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Clara Belleville: Shared Intimacy

In her first book, Entre nous, in which almost nothing happens, Clara Belleville turns her lens to young people idling away their summer. She offers a heliotropic version of dolce vita.


Clara Belleville has just turned 26. She has blue, perhaps grey, eyes. She lives in Paris, not far from the Jourdain metro station, after having lived in the city’s western suburbs and in Spain. To get to know this young woman, as clearheaded and self-possessed as a character from a Françoise Sagan novel, her first book, Entre nous, published last summer by Stromboli, is a good place to start. The title, meaning “between ourselves,” is, she admits, disconcerting, but she likes it: “When you read Entre nous, you are already a part of the book. I like the idea that intimacy, I mean the intimacy of feelings, is something that can be shared.”

© Clara Belleville
© Clara Belleville

On the cover, she poses (nude) with her “boyfriend” (in boxers). They are in Greece. Both belong to the third part of the book, the most secret. The first part is devoted to girl-friends, the second to boy-friends. What is going on in these pages? “Nothing,” she answers. “Nothing ever happens. There is no staging, no critical moments, no parties or birthday cakes, everything is in suspense. It’s summer, we are free to live. The portraits span eight years, with the first one taken in 2013 and the last one in 2021. I’ve always believed that photography allows you to hold on to everything before it disappears.”

© Clara Belleville
© Clara Belleville
© Clara Belleville
© Clara Belleville

When her brother gave her a camera, she thought of it as “second memory.” She had her first exhibition at sixteen, in high school, in 2012: these were “night photos, with flash, of my friends, parties, nothing special…” After obtaining her high-school diploma with a science major, should wondered if she should go into architecture, become an engineer… She passed competitive exams, and everything came to her “naturally.” She chose Gobelins, l’École de l’Image. There followed three years of study, with two main teachers, Jérôme Jéhel and Ricardo Moreno. What did she learn? “Retouching, scanning negatives, printing, and photography techniques.” What about lighting? “I learned it mainly by assisting Paolo Roversi, an exceptional technician of rare flexibility, who is an expert in lighting.”

Is it really true that nothing happens in Entre nous? Not exactly. Even while Belleville does not mythologize the daily life of these young people, Clara Belleville shows them in isolation. They are a bit like butterflies pinned under glass. We see nothing of the landscapes they pass, nothing of their thoughts; instead, the photographer stands in the background, neither an accomplice nor a voyeur. What is most difficult to photograph, girls or boys? “Girls tense up and adjust their hair; boys are less embarrassed, they pose, and then they forget about the camera.”

© Clara Belleville
© Clara Belleville

The beautiful thing about this sunlit book is a sense of excess: Belleville seems to disrupt the corporeal frame. Thus the male backs appear to be ceramic, almost untouchable, reflecting magnificent light. Suddenly, this deliberate disproportion, which might have been merely a favorite stylistic effect, we come to sense movement. It is no surprise that Belleville feels more akin to cinema than to photography. “I like Éric Rohmer. There is a certain slowness in his films, it is very calm. Yes, I could make films one day…”

© Clara Belleville
© Clara Belleville
© Clara Belleville
© Clara Belleville
© Clara Belleville
© Clara Belleville
© Clara Belleville
© Clara Belleville

Clara Belleville, Entre nous, Éditions Stromboli, 132 pp, 74 photographs, €50 

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