Patrick Faigenbaum

Galerie de France

Since 1999, guided by the historian Joan Roca, Patrick Faigenbaum has been photographing the outskirts of Barcelona, particularly Besòs, a waterfront neighborhood of mixed ethnicity that is in the midst of transition. From this methodical survey of the terrain come urban tableaux that sketch quasi-documentary descriptions of the area and its inhabitants—their habits (shopping at the market, the promenade at the end of the day), their gathering places (the café, the restaurant), and an endless number of unfinished narratives.

As exhibited here, color images alternate with black-and-white, exterior scenes with interiors, posed portraits with candid shots, group portraits with individuals, wider views overlooking the city with close-ups. Each image has its own format (stretched out in panoramas for views, compressed in squares for individual portraits), its own atmosphere, and its own rhythm. Hence, the visitor’s impression, at first, is of a rambling stroll without any imposed order that is nevertheless marked out by a certain cadence, articulated by an overall agenda, an experience of urban space and time. Thus, the smallest works are grouped in a way that translates the fluttering excitement and the deterioration of the city, as well as the links that traverse and structure it: A family sitting outside a café, two children playing together, and two others watching a soccer player are so many moments experienced in common, in or rather with the city, which is present as stage or even as a character. At the entrance to the exhibition hangs a photograph of a shirtless young boy in shorts walking along an avenue lined with tall buildings: The intense and warm light, the frontality of the shot, and the slightly unbalanced framing imbue the boy with the fragility and self-assurance of the city dweller, at once fully in control of his space and perpetually on his way to being taken over by it; at once at the center (of the city and the image) and threatened by the margins.

Beyond their clear differences and aside from their geographic linkage, these photographs share a similar attention to texture and to what might be called the materiality of the image. Essentially, this manifests itself through light and its translation into values or colors: From the illumination of a fast-food joint to the half-light of a small restaurant, from the noonday sun to the diffuse luminosity of evening, air and light are always palpable in Faigenbaum’s work, like the days of the eclipse that he has spoken of in relation to his pictures. His somber and nocturnal interiors are striking in their density: a young girl seen from behind, sitting on a concrete bench, pulled from the black ink of night by the yellow light of street lamps; a family on a walk by the sea in the grayness and stoniness of falling night; a lunch scene, shot against the light, in which bodies and space melt together, saturating the image whose depth the viewer must now probe.

Guitemie Maldonado

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.