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In Regards paranoïaques, the art historian Martine Ravache reveals seven personal life-stories associated with different photographers. Her work allows us to think of photography at an age when the medium is enjoying unprecedented popularity. We talk with Martine Ravache.


Christophe Schimmel, Pierre Overney's assassination in front of Renault factories, February 25, 1972 © Christophe Schimmel

Where did you get the idea for this book? 

I have been writing as long as I can remember. I launched a column in the Magazine Littéraire in 1990. For me, writing is a natural way of relating to photography, since I critique books, photography, and history of photography. I am an art historian, and I was immediately interested in photography as an art historian—which was not obvious in the 1990s. I even wanted to do a project on women photographers. Needless to say, no one was interested in that sort of thing at that time. That is how I came into contact with the photographer Gisèle Freund, who figures in the first two stories in my book, and I’m almost inclined to say the meeting marked the point when I started writing this book. The book tells the story of my adventures in photography, and is closely tied up with my encounters as a journalist. It had a long gestation period.


Christophe Schimmel, Pierre Overney murdered in front of Renault factories on February 25, 1972 © Christophe Schimmel

What sort of encounters do you have in mind?

The first story in the book is about Gisèle Freund’s birthday. She had just turned 90. This was the late 1990s. I wrote this story down as soon as I got home: I had been a witness to a confrontation between two people who discussed their legacy at the party. What does an artist do with their work after they die? This is a question that must be tackled while one is alive…

In your book, we discover seven discrete stories about different photographers. What ties them all together?

Photography is the common thread here, as the title of the book indicates. It’s not “paranoid” in the “pathological” sense of the word. It must be read in the popular sense of the word, as the power of the gaze. Everything that has do with conflict in the image: narcissistic conflict, conflict with one’s own image, with the image of the other—for instance, in the second story we meet Virginia Woolf and her mother, the mother–daughter relationship, and Virginia Woolf who must confront her own aging through her mother’s…


Markus Hansen, Other people's feelings are also my own, 2001-2017 © Markus Hansen


 

“The gaze is indeed a historical construct”

How do these stories attest to the fact the gaze is a historical construct?

The gaze is indeed a historical construct, but it also a sociological, social, affective, and memory construct… The gaze is constructed. This is precisely what the book is about. If I ask you what you see, you will say that you and I see the same thing. This is what we all believe, but no two people see alike. It all goes from there. In the book I talk, for example, about Christopher Columbus who is supposed to have said, upon landing in the Caribbean, “it’s as beautiful as a Valencia garden in springtime.” He had lived in Valencia. In fact, everyone looks at the world that way, bringing in what they already know; it is a personal construct. And this personal construct must be shared collectively. Hence so many misunderstandings in the world…

The photographer is the agent of this gaze…

Precisely.

Would you say that your book is proof that photography is filled with human stories, and that these stories are worth recording? That the photograph in a sense produces words... 

Absolutely. Paul Valéry once said, “Seeing is putting down words.” This is very important to a photographer, and it’s very hard to go through words, but there is no other way.  

Interviewed by Jean-Baptiste Gauvin

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