i­tive part of our back­ground, in the way that we sift through infor­ma­tion via what we have learned so far. If our vision forces the brain to make abstrac­tion of con­tin­u­ous change in order to extract what is nec­es­sary to cat­e­gorise objects, it also sac­ri­fices all mate­r­ial that seems unnec­es­sary, but is, in real­ity, con­veyor of infor­ma­tion that can renew our vision. We should lis­ten to Mer­leau Ponty who writes that “real phi­los­o­phy is to re-learn to see the world.” As we nat­u­rally have this visual pre­dis­po­si­tion since child­hood, we think that DIVERS-03we per­fectly under­stand the sub­ject. And we think that we do not need to chal­lenge it. How­ever, as we have not been taught how to read them, images con­front us with­out us being able to decode them in an appro­pri­ate way. And the enig­mas hid­den in their appear­ance can only escape us. See­ing is a process far more com­plex than we sup­posed as late as a decade ago. It is now believed that sev­eral areas of the brain inter­act simul­ta­ne­ously, both with cap­ture and under­stand­ing. The exper­i­ments con­ducted by Pro­fes­sor Michael Her­zog show that between what we actu­ally see and what we think we see, there can be vast vari­a­tion. We don’t actu­ally see things as they are. We stub­bornly clas­sify and file them even before we ask our­selves what their mean­ing is. It is about know­ing how to see in the sense that Oscar Wilde had in mind when he said that “one does not see any­thing until one sees its beauty.” We could per­haps agree with Alain Beltzung, author of Traité de Regard, that “going back to the mys­tery of vision is first and fore­most an artis­tic process.” And yet, teach­ing visual arts is piti­fully rel­e­gated to the attics of edu­ca­tion. So it is not sur­pris­ing that only very few peo­ple have, dur­ing their life­time, had a real oppor­tu­nity to learn how to see cor­rectly. But we know to what point the shape of real­ity is intri­cately linked with our way of observ­ing! Keep­ing or reject­ing is the very prin­ci­ple of vision and per­haps even that of life. The eye never rests! How much data do we mem­o­rise out of the mass of new infor­ma­tion that we per­ceive in each moment? We can read­ily agree that the more we are famil­iar with an image, the more its appear­ance, with the patina of habit, seems trite. It loses its sense through hav­ing gained too much of it! By aban­don­ing our fac­ul­ties for sen­so­r­ial learn­ing, with which we explore the DIVERS-04sur­round­ings as chil­dren, for off-the-peg think­ing, we deprive our­selves of all pos­si­bil­i­ties to inves­ti­gate our own world. The fact that cen­sure com­mands our inner self and blocks the access to this some­where  or some­thing bright, seems to be expressed as emo­tion.  “In each moment there is infi­nitely more than we can see,” noted Sartre. Find­ing our way back to a fresh vision remains pos­si­ble. The first step would be to clean up our men­tal cer­ti­tudes. In the present, you would have to be open and recep­tive to other per­cep­tions so that new com­pre­hen­sion can blos­som. You would have to always con­sider things – includ­ing the most com­mon­place – as if you had never seen them before in order to pro­voke renewal, or even wealth, from them. You would have to decen­tre your­self to bet­ter with­draw affec­tion from the sub­ject, rel­a­tiv­ity from the absolute, nov­elty from the famil­iar and, finally, beauty from banal­ity. “Nobody knocks on the door of the Muses in cold blood,” said Pla­ton to illus­trate the impor­tance of feel­ings in the process of inven­tion. And do we actu­ally see our­selves twice in the same way apart from through con­ven­tion, com­fort, lazi­ness or fear? Each being, like each object, may seem per­pet­u­ated in its con­fig­u­ra­tion, but is part of a con­tin­u­ous move­ment that only the tem­po­ral­ity of mem­ory can trans­form into some­thing per­ma­nent. “Art does not repro­duce the vis­i­ble, rather it makes vis­i­ble,” claimed Paul Klee. Each cir­cum­stance of life pro­duces an oppor­tu­nity to detect what is at the source of our reac­tions and our moti­va­tion. Vision – such as we fore­see it – must gen­er­ate a neu­ral­gic inter­pre­ta­tion able to pro­duce a more cre­ative vision, bearer of magic and amaze­ment. Learn­ing to DIVERS-05exam­ine what is given, and not nec­es­sar­ily what deceives, will nec­es­sar­ily lead to unprece­dented, new com­pre­hen­sion. Matisse said: “See­ing alone is a cre­ative process that requires effort”. Delim­it­ing, cut­ting out and sub­tract­ing an object from the con­fu­sion in order to give it its own uni­verse is the very base of pho­to­graphic vision. Like a child, the pho­tog­ra­pher observes, is sur­prised, immerses him­self… and feels until he is no more than a vision, capa­ble of expe­ri­enc­ing and wel­com­ing the improb­a­ble. In the end, it is less about pho­tograph­ing things than sketch­ing his own uni­verse, rep­re­sent­ing him­self. If he can be entirely cer­tain of know­ing noth­ing, at least he can claim to be an eye that sees. Nature always prof­fers an over­all view full of pic­tures ready to be taken. Pho­tog­ra­phy is an easy means for man to rep­re­sent all that he sees with his eyes. But putting an eye to the viewfinder does not make an artist of every­one tak­ing pic­tures. Tak­ing your small piece of emo­tion in the large offer of the world to bring it closer to you, to the level of intu­ition, requires an ini­ti­a­tion in the abil­ity to make the most of both space and time. This abil­ity to, in effect, divide real­ity into images, per­son­i­fies, to Spin­oza, the high­est form of intel­li­gence. It is what Gaspard-Félix Tour­na­chon (bet­ter known as Nadar) demon­strates: “If the the­ory of pho­tog­ra­phy can be learnt in an hour; the first prac­ti­cal steps in a day, what you can­not teach, I’m telling you,” he assured, “is the feel­ing for light (…). What is even more impos­si­ble to teach, is the moral intel­li­gence of the sub­ject, this quick tact that enables com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the model.” The faces I have man­aged to pho­to­graph in the world do not tell any­thing else but an instant of DIVERS-06com­mu­nion. They are flow, cur­rent and vibra­tion before being por­traits. The black back­ground that I res­olutely use as a unity of place and time has a dual voca­tion. Aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing, it is also a con­gen­i­tal attach­ment to the Flem­ish baroque paint­ings, in the days when artists applied them­selves to draw the faces of the jet-set as life­like as pos­si­ble, in order to trans­mit their ref­er­en­tial image to pos­ter­ity. Sym­bolic, it rep­re­sents the mys­te­ri­ous dark­ness from which we appear and to which we will return after hav­ing taken forms. Not just one form, but an infin­ity. A quan­tity of fleet­ing appear­ances. Tem­po­rary expres­sions of one sin­gle real­ity that changes phys­iog­nomy after a meta­mor­pho­sis of the iden­ti­cal. Behind the painted faces, the made-up faces, the adorned faces, the tat­tooed faces… stand peo­ple who are close to us, indi­vid­u­als dri­ven by the same emo­tions. Beneath the cul­tural signs and marks of belong­ing — that first cap­ture our atten­tion by their exotic load — spring an inef­fa­ble sense of unity. Signs can vary; the sig­ni­fied remains the same from one soci­ety to another. Along­side the por­trayal, there is a con­stant, as if beyond the incli­na­tions inher­ent to space and time, there is a desire of being, serv­ing an agree­ment [per­haps objec­tive, per­haps mag­i­cal] through which every­thing seems con­nected. Could it be that some­thing evoked by Paul Ricoeur, mak­ing human beings iden­tify as human, through an eth­i­cal desire, and which should earn them uncon­di­tional respect, no mat­ter what their age, gen­der, reli­gion, social con­di­tion or eth­nic ori­gins? An occi­den­tal idea of uni­ver­sal unity for Human Rea­son, which finds con­clu­sion in the Dec­la­ra­tion of Human Rights. Schopen­hauer has claimed that the uni­ver­sal­ity of DIBERS-07phe­nom­ena, so diverse in their rep­re­sen­ta­tion, has one sin­gle essence, which in its most tan­gi­ble form is called will. A qual­ity that he extends through­out real­ity as a whole. “It exists,” he writes, “in a higher degree in the veg­etable than in the min­eral, and in the ani­mal than in the plant.” This is also what Diderot had bril­liantly sensed when he wrote, dur­ing the Enlight­en­ment: “What does one form or another mat­ter. Being born, liv­ing and pass­ing, is chang­ing forms. Each form has its own hap­pi­ness and sadness[…]from the ele­phant to the flea, and from the flea to the mol­e­cule.” Berg­son, on his part, spoke of a con­science of the uni­verse: the Liv­ing, of which man would be a mere avatar. And Niet­szche – to only men­tion him – imag­ined that the organic, psy­cho­log­i­cal and inan­i­mate worlds all fol­lowed the same and unique will. The philoso­phers teach us to replace our­selves in the global cre­ation of life – not only human diver­sity, but also ani­mal and veg­etable diver­sity – and to pon­der that we have some­thing in com­mon with the cos­mos. The same pro­fu­sion of shapes can be observed every­where as if a sin­gle will or sin­gle mech­a­nism was at work both among fire­flies and stars. You could there­fore claim – under cover of phi­los­o­phy – that diver­sity is a nec­es­sary expres­sion of uni­ver­sal­ity. Entan­gled in uni­ver­sal laws, the indi­vid­ual would pos­sess two phys­iog­nomies both essen­tial, nec­es­sary, insep­a­ra­ble and foun­da­tional. He would be one shape cap­tured in an instant, a rep­re­sen­ta­tion, under­pinned by a will to belong, a rea­son. The first would be sit­u­ated in space, in time, and also in plu­ral­ity; the sec­ond would always be one and indi­vis­i­ble in each beholder. The prin­ci­pal of diver­sity sup­poses these two aspects. DIVERS-08With­out rep­re­sen­ta­tion, it would be only utopia; with­out rea­son it would be but dis­sem­blance. In order to exist, diver­sity needs a com­mon ground, a can­vas stretch­ing over space and time, from which it dis­tin­guishes itself and by which it is pro­longed. But this diver­sity would be com­mon­place if it wasn’t inher­ent in some­thing more pro­found that reveals it and that you could read­ily call dig­nity, even if Berg­son doesn’t hes­i­tate to call it the mys­ti­cal, in the sense that it calls for a psycho-spiritual type of wis­dom. I have, dur­ing my trav­els, had the oppor­tu­nity to come across, on a back­street, at a mar­ket­place, in iso­lated tem­ples or at the heart of a desert, some remark­able human beings. The most fas­ci­nat­ing ones were nei­ther rich, nor famous. Some seemed extremely poor. The demon­stra­tion of their inte­rior dimen­sion was their wealth. Their way of look­ing at me, both atten­tive and indif­fer­ent, present and absent, full and empty, seemed to con­vey at what point every­thing has value with­out any­thing being impor­tant. Non-verbal com­mu­ni­ca­tion that an unspeak­able force mys­te­ri­ously estab­lished beyond cul­ture, dis­tance and sys­tem, through a sort of silent exchange of expe­ri­ence of what I like to call Soul because that is where, if it exists, a true vision could be expressed. It is this self-esteem that I have endeav­oured to cap­ture, beyond social imper­a­tives and con­tin­gent moods, try­ing intu­itively to estab­lish, between the sub­ject and myself, a well-meaning and trust­ing cli­mate that has the power to pen­e­trate inti­macy to grasp the most impor­tant. In this man­ner, I return to them, in a moment of exchange, the look that they give me. You could agree with Mer­leau Ponty that ”Man is a mir­ror for Man” in the sense that the other reveals cer­tain blind spots of our own vision. Could we 071-FACES-SOUTH.AMERICA-GUATEMALA-CHICHICASTENANGO-Quichepos­si­bly use the young 14-year-old as a model, to whom Pro­fes­sor Cheselden gave back his eye­sight by per­form­ing, for the very first time, a cataract oper­a­tion in 1728. He said, as noted by the doc­tor in Philo­soph­i­cal trans­ac­tions that for the child, “each new object was a new delight, and the plea­sure was so intense that he would have liked other words to express it.” His long inti­macy with dark­ness had pre­pared him, in short, not to see the world, but to see the world reveal itself. If see­ing is learn­ing, we should remem­ber that this learn­ing is always to be recom­menced. May the peo­ple who, usu­ally, look at images with an eye clouded by habit, sud­denly open their eyes in a fash­ion that exceeds the ordi­nary, and they will find sub­lime what had become only stale. “Hav­ing a philo­soph­i­cal mind – claims Schopen­hauer – is to be able to mar­vel at ordi­nary events[…], mak­ing a sub­ject of study all what is the most ordi­nary.” It is no doubt for this rea­son that cer­tain peo­ple, gifted, per­haps, with a par­tic­u­lar tal­ent, or deprived per­haps of cer­tain apti­tudes, pre­fer feed­ing off muta­tions of life and – as Blaise Pas­cal rec­om­mended – “con­tem­plate in silence the mir­a­cles that nature has offered to you rather than look­ing them up with pre­sump­tion.” Also cer­tain that our essen­tial role is to mar­vel at the uni­verse, Louis Pauwels con­cludes that: “He who has been able to mar­vel, even if he is one day crushed by the world, has known that it was use­ful and good to be a man.” It is prob­a­bly these peo­ple who make Earth inhabitable.

Inter­ven­tion occurred dur­ing a meet­ing orga­nized by UNESCO on the theme of Cul­tural Diversity.

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