A Spontaneous Dance with Victor Bellaich — by Nina Zivancevic

PARIS, February 2020,

Elda Mazer Gallery, 51 Rue Daguerre

There is something disarming in the obliging modesty with which French artists, photographers in this case, approach life, art and reality that surrounds them. I am in the Elda MazerGallery with VICTOR BELLAICH who has been working as an independant photographer for more than 18 years here in Paris, but whose biography numbers a series of artistic and interesting jobs that, due to his modest approach to reality, not even his mother would not know about! Victor has always been an interdisciplinary being: he has equally written, played and produced words and music for over thirty years; he worked as a script writer for a prestigious ARTE television from 2005-2007 and prior to that he he worked as a musician and composer for Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group, was a journalist for seven years for Master Press Editions where he was in charge of interviews, art chronicles and even photography. In his prime, and a bit earlier in the 1980s and 1990s, he worked for the corporate giants such Orange – as a technician of a sort.

All of his previous biography I would fail to record while entering the gallery where his current show of photography is «solicited by the gallerist and on view», simply because I never bother remembering the biographical elements of an artist prior to seeing his work directly and «on the spot». Nor would he mention his own biographical elements to me – out of his aforementioned, and very French, artistic modesty.

 THE TRIUMPH OF HAPHAZARD

NZ: Victor, I decided not to read anything about this show – as a French artist you tend to be modest, as a French critic, I may appear  arrogant. Thus – is this your most recent work or perhaps something from your old file ?

VICTOR BELLAICH: These are absolutely new pieces, a special creation from scratch, made after the gallery’s invitation to run an exhibition of my work in February, and the subject matter is clear here, «The Ghosts» which stems from my old interest for portraits. What interests me in photography is the notion of human, not necessarily face though, but the trace of something human in it, so this work is connected to my research for organic matter above all, some sort of deconstruction of the organic.

NZ: Ah-a… I was just about at the point of saying that the photos are peopled with «people» and with that organic fabric, material so to speak… And with memories, collective souvenirs…although – here I should be clear, I’m not a ‘fan’ of that Boltanski’s work on ‘collective memory’ but here…

VB: Well, it’s not something that you would call exactly «memory work» – it means I take a shot of someone’s face but I add to that film a new material, some fabric or tissue, so what you see here is not the work of my «memory process» or an edited piece, but above all it is my “double view of things”, or my direct intervention on the film. My intention was to invite a haphazard to occur, in a certain way. You see, one can always control so many elements, the interior settings, the lights , the details etc but – that’s not really what interests me in photography.

NZ : Wait a minute – I am not a friend of predictability either… as a poet, I am always in search of that question «where does this particular poem come from?» And I find your particular photographic work very very poetical, in the same line of research «where does anything come from?»

VB : You know, the form and the subject are very closely knit here, it is always either a double or triple exposure on the same background, black and white film here (on this occasion), but sometimes my work could be in colour… The subject is really the «The Ghost»  in all its forms – meaning: the appearance of someone or something and then the disappearance of the same thing… These photos are really not my memory or souvenirs of someone or something, they are really the snippets of life and the hazardous in it. I had already made a series of photos for a file called «Drama Portraiture» relating to the lost memories, but it is not this one, for sure.

This series has more to do with the themes of life, the hazardous and the form that chaos imposes on human beings, so the idea was more to destroy or to deconstruct the notion of the portrait imposed on a human being, and in the end to impose the matter, the fabric on a human being which is –  a half hazardous and a half of controlled process.

The idea was to go against the controlled process which is so present in photography in general. Which is to say that all the photographic cameras are the machines designed to offer the control of the photograph’s subject and matter, and it is interesting to abolish that control, so present in a photo nowadays. I’d say: always allow an incident, something unexpected to come in – that little something I call beauty of hazard in photography.

NZ : Perhaps you are revolting against the contemporary idea that a photo became a totally democratic convention which can be produced by a child, or a cat…?

VB : Oh, no, no, to the contrary… what really brings me down is that the digital denies the moment of framing the indefinite expression into a definitive support form. My action here is just the contrary to the possibility that the numeric expression offers, and I  dealt here with the possibility that the analogous processing of the image can offer – and that is the definite and immediate choice of the subject/image which was also summoned by the haphazard. I was interested in the encounter subject vs. hazard and what this encounter  could offer us in return.

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NZ : But is your choice of the subjects here hazardous, I mean anonymous faces, encountered at random, or are these the subjects that you’ve had met prior to taking their portrait?

VB : No, there was not so much hazard in taking the photos of the faces- these are faces «within my perimeter of action», those that I have known and have met before. What is important here is the facial expressions of these faces –  in the beginning, my intention was to merge the faces or the characters on them with the background or the fabric or the substance which were related to their character and life…

NZ : Yes, I am just wondering about the portrait of this woman (“Sonia aux damiers”) whose face is merged with the chequered fabric here… you know that expression «a chequered character», like a «Chequered Demon», a famous cartoon character? Or on the other photo next to it, the face which is like a fresco, sort of merged with the wall in the background ? (“Bernard et les pierres”) Mighty powerful!

VB: Oh, yeah… I was haunted by the idea of connecting certain faces  to a certain object or a tissue,  «their own background». And not all the photos here include an accident, early photos such as “Bernard et les pierres”, old woman and the clock (“Sabine à l’horloge”), or the one of the young woman and her tattooed skin, (“Sonia au tatouage”)… Look at this woman’s portrait: I double exposed on her face an image which was tattooed on her back –  now the whole background of the photo  has the texture of her skin… an interesting attempt at combining elements. Surprisingly, it dawned at me that in many cases the relation between the object and the face is created by itself!  I stopped trying to  connect the elements on my own! So I shoot portraits and backgrounds with an idea of merging them in an intuitive manner, and not in a culturally related way which narrows our intelligence or “mind field” (“Aida au mur”). I conceived the photos in the perpetual improvisation which, however, comes from a certain composition I had imagined it to be but all the encounters that arise within the pictures were  « leave it to the hazard, (an accident )» .

THE REVENGE OF DOUBLE EXPOSURE

NZ: I love hazard! It reminds me of Ira Cohen’s photography a bit – and it was Ira who had also said the following: «Not even photography will let me out of (my inner) jail tonight!». Do you  think that photography can be such a liberating force?

VB: Oh yes, photography can be a window to the world, even a real window – you put it on the wall and you think you opened up a certain window or set someone free by taking a photo of him. The photo opens up our imagination, but contrary to our belief that the window only opens to the exterior, it certanily opens more towards our interior. All these photos here have opened some worlds inside of me! My goal here is to find  something imaginative in them rather than recording an event. However, the most delicate thing is to learn how to work with the accident… like on this photo here… this torso which evokes certain processes of ageing.. (“Nicolas dans les feuilles”)

NZ: See, what a fleeting enterprise is my interpretation – I was just about to think that the photo meant something else! Hang in here – your presence is precious in this gallery… or just tell us – when was the first time when you took a photo, in your young life?

VB: I was about ten, I had read a small book on photography, then I borrowed the old b&w Polaroid Zip camera from my mother! So I asked my brother to stand still, took a picture of him, then told him to move a bit to the left, and took a pic again, that is twice on the same Polaroid film! I was not thrilled with the result of my ‘special effect’ though – I was probably too young to judge the results. From that moment on, I was sort of avoiding «double exposure» throughout my life until this particular show. For this project, I was obliged to take out one double snapshot after another, there were not “too many” shots in here because I had to finish each pic before I’d take another one, all of them were made as «double exposures», one over the other !

NZ : This show is really «under the sign of Double exposure»! As I’m looking at some congenial photos – this spiral staircase… I swear I would never detect a human figure behind your second layer here.. (“Juan à l’escalier”) Have you been heavily influenced by any particular French master of photography, Cartier-Bresson, for instance?

VB : I guess I owe my experience above all to great American photographers… Weston, Krims, Avedon, Franck, Mapplethorpe… Among French masters I like Man Ray, Ronis, Boubat, but also early Morvan or d’Agata for their manner of seeing the world. As to Cartier-Bresson, his perfect graphic view of things was somewhat odd to me, but lately, some photos of him really inspired me.

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NZ : (pointing at the photo of a man with blind lights instead of his eyes) (“Jesus”) What does this photo stand for ?

VB : This may be the beginning of my upcoming project «people without eyes». Perhaps this series was born out of my initial desire to destroy portrait as genre – I love it so much in fact, I’m in love with the portrait – that eventually I would want to destroy it! In this series are the portraits of men who are so far away, they are not there, they are shadows, and in fact – the eyes and the gaze of these men are likely to be in their head and not on their faces…

NZ : You know, something similar we hear from people who try to defend veils and the wearing of the veil- it’s like saying that the face itself is aggressive to look at and that it could be even more outspoken or significant if covered or absent…

VB : Yes, in regards to that «absence vs presence» – my memory of certain faces is more important to me than the actual faces, and I’ve been trying to show exactly this type of memory in my work.

In fact, it’s like saying that the print interests me more that the subject that it tries to represent. In fact, someone’s presence (on the photo) is less important than some quality that this being represents, thus I have these presences whose whose faces are not always to be observed.

NZ : Or do you know, Levinas said something to that effect that «if you see someone’s face you cannot really kill that person» …

VB : I agree with Levinas. Not sure I want anyone to be killed with this show! By the way, keeping a person’s frontal look in a picture makes their gaze so human. Instinctively this was  a part of  my procédé in this show.

NZ : So, when have you started taking these «more serious» photos that reflect pure creativity? I don’t mean to denigrate ‘classic snapshots’ here, however…

VB: I haven’t been shooting incidental street photos for years! Well, it was perhaps at the times when the photography became the means of survival for me, survival in a very hostile environment. At this moment I had my camera on me and decided to have the ‘subject-matter’ in photography, I told myself: Victor, you are not going to take photos, you are going to make a stable construction out of your photos, as a sort of a lifeboat.

NZ : Are you considering yourself as an “avant garde” artist ?

VB:  You know, I am a sort of an absolute autodidact – I never had the chance to go to an art school, I studied photography on my own. And yet, I’ve read a lot, I wrote poetry and novels, I’ve written scripts, and played music a lot – and I learned all these skills on my own! Even when I paid to take music lessons aged 17, the teacher didn’t show up, ha! This may be my fate! So i don’t consider myself  ‘avant garde’ as i don’t take my autodidactic activities for a certain form of rebellion or counter-culture activity. The gesture counts, you have to have a desire to create, that’s what really counts in the end. But creativity is truly an «anti-conformist» quality.  You listen to your deepest own being and then try to give it back to the others the best you can.

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NZ : (looking at the photo/collaged portrait of an old lady with the clock ticking in the background) (“Sabine à l’horloge”) – I like this one in particular, it is so funny and my natural prediliction goes to humor.

VB: Oh, you know, there is a strange story connected to this photo: I took the picture of this old lady at her home – and, by the way – that was the very first picture I made for this show – then I looked around and merged her portrait with her handsome roman clock showing the actual hour, 12:30 pm. Two months later, the print was on the gallery’s storefront. It happened that it fell down, then my sister Michèle picked it up from the floor, and at the same time she noticed that the restaurant in front of our gallery was  also called «Midi Trente» (12:30 pm) but also with the same model of the roman numerical clock glued to its storefront! So there is such a crazy coincidence connected to my first photograph in this series!

Now, would  you call all this «the invocation of the hazardous» or just something that provokes serendipity?


Poet, essayist, fiction writer, playwright, art critic, translator and contributing editor to NY ARTS magazine from Paris, Serbian-born Nina Zivancevic published 15 books of poetry. She has also written three books of short stories, two novels and a book of essay on Milosh Crnjanski (her doctoral thesis) published in Paris, New York and Belgrade. The recipient of three literary awards, a former assistant and secretary to Allen Ginsberg, she has also edited and participated in numerous anthologies of contemporary world poetry.

As editor and correspondent she has contributed to New York Arts Magazine, Modern Painters, American Book Review, East Village Eye, Republique de lettres. She has lectured at Naropa University, New York University, the Harriman Institute and St.John’s University in the U.S., she has taught English language and literature at La Sorbonne ( Paris I and V) and the History of Avant-garde Theatre at Paris 8 University in France and at numerous universities and colleges in Europe.

She has actively worked for theatre and radio: 4 of her plays were performed and emitted in the U.S. and Great Britain.

In New York she had worked with the “Living Theatre” and the members of the “Wooster Group”.

She lives and works in Paris.