words and photography by Michaël Jacques
From containment to refinement
“[W]hat is a melancholia? What is a depression? – we find ourselves faced with an enigmatic chiasmus that will continue to preoccupy us. If loss, mourning, and absence set the imaginary act in motion and permanently fuel it as much as they menace and undermine it, it is also undeniable that the fetish of the work of art is erected in disavowal of this mobilizing affliction. The artist: melancholy’s most intimate witness and the fiercest fighter against the symbolic abdication enveloping him – until death strikes and suicide imposes its triumphant conclusion upon the void of the lost object . . .” (Julia, Kristeva, 1987, p.6)
Art is indeed strongly linked to a tentative of filling a lost object’s void, but what is this void? In which way an artistic creation can speak to us or help us? Which criterion makes an art creation more universally talkative? I am here focusing on these aspects through portrait photography precisely. In an isolated and restricted context, during a period where people can possibly start to miss the human contact, The COVID-19 containment season inspired me to question the expressive capacity of photography. For the most part of people, we’ve been able to notice a considerable shift in social interaction. We have dramatically seen people adopting a different state of mind, positive or negative, but surely different. The quarantine can indeed weight upon someone and envelop the person of a depression feeling, we find ourselves looking somewhere else to fill that void. New ideas can emerge from that lack. Therefore, through different mediums (digital, argentic and iPhone camera), with no team, indoors only, and thus, with no picturesque background, I am questioning the factors able to deepen the emotions felt through pictures with these numerous “restrictions”. Within this photography series, I am aiming to produce an enigmatic and sensible series of images that are able to fill us with strong emotions in the simplest way possible. That said, I needed to tangibly understand some specific psychic links between images and their connection to our experience as human beings. I came to the conclusion of building the series, first of all, kind of like organized chaos, in the feeling more than the simply seen. I’ve chosen four principal elements to guide my artistic approach; Eyes contact, nudity, aesthetic quality and hypnotic fusion of images, not always all at once, but still navigating through all of them. Firstly, greatly filled with nudity and portrait staring right at us, but never in a situation of enforced discomfort. I found that the eye contact with the subject on an image is a major criterion to easily generates some kind of emotions, it creates an effect of connection, but also some kind of violation of our intimacy. It’s been massively used in sculpture, painting and cinema; a protagonist staring at us, projecting back a certain form of voyeurism. It is as effective with photography, we can’t help feeling that a message is sent through this regard. The feeling we can feel immersing from the deconstruction of the fourth wall by a protagonist can strongly affect us. Through this regard, we project something inside ourselves to interpret it. “[The] power of the screens to create the illusion of observing us finds its apogee in the situations where a character present on the image fixes the [camera lens]. There is a great temptation, then, to imagine that he is looking at us “deep in the eyes” in a strange intimacy. In short, if we constantly look in the eyes of our loved ones for an image where we can recognize ourselves, we are often tempted to expect the same thing from images, a look that speaks to us about us.” (Serge, Tisseron, 2001, p.123)
For the most part of people, we’ve been able to notice a considerable shift in social interaction. We have dramatically seen people adopting a different state of mind, positive or negative, but surely different.”
Secondly, the carnal focus is indeed a considerable interest. The abundance of nudity in this series finds its reason in their natural, noble and universal aphrodisiac power. (Only young kids and asexual adults won’t feel it’s erogenous power.) “When we talk about the support of arousal by images, we immediately think of sexual arousal. Before them, it was the pleasant skin contact caused by body care that played this role. But the images naturally take over from this primary function of excitation by the hands and the gaze of the other. Sexual representations – whether they are considered erotic or pornographic – have an aphrodisiac power that no one escapes!” (Serge, Tisseron, 2001, p.150)
Another aspect was primordial, to present a series of images with honest aesthetic qualities but, universally appreciable; naturalistic but atmospheric. With no temporal or environmental benchmarks dominate per se, I wanted to question the capacity and the expressive limits of a medium as static and uni-sensory as photography. This series is illustrated as a visual poem, using the textures of the human body as raw, modifiable and exploitable material to create in some cases, a hypnotic fusion of images. I’ve also decided to go against the picturesque background research, the modest and minimalist backdrops castrate the subject from its context to impart a selfless aesthetic experience. This harmonic visual satisfaction can bring considerable feelings, a quality possible because images have “(…) the power to give us strong aesthetic emotions. (…) [T]he emotion experienced is the same each time, that of a beauty that leaves you speechless. This emotion – which also sometimes occurs in front of a person – again finds its origin in the first voluptuous emotions that we knew at the dawn of our life. These were intense emotions that shared the feeling of an extraordinarily different and attractive world, and that of an insatiable
curiosity.” (Serge, Tisseron, 2001, p.152-153) Indeed, by creating a hypnotic fusion of images I found the possibility of being able to flirt with fantasy and reality to fertilize a surrealist paradise. It is another interesting way to inject a talkative notion in images. The photography would more easily serve of reflection, being more abstract, thus more versatile because images have “(…) the ability to simulate the real world! But, at the same time, a second quality is essential: that of giving their spectators the possibility of using them as they wish. And for that, it is better, of course, that they present themselves as transformable construction at will, rather than as reflections of an intangible reality. It is on this condition, and only on this condition, that they can consolidate the great psychic functions established in the relationships that each of us has maintained with the one who first took care of him, that it is his mother or any other.” (Serge, Tisseron, 2001, p.165)
“The quarantine can indeed weight upon someone and envelop the person of a depression feeling, we find ourselves looking somewhere else to fill that void. New ideas can emerge from that lack.”
Finally, a careful post-production work also offers a reflection on the authenticity and credibility of a personal signature articulated through the photographic medium. Ultimately, all these aspects that will then guide our gaze through the photographic series, serve to sensibilize us on the concrete expressive power of photography and impose a “pause” on our usual visual reading rhythm which is intended to be fast given the exhaustive abundance of the images in our social and cultural landscape. “At the boundaries of animality and ‘symbolicity’, the moods – and sadness in particular – are the ultimate reactions to our traumas, our fundamental homeostatic recourse. For although it is true that an individual, when the prisoner of his moods – a being drowning in his sorrow – reveals certain psychical or ideational frailties, it is equally true that a diversification of my moods – a spectrum of sadness, a refinement of grief or mourning – is the mark of my humanity; assuredly not triumphant, but subtle, combative, and creative
. . .” (Julia, Kristeva, 1987 p.8)
Mikozoski, From containment to refinement, Cheads Magazine, 2020
Serge, Tisseron, Comment Hitchcock m’a guéri : Que cherchons nous dans les images ? Paris, Édition
Albin Michel S.A., 2003, 180 p.
Julia, Kristeva, On the melancholic imaginary. New information, Number 3 winter 1987.