“The type of photography I refer to as a manifesto harks back to the very roots of its history: this manifesto-style photography is handcrafted, experimental, and perpetually anchored in the tangible world, rather than the virtual or abstract,” begins French documentary photographer Claude Iverné.
Through this manifesto, Iverné makes a commitment—to the world, to trees, and to the concept of taking one’s time. The human perspective, which he endeavors to represent as faithfully as possible, serves as the cornerstone of his photographic oeuvre. Without laying claim to originality—something he notes might be “a novelty in itself”—the photographer extols the virtue of slowness as an antidote to the accelerated pace of contemporary life.
“It may seem evident, but this nuanced approach, akin to camouflage, signifies a clear, albeit not premeditated, departure from the spectacle and the ceaseless consumption of images that continually bombard our senses,” observes Iverné. For, the acceleration—whether in our movements, our lifestyles, or the constant flow of data—is palpable. One cannot help but take notice.
The photographer’s cooking
Born in 1963 in Auxonne, Burgundy, Iverné embarked in 1999 on an expedition between Egypt and the sultanate of Darfur, traversing the “Darb al Arab’in” (“the trail of forty days”) in present-day Sudan. In doing so, he has retraced ancient trans-Saharan routes.
“From where we stand, what can we know about Sudan but a mere mental projection of an unfamiliar land?” exclaims Iverné. Even the country’s peculiar name, Bilad es Sudan (“the land of the blacks”), reflects contemporary malaises.
Iverné encountered a people with a rich, complex history and diverse influences. He spent nearly two decades in the region, documenting the country, its inhabitants, and landscapes. “I chronicle descriptions and collect perspectives,” he explains.
His photographic technique employs a spectrum of black and white—or, rather, shades of gray—and green-tinted prints. Is this an allusion to the country’s status as a “gray zone” (an area of social, political, or economic deregulation beyond the control of the state)? His methodology, his “photographer’s cooking,” establishes a level of detachment from his subject matter without distorting reality. As Iverné himself points out: “You’re not in Sudan; you’re in a photography exhibition.”
Portraits and trees
Much like in Sudan, which is too far away to merit our immediate attention, trees are living out their own drama: “Des Arbres is both a warning and a tribute to what stands to be lost among the treasures we have right before our eyes.” It was in this context that Iverné took his first portraits of trees, deliberately adopting a slower pace.
Iverné went on to continue his explorations in Cambodia, Senegal, South Africa, and other places, without any predefined agenda or project, without deliberately seeking them out, as he puts it. “The Baobab tree in Kordofan, which appears as though planted upside down in the steppe, its roots reaching skyward, clearly exemplifies the kind of relationship with time that had so captivated me in Sudan,” he recalls.
He has assembled a collection of portraits with an eye toward examining the future of trees and landscapes, observing what “unfolds quietly in the forests, on the plains, and even in our own backyards.” For him, trees epitomize the unhurried tempo he finds himself drawn to. Trees naturally and historically invoke a sense of wonder for Iverné; they are revered, celebrated, and endowed with mystical powers.
During his travels, he has inadvertently amassed a portfolio. Along the way, he encountered various professional photographers who had a lasting impact on his own approach to the craft. It was during this period that he acquired a large-format camera, aiming to capture the finest details possible, with a view to rendering textures and materials.
“Far from limiting myself to so-called remarkable trees, my portfolio encompasses trees that are both ordinary and unique, the characteristics of which I find hard to articulate. They’re not consistently gigantic, awe-inspiring, ancient, or sturdy. They often stray from the textbook stereotype. Each, through its individual portrait, tells a story that is at once personal, communal, and environmental, revealing many markers of the Anthropocene,” Iverné elaborates.
Claude Iverné envisions this series as a poetic ode—a tribute to time, patience, and especially to the grand trees that “remain standing as we pass by, unless they too are casualties of our rush.”
While his photography primarily employs black and white, Iverné also delves into the nuances of color. “My first encounter with the concept of color addition came through play, in elementary school, with candy wrappers—the very same ones my great-grandmother used to hand me on summer afternoons,” the photographer recalls.
As he recounts, his school teacher passed around candy in transparent wrappers of various colors. As they unwrapped them, young Claude and his classmates would mix and name the color combinations. This playful engagement with shades of color extended into experiments with paints, pigments, and inks.
The compulsive gathering of images and objects to form an inventory is a recurring theme across Iverné’s three series. In the late 1980s, he embarked on a candid, introspective project titled De la Couleur. Utilizing the colored wrappers he’d encountered as a child, he began to craft compositions, delighting in the assembly of vibrant, abstract tableaus.
“Since that time, I’ve amassed an eclectic assortment of materials from around the globe, including a collection of pigments from Egypt and Sudan, as well as oils, acrylics, dry pastels, and pastels à l’écu,” Iverné adds, amused. These collections now patiently reside in boxes. “Here are the original color combinations.”