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Valérie Belin's precious reflections

Valérie Belin’s precious reflections

Regarded as the most celebrated French photographer working today, Valérie Belin explores surface, identity and artificiality in her work. Each of these themes is given prominence in her latest series Reflection, which was commissioned by the V&A in London, and takes its inspiration from the museum archives

Reflection © Valérie Belin

“You have the same viewpoint through a window as you do through a photograph,” says Valérie Belin of the subject of her series Reflection. The work explores street photography and storefront window displays, and is inspired by the V&A’s archives, including the street photography of Eugène Atget, Walker Evans and Lee Friedlander, and the commercial photographs of window displays by the Worsinger Window Service, a New York firm specialising in documenting shop windows and interiors in the 1930s. “The window is a very paradoxical surface,” explains Belin. “It shows both what is inside the window, and what is outside in the reflection.” 

Belin combines the visual language of the street with illusionary effects created through layered reflections. To do so, she uses digital manipulation and superimposition, continuing her ongoing investigation into the tension between the real and the imaginary. “This superimposition informs an interior and exterior mental landscape,” she explains. “There is a surrealistic dimension to the work.”

Reflection © Valérie Belin


The main materials used in the series are Belin’s photographs of window displays, which were largely taken in New York City prior to the commission. Working with Photoshop, Belin added layers to the pictures, comprising photographs of plants, trees and flowers, and scans of magazines. “I also scanned some very basic paintings,” she says, “The intention was to add texture.” Belin’s photographs are akin to paintings in their use of layering techniques, but there is also a cinematographic dimension to the work. “I imagine the images to appear as projected on a screen,” she explains. “Instead of quickly disappearing to accommodate others as in a film, they accumulate on the surface of the photograph.”

The series ties into Belin’s previous work, which often plays with juxtaposition and stereotypes. By giving life to inanimate window displays, she considers mass-consumption and the fantasies these window displays construct. “In a windowshop, you can see the stereotypes linked to beauty,” says Belin. “My work really deals with subjects, whether they are objects or people, that are trying to be something else.”

The window display becomes the desired object, and elements of the reflection show those who are striving for those objects. “There is always life coming through in my photographs,” explains Belin, “All of my pictures are very paradoxical, as you have life or death, living and inanimate, absence and presence.”

Reflection © Valérie Belin

Reflection © Valérie Belin

Reflection © Valérie Belin

Reflection © Valérie Belin

By Sarah Roberts

Valérie Belin: Reflection

22 October 2019 – 31 August 2020 

V&A Photography Centre, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL

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