Hervé Guibert

In the introduction to his book of photos Le seul visage (The only face, 1984), Nerve Guibert defined his relationship to photography in terms of resistance, as a “reluctant, prudent form, distrustful of practicing it.” Imbued, perhaps, with this cautious practice, Guibert’s images fall into the idea of absence, into a a certain sense of lightness, of dreaming. Without a doubt, it is not a definitive, excluding absence; on the contrary, the objects portrayed point to the presence of an Other which, without always being visible, may appear at any moment. Such is the case in those photographs that pick up the traces of human presence: shoes arranged to be used, a book next to a window whose reading will be undertaken once again, texts on a table that wait for the writer. In other pieces, alterity becomes tangible thanks to the insertion of the photographic act itself—the instant in which the photograph is taken—into the final image. In L’ami (The friend, 1979), the identity of the person portrayed is hidden, displacing the drive in the image to the physical contact between the hand (external element) and the chest (privileged object).

The essence of the Other lies in the choice of the objects and memorabilia that Guibert presents. We see it in the marionettes, in the mask that hangs from the wall and also in the strange androgynous image leaning back in the chair that goes by the name of Jeanne d’Arc, 1982. Apropos of this wax head Guibert wrote: “at once a boy and a girl, but better yet asexual or adorned with every kind of sexuality, it was, more than a face, it was its sublimation, with its pose that seemed to make an appeal to the flame of the bonfire or to the voice of the beyond.” There is a similar sexual ambiguity in the different versions of the photograph titled Le fiancé, in which a nude mans appears covered by a bridal veil.

Guibert does not intend his photographic work as an illustration of his task as a novelist. An atmosphere of nonchalance, of repose predominates in these photos. This calmness is concentrated in the serenity of the faces of the portrayed friends, who never appear with last names, giving a childish quality to the placid and private atmosphere that Guibert wants to maintain in his work. The photographic reality for the author of one of the most piercing stories about AIDS, A l’ami qui ne m’a pas sauvé la vie (To the friend who did not save my life, 1990) was infused with visions on horseback somewhere between the phantasmatic and the lived, where alterity and absence are the principal parts—a good way to disprove photography’s presumed objectivity despite the use of real and quotidian objects.

Juan Vicente Aliaga

Translated from the Spanish by Vincent T. Martin.