Growing up in Canada, in 1982, Guillaume Simoneau was fond of crows. His father had discovered their nest as he was chopping wood, and the child immediately got attached to this odd animal. Years later, the adult photographer began to wonder about the presence of crows in his life, the bird’s mythical aura, and its evocative power. The raven is often taken to symbolize death. But it is also a messenger of the discovery of the world. This is, in any case, what the photographer seems to tell us through his childhood pictures taken by his mother, which show him feeding one bird, nestling others in his arms, observing them with affection.
The archival family photos are juxtaposed with Simoneau’s images of contemporary Japan. He has retraced the steps of the Japanese photographer Masahisa Fukase, best known for his book devoted to crows, entitled The Solitude of Ravens. Fukase in turn had pursued the absence of his wife in the shadow of the bird’s wings, which came to stand for the ghost of the aircraft haunting the entire nation—both the kamikazes and the planes that bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.
At a street corner, Simoneau photographed the front of a restaurant called “Ravens,” a passerby’s puzzled look, and the belabored steps of an old man. The task of mourning undertaken by Fukase in his book takes on here a new dimension. This is no longer the grief over a beloved but rather over the loss of childhood and of the simple joy of befriending a creature with big black wings. Now, Guillaume Simoneau had grown up: the joy has become more complicated. The spirit of the bird encompasses the symbolism that eluded the child: death, bad reputation.
The raven’s bad name is perhaps the reason why the photographer included another bird: the eagle. The imposing animal has the pride of place in the book, especially with the facing page set of photographs showing it with damp feathers and a blind look in the eye. But above all Simoneau marvelously documented a wrestling match between a raven and an eagle, releasing the shutter just as the latter pinned down its adversary to the tiled rooftop. Perhaps the struggle is a metaphor for the tension inherent in every human being between one’s childhood, represented by the raven, and adulthood, embodied by the eagle.
There is one other animal that appears in the book: the spider. Guillaume Simoneau foregrounds the web woven by the arachnid and its similarities to some man-made structures. After childhood and adulthood, it could be said that the spider stands for wisdom and maturity. Although it cannot fly like the birds, it is capable of valiantly building a habitat.
Enigmatic landscapes, beaches at nightfall, reinforce the feeling of worldly wisdom found in lines painted by nature: like the water-filled furrow in a half-flooded terrain or the flight of a raven captured several times in mid-air, eloquently charting the paths traced by the bird across the sky.
By Jean-Baptiste Gauvin
Murder from Guillaume Simoneau
96 pages, €45 £40 $50