“There is a maturity involved in this process and a willingness to communicate in overly direct means a simple, yet solid message to the viewer”
One of the great compulsions towards photographic projects is to overcomplicate the frame and drive of a project through a sometimes compelling narrative that leads an audience through the mind of the author more than the subjects that he or she are photographing. It takes a keen observer full of insight to strip away the excess, to reel their ego back from the edges of the frame and pages to focus on the subject at hand. There is a maturity involved in this process and a willingness to communicate in overly direct means a simple, yet solid message to the viewer. It is a method that suggests strategic thinking over an expression to curry favour from an audience by trying to impress.
I often find it hard to engage in projects where one single idea is represented over and over again; the repetition of subject or topic often asks a durational observation and a minute exchange of information. You can easily broadside a project like this with disinterest or easy dismissal. It is easy to suggest to yourself that you “get it”and therefore you can move on to other constellations and other worries. It is not an unfair advantage to move with this speed. The world is full of projects, so once you believe you have absorbed the simplicity and goal of a project like this, you move. In the case of Half-Light by Loïc Seguin, I got my motivation wrong in the beginning.
I have known about this book for most of the year. I was able to see a rough draft of it from the publisher and will freely admit, I did not find it compelling. I did not dismiss it entirely, but I do not remember it gripping my attention. I understood that the images within, the reduced images of “common people” that were asked to come to Seguin’s apartment building where he photographed them very simply, mostly with flash and against a door or inside a hallway, but I do not remember being taken with it. I remember thinking somehow the project felt very German in terms of work somehow.
Perhaps it was reminiscent somehow of a more morbid version of Juergen Teller’s Go-Sees. I thought perhaps the “French”-ness of it could be seen as Post-Christer Strömholm à la JH Engström, but I felt that would be an unfair reduction to all on my part. I could not say exactly why. Perhaps it was the typological consideration of the work and the stripped back motif. The subjects within are a mix of people. I would suggest they are people Seguin met in his local Parisian pub. I knew that he was a policeman and that the typological consideration could also be misconstrued for a history of classification photography-the shadow archive as Allan Sekula put it. And yet, I still was not sure of the work.
I have changed my mind on the matter of Loïc Seguin significantly. As this year has passed and the publishing team at Void have released the book, I will freely admit that the title, its simple almost minimal form have stayed with me. I cannot explain why, but I have learned in my years that if something that I was unsure of before, perhaps even loathed stays with me this long, then there is something to it. As if it is trying to to tell me that I am wrong by staying with me, I relent and give second and third looks. I usually find this atavistic diligence pays off in the end and I learn more for the experience.
In the case of Half-Light, I am struck the simplicity, but also the vision of Seguin. I am entranced by the characters, as if a common Flaubert title has sprung to life in 2020 and we find his many citizens are inhabiting Seguin’s frames. The simplicity of form asks interesting questions that are not obvious at first. For example, there is a neutrality involved in the images. There is no “looking down” on the subjects, nor is there a over complication to posing etc. I imagine Seguin to simply ask his subject in and to “stand here”. In some cases, it is possible that he asks for clothes to be removed, but I would bet that the subjects, depending if there is an arrangement ask Loïc “do you mean naked” and Loïc probably opts in for this offer.
There is little vulnerability or frailty exhibited in the portraits of the subjects. They are almost ambivalent. I do not feel as though they are problematic, nor do I feel they politiczed by magnifying the “common” subject. But then why would I as my own class gap is not that far removed and is something that we tend to speak about in photography without actually speaking about it these days. I extend this thought without considering the power structure of Seguin’s day job acknowledged by his subject. I am hoping this was not part of the familiarity of their dynamic collaboration as it would raise other questions.
“There is little vulnerability or frailty exhibited in the portraits of the subjects. They are almost ambivalent”
Peppered throughout the book are color images that give a slightly different interpretation of the material. There is a particular images of a girl in a beige coat in both monochrome and color. She reminds me of somehow of Rachael in Blade Runner somehow with a different haircut. I have seen the Polaroid studies of Sean Young from the film and perhaps this is closer to what I mean. There is a semblance, but that is where it ends. This use of color within the book paces the material brilliantly and gives a greater scope to the work, but also relieves it from becoming too simplistic. It breaks the dull aching of the Dirk Braekman-esque interior studies and returns the work to its Brueghel or Flaubert inspired nocturnal continuation. The book is well-paced and I would offer that the sequencing is probably one of VOID’s best. The size keeps it intimate and bible-like asking the audience to consider the object and subject’s inside with more precision and care.
I was wrong about Loïc Seguin’s Half-Light when I first saw it. I think it is important to recognize these moments of uncertainty and to allow oneself a change of mind or attitude about work that you might pass with dismissive mean. I think we place much emphasis on the term consistency, yet few of us actually adhere to its compliance. It is a pleasure for me to have re-examined Seguin’s book and to have my initial feeling changed. I believe this title is one of the books of the year and deserves its place on a shelf somewhere between the love child of Richard Avedon’s American West and Dirk Braekman’s baroque, if smoky Sisyphean hotel rooms. There is a slight hint at Alphonse Bertillon’s ghost implicit in the straight-forward rendering of the subjects likely due to Seguin’s day job, but only slight and instead of declaring his hand, it is subtle and makes the book even more potent. Highly Recommended.