Frédéric Lefever

Galerie Gabrielle Maubrie

IN HIS RECENT WORKS, Frederic Lefever, a photographer born in Belgium in 1965, presents a journey through a nostalgia-tinted universe. The cohesion among these color photographs, printed matte, whose various formats are so precisely calibrated with respect to their compositions, resides in an objective gaze free of indulgence, as well as in the love of form and structure that animates each of these images.

Lefever's work encompasses both a geographical trajectory through the towns of French, Belgian, and Italian provinces and a quasi-ethnographic investigation into a world and way of life that are clearly obsolescent. In small works matted inside the frame, he shows the storefronts of shuttered shops—closed or for sale—and small, more or less dilapidated summerhouses; doors, windows, and tiled interiors geometrically structure the images and emphasize their composition. Large-size horizontal images present stadium grandstands or building sites under construction (but will they ever be finished?): The parallel and regularly spaced straight lines of steps and levels play with the verticals of posts and pillars, as well as with the oblique lines of roofs and staircases; these desperately vacant forms seem vain skeletons.

Lefever also lingers on swimming pools for sale, hearths of empty fireplaces, and gables of houses bearing the remains of destroyed roofs. The format of the image is always adapted to the object and isolates it from its environment. A stubborn sense of abandonment and absence asserts itself. From these photographs, framed as tightly as possible, man is absent; he is present only in the hollows, through pathetic vestiges (burn marks and ashes in the fireplace, names and phone numbers scribbled on walls) or simply through his manifestations (homes, leisure spots, businesses). And if formally these pictures evoke the New Objectivity, outlining the real in rigid structures, they no longer celebrate the triumph of an architecture made of steel and the faith in modernity: On the contrary, they record, as if before its complete disappearance, a familiar and outmoded world—that of small shops (portraitist, lingerie, radio-TV-appliances)—and the signs, at once so important and so tenuous, of social success and people's vain efforts to arrange their environment. But the walls are cracked, the paint is flaking, mold is taking over, and the signs are going out of style and have lost their sparkle. The Modern Garage will soon have nothing modern about it besides its name.

It is precisely through this archaeological and deeply human dimension that Lefever's viewpoint can be distinguished from that of other contemporary photographers of architecture. Far from the closed-down factories of the iron and steel industry archived by the Bechers, far from the overpopulated workplaces of the new economy magnified by Andreas Gursky, far, too, from the large buildings detailed by Stephane Couturier, Lefever works in halftones and has devoted his attention to the detached houses, the small businesses, the restrained community life of provincial towns like Saint Aubain or Mariembourg—to an apparently antiquated and deserted world that survives at a remove from the commotion of the metropolis and the frenzy of globalization.

Guitemie Maldonado

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.