Sophie Calle

French artist Sophie Calle is a first person artist. In her works she directs herself shamelessly and uproariously, recounting stories of her life through thorough observations with impressive detail and accuracy, supplemented by surveillance type images. Calle plays with an ongoing crossover between the fictional and non-fictional. Her factual narrations with fictional overtones accompanied by photographic images always keep the viewer guessing as to how truthful her stories and images really are.  Nonetheless, Calle’s photography is that of sheer rawness and quirkiness, often focusing on subjects one would often overlook or that others would be too fearful to capture themselves, something I find extremely intriguing.

After seven years outside her native Paris, Calle returned home and began following people around the streets in order to rediscover her city. In this effort, Calle soon learned how much she could ascertain about the lives and habits of her unknowing subjects. She became obsessed with the people she was following and especially the physical details of their existence, which eventually formed a photographic series titled ‘Suite Venitienne’ (1980). The series is incredibly strange. Calle followed multiple strangers, but in the series Calle’s main focus is that of ‘Henri B’ one particular stranger who by chance was reintroduced to her at a party in Paris and whom she eventually followed to Venice then dispatched him. Bizarre right?

The photographs from ‘Suite Venitienne’ are presented in both contact sheets and sets of one or two images, alongside thorough descriptions of the males’ movements.  Viewing the images as thirty-six small black and white rectangles provokes the idea that we are viewing the actual event as it happened; this is how the event enrolled before the photographer’s eyes, allowing us to experience the same thing too. This creates a certain intimacy and trust with the subjects presented, elements I would like to include in my core project. Calle also adopts the style of  ‘report’ complete with facts, times, dates, places, creating a sense of peeking at a secret detective file, an evidential document of utmost honesty and privacy.

Continuing with following strangers and recording human existence, in her series, ‘The Shadow’ (1981) Calle had her mother hire a private detective to follow her, ‘to report my daily activities and to provide photographic evidence of my existence’. Calle’s colourful description of her day is sharply contrasted with the banal photographs and text of the detective. For Calle, the day was imbued with meaning; for the detective, the day was merely reporting the facts. Again, Calle uses contact sheets and images with a snap shot sneak peak feel, something I’ve come to really enjoy.  In ‘Twenty Years Later’ (2001) Calle hired a private detective again and reiterates the same layout and qualities of ‘The Shadow’. However, the images are now clearly digital images and appear in colour, as technological advances and high-speed cameras have now become that of commonplace.  Comparing the two projects, I feel using black and white images and presenting images as sequenced tiles or contact sheets, evoke a sense of truth and evidence more effectively then in colour. These elements I will take into consideration when creating my own images for my core brief.

The way Calle presents her series both upon public exhibition and in her book, “M’as-tu vue?” (2003) The feeling of secrecy being revealed remains intact, which I find impressive. However, I am impartial to say that I feel viewing the images in a book enhances the sense of intimacy as if we’re flicking through a highly secretive ‘report’ by a high profile detective. Other series I’ve really enjoyed by Calle, which appear in the book, “M’as-tu vue?” all contain an evidential, blunt quality. In the series, ‘The Hotel’ (1981) Calle worked as a chambermaid in a Venetian hotel and learns about the lives of the tenants by going through and photographing their belongings. Like a detective looking for the incriminating clue, Calle scrutinizes every object in the room. She meticulously searches through the tenants’ baggage, diaries, and even the garbage to piece together their lives. She makes note of the smallest details such as “a dirty comb with broken teeth” or a “mind-boggling pair of shoes.” In this work, Calle displays her photographs accompanied by texts describing her findings. As you can see, there is a running theme in Calle’s work, text and images come hand in hand something I want to emulate.

Others parts of the book I enjoyed were, ‘Diaries’ (1978-1992) which is filled with scanned images of Calle’s diaries, all printed on wafer thin paper, evoking a sense of touching the pages of the original diary. There’s a sense of intimacy, speed and mixed media in her diary entries, elements I would like to include in my final presentation of my core project.  Another series I found interesting by Calle was ‘Psychological Assessment’ (2003), a collaboration with Damien Hirst in which Calle filled out various psychological assessments so psychiatrists could analyze her. My father had been diagnosed with various mental illnesses, a drifting idea I had was to fill in a psychological test myself and compare the results to the results of my fathers.

There go, in relation to my core project I wish to photograph my fathers belongings, scan photographs of him, things he had wrote, include his psychological profiles potentially compare them to my own, his various hospital reports (if possible) and other pieces of him, to help form a better understanding about his final act of suicide. I want to photograph his belongings in a similar way to Calle, evidential and bleak.

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