Critics’ Picks

Sophie Calle, The Blind. My son, 1986, framed text, framed black-and-white photograph, framed color photograph, one shelf, dimensions variable.


Sophie Calle

Fotomuseum Winterthur
Grüzenstrasse 44 & 45
June 8–August 25, 2019

The work of Sophie Calle—situated between photography, narration, conceptual art, and installation—receives thoughtful treatment in this focused and fine exhibition, made all the stronger for resisting the comprehensive demands of a retrospective.

Titled “Un certain regard,” the show highlights five of the Parisian-born artist’s series, spanning 1986 to 2018. The earliest of these, “Les Aveugles” (The Blind), juxtaposes Calle’s portraits of sixteen people, all of whom were born without eyesight, with texts describing their notions of beauty and photographs by the artist visualizing their ideas. The gaps between imagination and image—for example, of the color green, the infinite sea, or the haptic idea of a painting—emphasize the prejudices of the observer’s perceptions. In “La Dernière Image” (The Last Image, 2010), Calle depicted thirteen Istanbul residents who either gradually or suddenly lost their eyesight, and photographically reconstructed the last visual impressions they recall. The series exposes how memories are constructed as afterthoughts.

History and its editing, especially in the conflicted area between state-controlled commemorative culture and personal memory, also unfold in the artist’s book Detachment (1996), Calle’s confrontation with GDR monuments removed after the fall of the Berlin Wall. This work, in turn, blurs the camera’s frame by placing photographs alongside fragmentary transcriptions of oral histories recounting locals’ reactions to the new voids in urban space.

“Un certain regard” elegantly reflects the photographic principle of inscription, the political dimensions of memory construction, and, occasionally, the artist’s deep, dry humor. The focus, however, remains on her capacity to portray photography between impression, copy, documentation, and projection, and to move deftly between a sensual, social, and unapologetically critical approach to representation.

Translated from German by Hiji Nam.