Friday, April 14, 2023

Crit: 77 rue du Prince Moulay Abdellah by Tony Fouhse

In the spirit of disclosure, Tony asked me to review this work, but I'd already resolved to do so. Possibly I would have punted without Tony's nudge, but you should consider this to be essentially if not literally un-nudged. Also, I like and respect Tony so this isn't going to be an unbiased review. I'll attempt, as always, to approach it in a neutral way with probably mixed results.

This little project is, for now, strictly online and opens with a short explanation. You should go read that and at least glance at the photos. We'll pick up when you get back.

To start with, the reminds me of at least one other set of photos. André Kertész did a whole book of pictures taken from his window, many of them looking down on Washington Square Park at people milling about being people. I have this notion that either Steichen or Stieglitz did a similar thing, but a cursory google didn't turn it up so I gave up. The point is, this is a point of view that's been exploited before, and for very good reasons.

It's tempting to say that it's been done before, but I don't think that's at all fair. I think that is a little more like "using a 50mm lens" than "photographing a guy covered with bees against a white background" in the sense that you can say different things with the same technique. You can shape many stories, perhaps infinitely many, around "looking down on people from a high place."

In this case, we have a highly structured thing that's filled with motion. We see the terrace (I think) in question, and then the view from it. We examine a building, and pan down to look at people on the street next to it. Another building, another pan down. Then the author takes a trip down the stairs, onto the street, some city sights, the terrace again from the street level, and then back up the elevator. We examine a a third building, a rooftop, pan down to the people one more time.

Verse, Verse, Bridge, Verse. Just like a pop song.

At the same time there is a sense of passing time. We see the same things in the daylight, in the morning, at night, and so on. The "bridge" passage starts in the morning descending the stairs and ends in the evening with the return to the terrace.

All these things create mood a-plenty. Despite the fact that the whole thing is shot from a distance, at a very real physical remove, there is plenty of affect in play here. The use of night-time plays a role here, but also the people depicted are very much alive, in motion, doing and living.

The high viewpoint creates a sort of theatrical viewpoint (this observation has been made ad nauseam about the Kertész book.) You're in the balcony, watching the show, but the show is life. This is, ultimately, why this is a technique rather than a trope (insofar as that means anything.) Life is inconstant, the show we're observing is endlessly renewed, endlessly different. The distance, rather than draining off affect, lends mystery. We have no idea what any of these people are up to, not really. One of them might be doing something with laundry, but we don't know what she's thinking, who she is. Why does that guy have two gas cans, and where is he going with them? The kid seems excited, but by what?

What amuses me, here, is that while we are watching the play unfold before us, Fouhse has built a strong narrative that takes place entirely here rather than there. The action that is legible to us is the action of the photographer. He moves here and there, time passes for him and he returns, and so on. The action in front of the lens is interesting, arguably riveting if you give it a chance, but completely illegible.

Hence the fascination and the mystery.

Overall the thing yields up a mood, a sense of presence. I can't quite believe that it reveals any essence of being in Casablanca in a general way, but I do think it gets at the sense of being on that specific terrace in that specific way. And thence, it gets at a piece of being in Casablanca, but at the same time a piece of being a distant observer. It isn't just any balcony, it's this specific place, but at the same time it feels like any balcony, all balconies.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this thoughtful consideration for excellent work, Michael Schreier