French photographer Julien Coquentin has a way of revealing memory, unveiling moments that seem darkened by time, fog, and strange light, a nostalgic view of country life that is at once somber and romantic.
Layers of meaning seem part of the artist’s way of working, slowly emerging trees, foregrounds, figures shaded by elements, snow, sea mist, the shade of age and wear. The plain beauty of country life personified in the black water of a lake, made splendid by the tiny body of a young child floating peacefully in the nocturnal water, milky skin aglow and full of a happy life known only to children.
Of the many series that have captured my imagination, one of the most interesting is Paysans. The artist took a medium format camera, and stopped farmers in the heart of a cattle market. Often pressed for time, he took the portraits in front of an angled background made of two large metal boards, inspired by an Irving Penn installation. The artist reveals in each picture the harshness of country life. Like many of his pictures, a saturated sense of color, and deep focus allows us a moment of almost painterly richness.
Like many whose work has depth and an intimacy of sorts, Julien began as something entirely different. He works as a nurse, and much of the artist’s thematic is concerned with the cycle of life, memory, and passage of time, seasons etc. Time spent with the infirm and elderly has permeated his way of looking at the world.
“I spend my days hunched over time, to observe its effects. With one hand I capture moment of time, and with the other I take care of women and men who are usually precariously balanced in time, in a the fragile moment of their existence.”
Julien’s works are often are poetically contemplative, reflecting the way Julien takes time to observe, as he puts it: “My photography does make contact abruptly, striking its subject. Rather, I like to gently bring out my subject, get close while keeping a certain distance.”
Whereas Black Seasons (2013-16) responses to landscape, specifically that of the artist’s childhood, in a different way, allowing it to tell the story of the past, a lived place of rural landscape and place, weaving together the story of his daughters as well as the great grandmother. Memories are darkened, the seasons past, the prosaic becoming prized.
This large-scale series was the subject of a recent exhibition Saisons noires, Musée de La Roche-sur-Yon, France, 2016, and an accompanying book.
As well, Dead Zone is an uncanny wilderness series, a black cube measuring one meter installed in landscapes of childhood, reflecting the importance and imprint of one’s early years, a monolith of sorts. Other series still looking and recording time in such as a two year study of Montreal (2010-12) and various projects in New York, London, Rome, and Phnom Penh.