Philippe Séclier — Valpo



Philippe Séclier

Past: September 4 → October 30, 2021

Les Douches la Galerie is pleased to announce its first solo show by Philippe Séclier, from September 4 to October 30, 2021. A authentic travel diary, Valpo tracks his explorations of the Chilean port, over the years and in the footsteps of Sergio Larrain. Taken during several trips between 1998 and 2000, the 40 photographs presented are remarkable vintage prints.

Philippe Séclier is a unique individual, like no one else. He has managed to forge a singular identity and blaze a trail all his own. His investigations are deep; he frames expertly and subtlety with regard to touch and to sensitized paper; and above all, he is a great reader of travelogues. He would read those utopian odysseys before setting off on his journeys, at first from port to port then in the footsteps of his modern mythologies.

The importance of literature

The journalist Philippe Séclier’s life took a turn in 1999 at the Salon du Livre when he met the writer Jean-Claude Izzo who hails from Marseille. Izzo had just published his novel The Lost Sailors and was moved by the series of photos that Séclier had begun while making the rounds of the large ports he’d dreamed about, from the Piraeus to Valparaiso.
The magic of those mythical ports, captured in an expressionistic style, soon appeared in Séclier’s first work, Hotel Puerto, whose publication is partially indebted to the good word of the travel writers Jean Rolin, Alvaro Mutis, José Manuel Fajardo and Michel Le Bris, who supplied him with texts that veritably urged him, in their guise of poems, to weigh anchor.
A sense of departure, of letting go, of deep water and filtered light could already be felt, as if blurring the line between reality and fiction, a disconnect that did not seem to correspond to the French journalist and photographer. Yet all the same… Literature and photography became his passion, like an obsessive curiosity to go see what was happening elsewhere. But not only elsewhere, which voluntarily placed him in the well-traced lineage of artists he admires.
Immediately upon returning from Valparaiso, in an exhibition in Paris, Séclier found images of people that Sergio Larrain, a big shot at the Magnum agency, had taken in London and in Chile’s famous ports. Séclier’s sole desire was to go back there, to follow in Larrain’s footsteps, to track him down, to enter into his desire for the city of a thousand staircases, two hundred brothels, to experience his emotions, lose himself in them and learn the other’s ways of using his lens to frame it, and to build his compositions there.

The magic of Valparaiso

Séclier would return four more times to Valparaiso, a stronghold of South American photography that enchanted him, enthralling him, ensnaring him in its nets. He spent so much time digging around there that he is one of the few people to have met Larrain, who, for fear of losing his soul, had withdrawn from the world in order to contemplate the mountains of Chile. It was from there that he sent ecological pamphlets to Paris to the few colleagues that he still held in regard, such as Plossu and Josef Koudelka…
Impressed, Séclier did not attempt to copy Larrain, but knew he was obviously influenced by him. The other man’s ‘Valparaiso’ — a sort of artist’s book and diary — kept him company. He allowed himself to be carried into that city of passage, of emigration, of sharing, of movement, where the little people, the cable cars in dangerous areas, live outside. ‘I am an onlooker,’ he says. ‘Literature drives me, the poetry of Pablo Neruda, In the Flicker of an Eyelid, by the Haitian writer Jacques Stephen Alexis’.
And he was unaware that in doing so, he was beginning is own way of learning about the world; he lay the foundations for a personal artistic method based on confronting himself as an artist with a country he has traversed, sounded, explored, watched and examined without a trace of exoticism, no matter the context, the culture or the codes. He enjoys doing what he knows how to do as a journalist: investigate, deepen, contextualise. And photograph as well, gathering evidence of the stages of his infiltration into those contexts. (…)

Robert Frank’s stream of consciousness

Once he gets going, Séclier doesn’t let up. Humble, like a woman who systematically underestimates herself, he is nevertheless unafraid of anything that might stand in his way towards the cult photographer Robert Frank. He follows in his footsteps, but with a camera. He doesn’t ask himself whether he’s up to the challenge. He ploughs on.
Forty-two years later, he once again came across the people and images that in Jack Kerouac’s day dared to deconstruct the American dream of the 1950s. And so the film An American Journey. On the trail of Robert Frank was born.
At every turn, Séclier departs from the work itself to engage with the paintings, films, literature, architecture of the country he’s traversing and whose political and cultural history he is revisiting. And his artistic perseverance does wonders in provoking emotions and causing us to think.
‘My passion for photography led me to places where I’d never thought I would venture. It provided me the means to publish, and now to exhibit’, offers Séclier, who now counts among his personal mythologies another intellectual and artistic mind in the person of the architect Tadao Ando, an autodidact like him. In 2021, his photographic investigations into one hundred and twenty buildings imagined by the Japanese builder have led him, this time mainly in Japan, to publishing an atlas.
The spiritual elevation that the great minds, the superior intellects full of receptive antennas, have transmitted to him, made him take up this mad challenge. ‘They opened my eyes, they made me understand the world we live in’, he says. Some part of them, but also of Xavier Barral, who has passed away, and of Raymond Depardon, with whom he regularly collaborates, will always resonate in him.

Magali Jauffrey
Art Critic

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The artist

  • Philippe Séclier