Isabelle Le Minh started out as a patent engineer and got her degree in photography in 1993. Her first career has left a trace in her work: she deploys her skills as an inventor to examine the photographic medium and its life over time. In an interview given to Arte in 2017 she said that the emergence of digital photography was decisive to her approach: “what will it change, what difference does it make with respect to traditional analog photography?” She tackled this question for the first time in Trop tôt, trop tard (After Henri Cartier-Bresson), a series in which she began to define her style by experimenting with citation and appropriation. In these photographs, she drew on the works of Cartier-Bresson which she modified, removing any human presence. Starting with the oeuvre of Cartier-Bresson, who formulated the idea of the “decisive moment,” Le Minh examined the effects of digital technologies on this moment which one could now create from scratch.
The title of the exhibition, Before Something New, evokes the idea of reflection on post-photography which the photographer pursues in her latest series Traumachrome. Le Minh set out to photograph the Kodak Company headquarters in Rochester, NY, and document the decline of the brand using its iconic black-and-white Tri-X film. As she was scanning the film, the images became streaked with yellow and red (Kodak’s company colors). The photographer did not hesitate to assume this unwittingly initiated dialog with the history of photography in order to better examine the development of the medium.
Le Minh’s dialog with the history of photography does not stop at works and artists, but also addresses the medium’s technical and theoretical dimensions. This is the case, for example, of Life Time: After Robert Heinecken, which subverts the Time-Life encyclopedia (a multivolume publication produced in the 1960s and aimed at young photographers) by digitizing it and then re-photographing it, this time using analog film.
A tribute to the early photography
Halfway between photography and conceptual art, employing playful techniques, subversions, allusions, and superpositions, Isabelle Le Minh gives proof of extensive knowledge and understanding of the history of photography. By interacting with the past, she foregrounds the forgotten beginnings of photography. Rather than merely paying it a tribute, she brings it back to life, albeit in her own way.
By Sophie Puig
Before something new, Isabelle Le Minh
From September 7 to October 12, 2019
Galerie Christophe Gaillard, 5 Rue Chapon, 75003 Paris