Gilles Saussier

Galerie Zürcher | Paris

First of all, there are the photographs, among them four close-ups of women shooting rifles, flanked by the president of the Hunting Association of Timis (Shoot I–III, each dated 2004, and Shoot IV, 2005) and two of scenes deserted by their actors: a gallery with abstract sculptures lined up on shelves and glasses lined up on a table—Day of the Opening, 2005—and The Paupers’ Cemetery, 2005, a snow-covered graveyard on the outskirts of town, where a freshly dug ditch awaits the return of the gravediggers who have left their tools and other belongings there. Finally, two scenes with characters: a female metalworker indifferent to the presence of a statuette placed on the ground and of the photographer behind her (Elba Press Factory, Timişoara, 2005); in a field, a cameraman filming a reporter crouched down before a row of dead pheasants. Tableau de chasse (Hunting Picture), 2004, is the title of this last image as well as of the series as a whole. The absence of characters or, if not of characters, of action, make these places-without-qualities enigmatic. The tight framing on the shooters’ faces extracts them from any set situation that would allow one to infer the meaning of their gesture; eyes closed, they abstract them- selves both from their action and from the photograph. Conversely, Saussier photographs the reporter and cameraman from a distance, restoring to their reportage the extreme banality of its context, a dismal winter day at a trash-swept roadside. Little by little, the analogy between hunting and photography asserts itself, as it does also by means of trophies: Images, like pheasants and statuettes (such as the one glimpsed in the factory, a trophy Saussier was given in 1990 for his photojournalism), are so many prizes exacted from the real. Placed on the ground in the center of the gallery, a metal cube perforated by numerous holes, a souvenir of the Elba Press workshop, echoes them: Absolutely opaque, illegible, and silent, it imposes the brutality of fact, irreducible to any attempt at explanation, gloss, or recuperation.

Likewise, for Saussier’s photographs, there is a context that illuminates them without, for all that, reducing them. In 1989, he covered the Romanian revolution and the fall of the Ceauşescu regime for the Gamma press agency; his photographs were seen all over the world, embodying for all to see, in the turmoil of the events, a page of history in the process of being written. Yet the photographer began to suspect that his images, subjected to the imperatives of the current events and digested by the news media, contributed to occluding rather than revealing the reality of the facts. In 1994, Saussier abandoned photo-journalism, and when he went back to Timişoara in 2004, it was in search of “images that would allow one to reflect on the lived event.” Soldiers pointing their rifles correspond to the hunters for a day, the mise-en-scène of what was supposed to be a mass grave corresponds to an ordinary day at the cemetery of the poor in Timişoara. And from one image to another the same question can be asked: What makes an event? And what becomes of those of which we have no images, such as the strike at the Elba factory at the outset of the Romanian uprising? Using documentary methods, Saussier thus investigates the capacity of images to take the contemporary world into account and offers photography other ways to construct meaning.

Guitemie Maldonado

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.