Images from Syria: Michel Eisenlohr’s views at the Maison de la Photographie de Toulon
It is a journey under the overwhelming sun of the East, in such a distant tranquility of the media prism with which we are confronted on a daily basis. A few locals accompany us through these secular monuments, testimonies of the greatness of men, of a flourishing civilization threatened today by endless conflicts. Until November 24, the Maison de la Photographie de Toulon invites the spectator to cross Syria, following in the footsteps of photographer Michel Eisenlohr, as he discovered it in 2002. The exhibition “Images of Syria” retraces the journey with an eye filled with pure beauty, paying tribute to a country whose classified heritage has been partially or totally destroyed. Photographs as a moving testimony of a mythical Syria, worthy not to be forgotten.
Invited in 2002 to the Aleppo Photography Festival, Michel Eisenlohr decided to travel to Syria by car from Marseille. For his first and only visit to this Middle Eastern country, whose ancient cities of Palmyra, Aleppo and Damascus are classified as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, Michel Eisenlohr is following in the footsteps of photographers of the second half of the 19th century like Maxime Ducamp and is developing a travel diary where the only writing will be visual. Equipped with his camera, the black and white images captured capture the intensity of a unique territory. “These are transition stages, pathways, homelessness choices that gradually lead me to the subject. The readings and mapping feed my personal approach and my sensitive side,” explains the photographer. Nourished with travel stories, Michel Eiseinlohr chooses to express his emotions through his lens rather than with another medium.
These images do not correspond to any order, moreover, the photographer did not have a specific lens for their intentions. Thus, these photographs will remain in the boxes for years before a meeting with the Centre des Monuments Nationaux makes it possible to set up an exhibition on the Roman site of Glanum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in 2017 with the theme of destroyed ancient sites. “The sites photographed in 2002 are now unrecognizable. This very personal report has been transformed into a work of memory in order to bear witness forever to a lost splendour”. Palmyra, Aleppo, Damascus: these thousand-year-old cities lived from a rich craft trade. The grandeur of the Roman ruins and the multicultural lifestyle made this country a model. Through the images, we discover the splendour of these ancient cities but also Syrian life, a daily life forever shaken. The beauty of the landscape of yesteryear became a field of ruin in 2018, prey to fanatics and other dictators leading an endless war. Peaceful streets, splendour of ancient marbles, sparkling Arab mosaics, traditional scenes, raw light. Whatever the shots -frontal or diving -, their composition in depth, time seems to be suspended. A sensation reinforced by the texture produced by the use of black and white and silver. This is confirmed by Michel Eisenlohr: “With silver, there is an alchemical side, we detect a material that we do not perceive with digital. There is something different about the restitution of images. But also, the film forces the photographer to expose himself, to take his time rather than to generate the shots. We try to capture what seems relevant, we wait for the right moment, the right moment”.
His photographic process inevitably permeates this work. Capturing the spirit of the place, savouring an atmosphere, letting oneself be overwhelmed by the pure aesthetics of the landscapes, reflecting on these remains and meeting the inhabitants: this earthly journey is transformed into an initiatory journey, into a silent amorous quest. No nostalgia. The spectator will also take his time to feel this joyful feeling of discovery and keep in mind only the human nobility.
Until 24 November 2018
Pictures from Syria – Photographs by Michel Eisenlohr
House of Photography
Place du Globe
Open from Tuesday to Saturday from 12pm to 6pm.
A book published by Actes Sud compiles images of the photographers and author’s texts: more info here.
More information about Michel Eisenlohr here
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