Former co-director of the Swiss Camera Museum, Jean-Marc Yersin started out as a professional photographer. Since 2018, he has returned to his first passion, continuing a cycle of images that inspired him thirty years earlier. He frames tightly, in black and white, motorway structures, factories and mountain buildings. The compositions are geometric, contrasted, sharp. There is no human presence. The forms are abstracted from their functions. The silence is absolute.
These are photographs under tension. They show the conflict between the built environment and nature, between concrete and the landscapes of the Lake Geneva region, the Rhone and the Alps. They also project themselves imaginatively into the future.
This is what the great engineering and industrial architecture will look like in several decades, Jean-Marc Yersin suggests. These structures will be abandoned. Still intact, still proud, they will evoke monumental sculptures or Land Art installations. For how long?
This inventory of a territory in the making is magnified by the photographer’s rigorous eye and his art of printing. Between scouting and preparatory sketches, Jean-Marc Yersin designs his shots with care. He takes advantage of a 24 x 36 digital camera, most recently a Leica M10-R, and reframes the rectangular images in a square format. With the help of tilt shift lenses or perspective control software, he corrects distortions, takes care of the verticals and establishes the right horizon. As you can see, Jean-Marc Yersin’s images are as well constructed as his subjects.
Luc Debraine, Director of Swiss Camera Museum, Vevey
At the beginning of the 1990s, I was taken for several months on the same long motorway journey where I tirelessly plunged my gaze as a captive spectator into a landscape from which a succession of structures sprang up from the ground or penetrated the décor. Driving at daybreak on still deserted roads, I contemplated these constructions like a traveler discovering the remains of a lost civilization whose original function he would struggle to understand.
In their own way, these monuments spoke eloquently of the brutality of our relationship with our environment. We were still far from being aware of the risk of collapse of our civilization, but I wondered how our infrastructures could be seen, one day, by others, in another time.
From this questioning was born the desire to draw up a sort of photographic inventory of these places in the making, taking care to detach them as much as possible from the slightest temporal link so that they escape their role, their functionality, in order to appear like new monuments freshly uncovered.
This journey in search of our future vestiges led me progressively to the mountains where the confrontation between the built environment and the landscape reaches a dazzling intensity. Buildings simply intended to curb the power of water take on the appearance of ancient temples and rub shoulders with dykes designed like sculptures or protective structures that function like forgotten Land Art installations.
Moving away from the tumult of our time, I usually take advantage of a few furtive moments to act, imbuing these images with a form of quietude similar to the one that could well settle around our last traces, which have become ephemeral and fragile, surrounded only by the rustling of nature taking back its rights. Coming from the most diverse places, these images are nevertheless assembled together to constitute a sort of archaeological catalogue of a future times; or a form of imaginary atlas of a territory to come… beyond our presence having so disturbed this world, where we nevertheless continue our mad race.
Traditionally, photography has a real materiality, but with the digital image has appeared a new form of diffusion, immaterial this one, supplanting the old uses. However, reduced to the same size as the others on the smooth and aseptic surface of the screen, without difference of texture, or of matter, with blacks still crossed by the back screen illumination …the photograph loses its substance.
On the other hand, inkjet printing implies changing the way of doing or thinking, we no longer play with light, but we throw ink … This is a new, or rediscovered, relationship with the world of engraving. The inks produce ever deeper blacks, deposited in microscopic structures that trace sharp contours, without the diffusion effects that can occur when enlarging on a silver emulsion.
For my part, I have always appreciated engraving, hence my desire to explore the deepest inking, not without thinking of those of the second edition of Piranesi’s “Imaginary Prisons”.
I have therefore equipped myself with a printing workshop where I complete the creative process initiated at the time of shooting by making my own prints, up to large formats (100×130 approx.).
My prints, made on pure cotton paper 310 gr/m2, are exclusively edited to seven copies and two artist’s prints, all formats included. I expose them without any glass, to appreciate directly the materiality of the image, the matter, the texture, the beauty of the paper.
After Swiss Camera Museum and ConsArc Galleria, Chiasso, VESTIGES will be exposed in February by Galerie 94 in Baden, Switzerland
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