Bernard Faucon is an acclaimed French photographer known as the most prominent exponent of “staged photography” in the 1970’s and 80’s. Faucon created narrative tableaus that used mannequins of children and sometimes real children, to recreate memories from his idyllic, pastoral childhood in the hillside region of Luberon, in the south of France. Known for integrating his interests in painting and poetry into his work, Faucon created separate bodies of photography that are visually potent, lyrical, and thought-provoking. Faucon’s work has gained worldwide recognition and is included in many international collections. His work has been the subject of well over 100 solo exhibitions around the world. He worked with Leo Castelli in New York, Agathe Gaillard, Yvon Lambert Gallery, and Gallerie Vu in Paris, as well as a recently opened museum dedicated to his work in Chengdu, China. Faucon’s fascinating body of work is renowned for advancing the creative potential of photography; celebrating the poignant nostalgias and triumphant moments of life, under the saturated light of the Luberon.
“Your photos are wonderful; for me it’s ontological, (if you will pardon the use of this pedantic word.) The photo is in the limits of its own being: that is the fascination. Thank you.” – Roland Barthes – Letter
Bernard Faucon came from a family of artisans and had earlier tried his hand at painting. His grandmother Tatie, was profoundly influential in his life, giving him his first box of colors, encouraging him to become a painter. Tatie nurtured Bernard’s interest in the arts and taught him his first lessons in aesthetics. She also gave Bernard his first camera, and he became fascinated with the mystery, personal dimension, and expressive potential of the photographic image. After studying theology and philosophy at the Sorbonne, Faucon became an exhibiting photographer starting in 1976.
His early series, Les Grande Vacances, presents subtle compositions that subvert reality and engage the viewer’s sense of perception. The series recreates memories, using instants of a perfect childhood, of play, constructing an image the way a painter borrows from their memory and personal history. This enigmatic series elevated his status as an artist and inspired the development of significant work using the highly selective Fresson printing process. The Fresson process is a century old, labor intensive technique of printing that renders resonant colors with a matte porcelain-like finish on its surface. With the Fresson method, each print, similar to a painting, has a unique quality. The colors, printed separately, float on top of each other.
“A photograph by Faucon is technically an oil painting chemically achieved.” – Guy Davenport, The Illuminations of Bernard Faucon
In The Scriptures, Faucon brings poetry into the landscape, engaging in a similar textual aesthetic to ones popularized by the likes of Jenny Holzer or Ed Ruscha. In this series, Bernard Faucon incorporates the use of picturesque environments so emblematic in his body of work. Using the hillside palette previously seen in Les Grande Vacances and Évolution Probable Du Temps, Faucon synthesizes thought and poetry into radiant letters emblazoned onto the horizon. His text becomes real; ideas become physical.
“The pleasure to say is different from the pleasure to show, to say in one’s own words, the words of your unique language. Those sentences of disenchantment that I had been pondering for some time, those solemn forebodings of “The end of desire,” may have found their source in the Moroccan slogans on the rocky mountains: “God, the King, the People.” A wish to cry out my personal truths the size of the landscape, to treat the words like physical bodies on the scale of their setting… Staring from my own handwriting, I made big wooden words, 50 to 100 cm (20 to 40 in.), I put them together, covered them in reflective fabric (Scotchlight.) At the time of shooting, I used a powerful flash to turn them into ribbons of light.” – Bernard Faucon, The Scriptures 1991-1992
In On a réalisé ce qu’on a rêvé. On n’a plus rieu. (Our dreams came true. We have nothing left.) and On L’a Eu, On M’y a Pas Cru… (We had it, but we didn’t believe it) Faucon process, as an artist, has been reductionistic. At first, subject matter contained friends and family, later mannequins, after that rooms that were empty, or had objects. In The Scriptures, the poetic, sculptural text specifically engage in language and abstract thought instead of people or objects. Using a visual style reminiscent of 19th-century realism like a Courbet landscape, Faucon delivers a message that combines the mind and the eye. The sculpted words talk about a non-physical space; they become meditations. They are open verses, suggesting an ultimate human state of desire.
As one of the most consequential contemporary photographers from France, Bernard Faucon’s Scriptures series exists with an indeterminate purpose. The textual, sculptural photographs pose thought and grievance upon the natural environment. Faucon’s prose use direct language, stylized by his handwriting, honoring the power of language with resplendent letters and their fundamental effect to communicate visually. Bernard Faucon stopped making photographs in 1996. He had said everything he wanted with photographic images.
Presently, there are very few Fresson photographs available. In Japan and China (as well as Europe) there are significant collections of Bernard’s work. These are cultures that embrace the spiritual and metaphoric dimensions of art. Bernard Faucon illuminates words, consecrating them and allowing for a larger dimension than mere thought. He has created one of the most original, most complex, and most elusive bodies of work of any contemporary European photographer.