Éric Nehr — Rose blessé
Past: May 7 → June 18, 2011
“Since September, the albinos in Burundi have been the victims of a dreadful, sordid, mad hunt. Five murders, all of them quite appalling , have been committed. Albinos, whether men, women, boys or girls, have become, in spite of themselves, the targets of a very lucrative market”1.
After reading this newspaper article, Eric Nehr starts his new series of portraits. His fourth exhibition in gallery Anne Barrault, is political, anthropological, artistic, human. These photographs relate a journey, meetings with this minority in Cameroon and Panama.
In certain African countries, this black man, born white, half-man, half-god, with good or evil powers according to old beliefs, regarded as Market value, can be chased to death. Whereas in Panama, “albinos are mythologized by the Kuna-Dule, the only Amerindian people who think them so, but who do not actually give them an enviable position for all that, for latent discrimination does exist”2.
Two positions in two communities, but one eye, that of a photographer bound by the choice of his subject, but whose sense of light, colour, matter prevails in his images.
Through portraits, he gives these albinos, without real social identity, identified as Caucasian people with the ethnic features of their own group, status, importance, and makes visible their critical situation from a medical point of view, whether in Panama or Africa.
This characteristic lack of natural colouring matter in albinos’ skin , hair, hairs, eyelashes, eyes is toned down, rubbed out, digested, emphasized by Eric Nehr.
White, black, coppery, bluish “monochromes” tend to sow confusion and colour the subject. On the one hand, the spectator is stricken by the beauty and transparency of this immaculate whiteness, on the other hand, he is surprised by this blurred face, looking like his own. Out of context, in a coloured background, a typical feature of Eric Nehr’s work as a photographer, the albinos are overexposed to the public, the light, so important for the artist, developing the photographic paper, but so destructive for them. Dazzling, these faces, both angelic and monstrous, are calm, flimsy, grimacing, crude, like Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings. Conversely, with a view to protecting and confronting his subject indirectly and protecting his subject, Eric Nehr underexposes it. A dark filter bars sunbeams and scoffing. The Western spectator’s face is reflected in that of the African albino.
Eric Nehr’s photographic, pictorial images are the metaphors of this genetic disease. Pasted up like posters, these faces on India paper become transparent and disappear when hanging on the wall. Technique serves the fragility of these people. These realistic “drawings” reproduce a latent, torn image which can be likened to their place in society and to their vulnerablity.
Eric Nehr has been able, with reserve and distance as regards to his subject, to define the ambivalent status of the African albino, more precise in South America. In one case, the outines of the subject are blurred, merge into his environment, in the other, they are clearer, more assumed.
The spectator is confused. These aesthetical, disturbing photographs make him feel so ill at ease that he is tempted to look away, confronted with the repressed reality revealed by the artist who makes him question the body in society, the body as an “object of socialization”3.
" When shooting my portraits, I have been careful to vary the lights and backgrounds so as to have more images of each of them. I have composed several series with a gradation of shades, from a very clear image to a contrasting one, as well as what I will call blind points, underexposed images.
By using soft lights and clear backgrounds, close to the model’s complexion, I am not very far from sketching. The face becomes less and less visible. On the contrary, by using a direct and contrasting light, with the model in a black background, I am not far from sculpting, then materializing more. I have also made use of half-light and underexposition so that the albino’s aspect is totally altered, giving him back his African or Indian look which should have been his, but for this disease. For printing, I use very thin Japonese paper which I paste directly on the wall. Like a fresco, the paper disappears and only the photographed person is seen. To make use of contrast, I also print on ultra-bright glazed paper, a mirror reflecting the spectator’s image and the model’s. Each step of my photograph shooting is to be seen as a metaphor of what being an albino is, no melanin, affected by light, persecuted, early death. "
1 Pierre Lepidi, “In Burundi, albinos are hounded”, Le Monde.fr, December, 22nd 2008.
2 Pascale Jeambrun and Bernard Sergent, Moon children or albinos among Amerindians, Inserm, Orstom, 1991.
3 Ninou Chelala, Albinos en Africa, the enigmatic black whiteness, l’Harmattan, 2009.