Yves Trémorin

Galerie De Photographie De La Bibliothèque Nationale

It was the model rather than the photographer who came to the opening of this exhibit. She was there from the very beginning, alone, studying the images—her images—from a distance, with a mix of intensity and apparent satisfaction. Her hair was slightly longer now, and her body, so very naked and vulnerable on the wall, was enveloped, protected literally from neck to toe. But the face was the same, and her presence only served to confirm (if such a confirmation was necessary) that these photographs are the result of no ordinary collaboration.

The model, we are told, is a friend of the photographer, Yves Trémorin: her name, as the title of the series indicates, is Catherine. And she is ill, disabled, confined to the wheelchair in which she made her way around the gallery at the opening. The body that she bares before the camera is scarred from surgery: her legs are withered, her face often lined with anxiety and fatigue. At first glance these are the physical, visual elements that stand out, shock, and frighten. There is no estheticizing; the images are more gray than black-and-white, the forms truncated, and sometimes out of focus. The camera above all comes relentlessly close: there is no space, no distance, no buffer against the immediacy of the subject.

The closeness is a form of intimacy as well, and along with the illness, pain, and fear, photographer and model have also shared moments of great freedom and joy. The same endangered body that crouches on the edge of a bed or flattens itself against the covers can radiate strength, serenity, sensuality; the same face that belies a troubled inner world can lapse into revery or erupt into laughter. And it is in the succession of contrasts and contradictions that “Catherine,” 1991, translates anecdote into epic. These willfully fragmented images are not portraits but traces of a life that is rendered all the more living by its proximity to death.

In fact, however singular this series in its seeming fusion of subject and style, its relentless esthetic of intimacy, the physical, palpable confrontation with mortality, is central to all of Trémorin’s work. An early study of his grandmother, identified only as Cette femme là (That woman there, 1983–87) literally followed her to her death; his mother also became the subject of an extraordinary series of nudes, De cette femme (About that woman, 1985–86), and in between the two, the Nus froissés (Crumpled nudes, 1984) transformed photos of friends into distorted spectres. But it is above all in the course of a seven-year collaboration with two other young French photographers, Jean-Claude Bélégou and Florence Chevalier, that this individual stance evolved into a collective program. Under the group name of Noir Limité (Ultimate black), the threesome organized exhibitions, publications, and performances aimed quite bluntly at testing the limits of photographic content and form, precisely through the “matter” of the body and its existence. Not surprisingly, this gesture of revolt “beyond Modernity and post-Modernities” brought them some official recognition, but also two bouts with the censors. Arguably the most interesting of the group (which disbanded in April 1993 to allow its members to go their separate esthetic ways), Trémorin is also the most subversive, because the limits he challenges are not those of censorship but of self-censorship. In a series like “Catherine,” there is no sex, violence, or voyeurism but, rather, a determined assault on thetaboos, visual and otherwise, that relegate illness to hospitals and death to the grave.

Miriam Rosen