Bernard Faucon

With few significant exceptions, Bernard Faucon’s Fresson-process color photographs are reconstructions of an adolescent world in which allegory asserts itself as a natural state of being. These carefully realized moments of imagination seem to contain the secret syntax and memory of all other moments. Photographs have always served as endorsements for the truth of the past; among other problems with this sanguine notion is the fact that the terms of evidence operative in childhood differ, perhaps unresolvably, from those of the adult world. And, when art engages the distinct domain of childhood, innocence and evil, as Georges Bataille has suggested, are seen to be posed in an ambiguous, primordial embrace: a kind of paganism appears to reign.

Questions of accessibility and authenticity, however, are rarely raised in relation to childhood. Can we, as adults, lay claim to a hermeneutical circle from which we have been exiled? Our trust in the veracity of transparent memory is as irrepressibly naive as our cheerful faith in its photographic representation. Faucon’s hyperbolic images place us directly and effectively in the midst of these issues. They demonstrate that our youthful past is a cavity filled with preferred constructions called memories, revived and revised with some regularity.

The collection of young male mannequins that proliferates in the photographs is a blatant indication of their artifice; yet our desire to share with Faucon what we believe to be his effort to recoup the lost objects of memory is overriding. In Les Amis (The friends, 1978), for example, an adolescent boy sleeps on the ground attended by his idealized double, a mannequin that leans over him smilingly, outlined against a radiant blue sky. Behind this pair, in the middle distance, a pair of crouching mannequins looks on. Only the lightly clad, reclining adolescent is “real” (the relationship between le jeune homme and his admiring double may be read as a parodic allegory of original and copy), but the image recalled in the absence of the actual photograph tends to sublate such distinctions. Memory, even short-term, slides willingly into Faucon’s sexual allusion. Desire is recalcitrant.

There is more to Faucon’s work than games of dissimulation or the mimicry of a mythic sexual awakening. At their best, these photographs do subtle violence to life abandoned, to “a chain of useful acts” (Bataille); they turn the resilient world of rational materialism on its head. In those few instances where the vision fails—Le Navire (The ship, 1979), Piscine (Swimming pool, 1977)—the images remain at the level of smart props displayed plein air that simply appeal to our fetish for youth without managing to entrap us in it.

Six larger prints produced by Faucon since 1981 no longer rely exclusively on the child-world as their contextual frame. The familiar cast of plaster characters, and the ready narrative that Faucon so archly implied to relieve the discomfort of ambiguous meaning, are absent. Here he deliberately leaves us suspended in silent rooms or in dormant fields littered with an array of enigmatic signs and clues. Only two of these prints incorporate human presences. In one, Les Pastèques (The watermelons, 1983), a nearly naked boy with dark skin lies on his side on a red-tile floor, surrounded by whole and broken, fleshy watermelons. In the second, a boy in a cloak stands at the edge of a scrubby field at some distance from us. He faces a hedgerow strung with a chain of lights forming words in script that appear to have been “lit” by the small torch held in the boy’s right hand; the “sign” provides the photograph’s title: “Mon petit chéri” (My little darling, 1981).

The understated irony of these more recent works emerges from the soft, grainy Fresson color in the form of equivocal messages that address us in a familiar, affectionate voice while making plain our distance from them and our silence. At the same time, as the photographs have become more reductive, they have tended to succumb to their own romance of pure light and poetic expression. It is a pity when the magician falls in love with his magic.

Ed Hill and Suzanne Bloom