The Italian photographer is presenting his series Scène [Stage] at Le BAL in Paris until April 28. It’s an intense reflection on the current state of photojournalism through a series of captivating pictures in which the subjects are able to come fully into their own.
The figures seem frozen in mid-action, skillfully captured in unconventional images. This is how Alex Majoli operates: he sets up an outdoor studio even as events unfold in front of his eyes in some corner of the world. The photographer closely follows topical issues, shooting alongside dozens of fellow reporters, as he does for instance outside the club Le Carillon in Paris in the aftermath of a terrorist attack of November 13, 2015, or again when he photographs refugees landing on a beach in Greece, or other events that may have received less coverage but where the photographer felt he could capture theatricality in the act of unfolding.
The idea of theatricality encapsulates the artistry of Majoli who, equipped up to the hilt—with an array of flash bulbs and at least one assistant—manages to capture a lifelike scene that evokes what we might see on stage. In his photographs, the subjects seem to be characters playing a specific role, for example policemen poised behind their shields during a protest in Brazil, or local representatives meeting at a street corner in the Congo, who seem to take part in a contemporary dance choreography… The theatricality of the world is revealed in stunning black-and-white tableaus. The extreme high contrast provides food for thought and contemplation, creating images in which time distends, leaving us feeling overwhelmed.
Majoli’s compositions challenge the current state of photojournalism. The photographer travels to breaking-news locations and reaches out to people who appear a lot in the papers. His techniques, however, go against the grain of traditional photojournalism. While photographers tend to use light equipment, Majoli deploys “big guns,” giant flash, and a team of assistants. And yet… Strangely enough, people whom he photographs forget for a few minutes (“seven, as a general rule,” says Majoli) about the photographer’s presence, allowing him to take pictures that pin down the theatrical aspect of the situation. For example, when he plants his equipment in a London pub on the day of the Brexit referendum, Alex Majoli manages to make an image that looks like a cinematic shot, in which a group of City traders appear in turn disillusioned and anxious.
Because he is part of the action, the photographer may be present in the minds of those he photographs, which adds to the unease we might feel in front of his pictures. At the Le BAL exhibition, images are organized by geographic zone. These are generally walls of images, or pictures grouped one next to the other in sequences reminiscent of Giotto’s frescos representing the stages in the life of Christ. We are all at once confronted with a multitude of images and compelled to draw parallels; we follow a singular visual path which raises questions and demands attention. It is necessary to read the captions provided in a handout at the beginning of the exhibition in order to grasp the reality of the shots. In this project, Alex Majoli continuously explores the porous boundary between reality and fiction to locate the place of truth. For in order to express truth in one’s own way one must necessarily challenge existing artistic conventions and invent one’s own. Bertolt Brecht’s words, quoted in the middle of exhibition, hit the nail on the head: “Our concept of realism must be wide and political, sovereign over all conventions.”
By Jean-Baptiste Gauvin
Alex Majoli, "Scene"
February 22 to April 28, 2018
Le BAL, 6 Impasse de la Défense, 75018 Paris