Corinne Mercadier

Galerie Isabelle Bongard

With her latest series of photographs, Corinne Mercadier comes full circle. For about ten years now, this Parisian artist has used a Polaroid camera to explore the ambiguous territory between public and private space. Starting with standard-format color photographs that she shoots with an ordinary camera and has developed commercially, she uses her Polaroid camera to invest the ready-made world of the snapshot with a contemplative awareness of time.

Until now, she applied her latter-day alchemy to landscapes and seascapes devoid of human figures. The places and spaces depicted are still anything but realistic in the new photographs, with their heightened contrast and diminished depth, not to mention their “polarized” palettes of rust, turquoise, and faded yellow. But here, for the first time, there are people as well: two young children, a man, a woman. Without exception, the figures are fragmented—often just a head or a torso is seen from behind, or perhaps bathed in shadow in such a way that it seems the subject has wandered unexpectedly into the foreground—but they are photographed with a kind of familiarity and intimacy that immediately suggests a personal connection.

And this is the full circle, for Mercadier’s Polaroid prints return to the subject for which the instant camera was originally intended: the family. Even more precisely, her family—son, daughter, husband, self. This poses a rather obvious, troublesome question. Are these “just” family snapshots, recording bits and pieces of a summer vacation at the seashore?

Even at first glance, this is hardly the case, for one thing because of all the transformations that Mercadier achieves at the Polaroid stage, and for another because the resulting SX-70 prints have been enlarged to an almost monumental format of about 30-by-30 inches—this third round of printing imposing a further transformation of texture and definition. And at second or third glance, as it were,the images that typically appear in these photographs—beach scenes, boat scenes, lots of water, sunlight, and clouds—convey something other than the expected familial content.

In fact, it is the space that has been defined, not the place. For all the visual density of the images, with their added layers of shadow and light, as well as their elaborate surface geometry, it is impossible to identify the settings beyond determining that they depict a harbor or beach or vacant lot. As for the figures, each one of them turns out to be looking at or for something that escapes the camera’s eye, and the eye of the viewer as well. Charged with the tension of uncertainty, the everyday ceases to be commonplace.

For Mercadier, these human presences caught up in their own private thoughts are above all markers of absence: “They’re disappearing before our eyes, and we don’t have any clues at all.” But the very process of creating these “reworked flashes of life,” she suggests, is a way of battling her own anxieties about death and the passage of time. “When I rephotograph them,” she says, “I have all the time in the world.” Which is probably the best explanation for why the resulting images are not “just snapshots,” nor are they “just art.”

Miriam Rosen