Gilbert Garcin: Director, Photographer, and Stage Designer
Gilbert Garcin is one of the rare polymaths who is a director, photographer, and stage designer. He orchestrates each step of his craft. His black and white, cleverly staged images are a highly intellectual and skillful blend of humor and gravity, questioning the transient nature of human condition and existence. Belonging to the surrealist genre, his work has been associated with the likes of Jacques Tati, an is often referred to as the “spiritual cousin of Rene Magritte.”
Garcin’s photography explores a dreamlike world and features a tall Frenchman in a black overcoat whose name has been christened as Mister or Monsieur G. The images follow Mister G in absurd, or ironic situations with surrealistic metaphors and symbolism. Although minimal, each photograph is a theatrical act in itself, presenting carefully staged sets, always hand made by Garcin with himself, and sometimes his wife, as his only subjects, that also challenge the potential of photomontage.
A Newly Found Hobby
Gilbert Garcin was born in 1929 in La Ciotat, a town on France’s Mediterranean coast. He studied lighting, and founded his own lighting manufacturing company in Marseille, which he worked for until his retirement. Photography became a passion late in his life, upon his retirement. He won a small prize in 1994 by Pascal Dolemieux at the Rcontres d’Arles Photo Festival. It was at this festival in which he introduced his photo montage and other photo creation techniques. His photographs are unique both in meaning and technique, as they blend simplicity with complexity.
A Tiny Model World
Garcin crafts a tiny model world in his studio for each photograph, spending 2-3 days to realize his vision through cut and paste photomontages and ready made props, often consisting of cardboard and string, sand and sticks. He first photographs himself as Mister G. in the poses he favors, and then places the resulting cutouts in these small theatrical sets, then photographing them once again, creating the final photograph. Each scene is a play on scale, while their black and white nature allows the photographs to appear as film, a stopped scene within a movie. His career and output were all on analog film and darkroom printed. He never employed digital image making techniques.
Questioning the Human Condition
Always striking in their symbolic power, Garcin tells the adventures of his miniature hero, Mister G. The scenes convey various philosophical messages, he challenges the viewer to think about time, solitude and existence, while exploring a wide spectrum of human comedy. The photographs are not dramatic, yet they are open stories asking naive questions on the human condition. On interpreting his work Garcin says;
“… but behind my pictures, none of the stories have an ending. I’m just trying to create spaces within which the viewer can project his own ideas and invent his own adventure.”
Garcin does not necessarily impose an idea or a storyline, but rather invites the viewer to think on ways to:
“see a new world between the visible and the invisible, real and imagined, conscious and unconscious.”
Gilbert Garcin, L’heure Exquise (Exquisite Hour), 2006, Silver gelatin photograph
L’heure Exquise, or the Existential Hour
L’heure Exquise, or the Existential Hour, for example, presents Mister G and his wife, Monique, sitting at the two ends of a platform held by a thread that is about to rip. A sensitive observer, Garcin here alludes to the meaning of existence, life and death, within a surreal and tense landscape. On the other hand, there is also a deep level of loneliness in his works, making the viewer question the awareness of the world we live in. Garcin’s hero, Mister G. seems to always be absorbed in thought, alone in at times ironic scenarios, as can be seen in his photograph titled The Cape of Good Hope. Here, Mister G. appears to be rowing, in front of a river painting. The fact that it is a photograph within a photograph adds an incredible depth of field, a three dimensionality, as well as a means of looking at the protagonist and his journey from the outside.
An Everyman Reflection of Humanity
Always unique, thought-provoking and striking in both content and creation, the work of Gilbert Garcin is an everyman reflection of humanity. Although he excelled in the medium of photography at a later part of his lifetime, his work has been shown in numerous international exhibitions, and has been collected by the likes of Maison Europeenne de la Photographie (Paris), Collection (Vienna), Veendam Arthotheque (Netherlands), and Fond National pour l’Art Contemporain (France) among others. Garcin passed away in Marseille in 2020, at the age of 90.