Immediately upon entering the exhibition space, the visitor is confronted with this strange sensation of flirting between human absences and human presences. On the left are huge prints picturing Roma shantytowns in Marseille. Marie Bovo shot this series at night, while the people were asleep. She captured flimsy dwellings built on an old railway line: an old rug here, a wooden chair there, tarps to keep the rain out. While the humans don’t appear in the photographs, everything there points to their lives. Marie Bovo uses her camera to capture the shell that houses this community,
This feeling of human presence in a visible vacuum is even stronger in the series that comes next, Evening Setting. In a small village in Ghana, Africa, she placed her camera just opposite the entrance to several huts, the place where meals are prepared. We see all the objects and utensils used: a small stool, a metal dish, various pots and pans… Sometimes, there is even something cooking on the fire. And yet… never a single person. Marie Bovo captures a strange picture: a sudden emptiness in an inhabited place. Hence the feeling of a presence in the midst of absence, of a ghost prowling the image.
“In one of the photographs, there’s a ghost, there’s a cat. A cat that you can barely make out; he stayed still long enough to leave his mark, but not long enough to be fully present, so he is only there like a ghost. Similarly, the objects that are there make the human presences seem ghostly,” explains the artist, who goes on to add: “These objects, on the other hand, have a very anchored, very real presence, because they represent everyday objects that are ballasted by fire, by water.”
These places are like theaters of objects. An impression reinforced by the specific lighting of an early morning or evening, when light bulbs cast a harsh light on the space, like a stage across which move the actors and the sharp reflections of the objects used in the play. Hence, also, the strong presence of shadows, which add depth to the image and enhance its beauty.
A small trace of light
In Algiers, Marie Bovo set up her camera in the rooms of an apartment. There is a mise en abyme of the frame, via the actual frame of the room and its window, which is similar to what she did previously for her series on the Trans-Siberian Railway, where she took photographs of the open doors of the train. But there is also a study of light and its particular hues in the evening or in the middle of the night.
For Marie Bovo did indeed shoot this series during nighttime hours, sometimes leaving a very long exposure time, enabling her to capture the city lights in a thicker, more textured way. As the photographer explains: “You always get the impression that a photograph is a moment captured on the spot, but not necessarily. A photograph is also time that allows light to reveal itself, to imprint the surface. And with this very long exposure time, you’re able to capture the smallest trace of light that the naked eye can barely detect. ”
By Jean-Baptiste Gauvin
Interview by Anne-Frédérique Fer
Marie Bovo, Nocturnes
Reopening on May 26 until July 26, 2020
Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson, 79, rue des Archives, 75003 Paris