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The power of images

The power of images

The new Centre Photographique of Marseille (CPM) is currently showcasing an exhibit on the vast theme of Power. The objective of the CPM, which opened just one year ago, is to introduce audiences to contemporary photography and give people tools with which to better understand today’s images. At a time when images play such a crucial role in society, what could be more important than to reflect on the relationship between photography and power?
Barbara Kruger, Sans titre, 1989 © droits réservés / Cnap /

The CPM is located in the heart of La Joliette neighborhood, at the intersection of an industrial port, a major shopping center, and the historic neighborhood of Le Panier, and it draws a diverse, working class and dynamic audience; an audience that is well aware of the paradoxes of a society saturated with images from the worlds of advertising, media, political campaigns, virtual reality, and more. Images are everywhere, omnipresent. What power do they have over us? Do they influence our perception of the world? Our opinions?

By bringing together photographs of more than twenty artists, the exhibition Pouvoir(s) [Power (s)] provides an overview of all these photographic forms that question the notion of power and brings up essential questions. Following is a description of two of the show’s highlights.

Michael Jackson, 2003 © Valérie Belin

Clothes don’t make the man

At the entrance of the exhibition, visitors are greeted by an icon, a superstar, the idol and symbol of a whole generation: Michael Jackson. The huge, lifesize black and white photo was taken by French photographer Valérie Belin. Fascinated by subterfuge and artifice, the artist produced this work thanks to the participation of various Michael Jackson look-alikes.

From afar, there’s no doubt about it: what we’re seeing is definitely the American king of pop. But from up close, something doesn’t seem quite right… How can one imitate a being as elusive as this man, the master of transformation and appearances? By mixing the true with the false, authenticity with reproduction, Valérie Belin plays with the misleading power of images. A trompe-l’oeil that CPM director Erick Gudimard also had fun playing with, by deliberately chosing to place the photograph at the beginning of the exhibition so that it is visible from the street. “It’s very eye-catching! People walking by are immediately drawn to it and want to come through the door,” he says.

Alain Bizos, Jacques Mesrine, le tir de la série Mesrine, 1979  © Adagp, Paris / Cnap / Crédit photo : (Service photographique interne)

A young people’s idol

A little further into the show and just as eye-catching is a triptych by Alain Bizos depicting Jacques Mesrine, the legendary French gangster who was once Public Ennemy No. 1 and who both terrified and fascinated all of France. For yes, Mesrine was aware of the power of fascination he held over people despite the murders, robberies and kidnappings for which he was wanted.

In the spring of 1979, he was on the run. With the help of his friend Gilles Millet, who planned to write a book about the gangster, Alain Bizos—then a reporter for the French daily Libération—met Mesrine in secret in a country house near Orleans. In these photos, snapped like souvenir photos, the few people who attended the meeting pose proudly next to the thug and the images of Mesrine himself gradually take on an ironic foreshadowing: Mesrine revealing his face, Mesrine climbing a wall as if he were on the run, Mesrine mimicking his own death by guillotine, and, in this triptych, Mesrine drawing and pointing his weapon. In a single roll of film, Alain Bizos once immortalized the legend. Here, in just three photos, he has knighted him.

One week after the photo shoot, on November 2, 1979, Jacques Mesrine died in a hail of gunfire, shot down by the French police. Alain Bizos’ photos were published in Paris Match a few days later, and Jacques Mesrine became “the young people’s idol.”

Nickolas Muray,  Frida Kahlo on Bench, 1939 © droits réservés / Cnap / crédit photo : Galerie Camera Obscura
Hocine, La Madone de Benthala, 23 septembre 1997 © droits réservés / Cnap / crédit photo : Yves Chenot
Bill Owens, Reagan TV Interior, 1972 © Bill Owens / Cnap / crédit photo : Bruno Scotti

By Coline Olsina


October 12, 2019 – January 11, 2020

Centre Photographique de Marseille, 2 Rue Vincent Leblanc, 13002 Marseille

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