Post: after. Post-: the prefix itself. Bereft of its multiple radicals, Post. evokes a kind of absolute “after”, where each thought is indexed on what it was. Post. is a time that exists because it succeeds to another. Post. is a world whose image nourishes itself continually from the flesh of the past.

The vogue of the prefix post- testifies (. . .) a change in attitude towards history in the making. In fact, it is significant that the determination of the coordinates of the position which we occupy does not stem anymore, from the idea which simultaneously constitutes and singularises the alleged convictions. It is done from the ones it succeeds to. We say what we came after – after industry or communism. But we do not say who we are or what we adhere to. As if we wished not to be defined, not to be related, was this by our own opinions, in order to preserve our liberty towards them. Like we held them as part, amongst other things, of the “empire of ephemeral”. We are at the exact opposite side of Sartrian involvement [1].

How does one photograph the sensation of an evasive present that drags its ideologies and its past beliefs along with it, sometimes like a shadow, sometimes like a grazed skin? Here, Philippe Calia ventures into the folds of the after moment, there where meaning exceeds, escapes and glides. He gives a feeling of what haunts and liven up the contemporary world. Post., he writes, is “that prefix from where thought beautifies itself as we no longer can invent a concept to describe reality”. Post. stands for the referential function of the past. But forsaken at the same time, this prefix signals a vague origin, a dissolution of references: contemporary, do we live absolutely after? How does one produce meaning today? How does one situate oneself in the world? Post. – from observation becomes question. Therefore, the artist, through the image, explores the transience of the present and questions the possibility of going beyond the post-modern impasse.

The black and white photographs of Post. are results of the journey of the photographer from one city to another city. Paris, London or elsewhere. Far from the attitude of a stroller, detached observer letting things slide at the surface of his gaze, the wandering photographer tirelessly runs up against the world. His movement is not of a contemplation, but of a search, an interrogation. “The wanderer in search of an acceptable place finds himself in a very particular space, an intermediary space. To an intermediary space corresponds an intermediary time, a temporality that can be qualified as evanescent. This fleeting time is the time of our take on history, where the wanderer questions the past while thinking about its close future at the same time. ( . . .) The wanderer fades away, becomes silent, he frees himself from the experience of the world, which is why there cannot be any motionless wandering.” [2] To photograph is a way to live the contemporary wandering, to seek through the image, to feel about a place and a time where we live. Philippe Calia’s Post. gives a shape to the time and movement of wandering, to the time of passage, to the quest of a space made of shared meaning.

Post. is an invitation to share the photographer’s drift and his concerned view of this world. The photos evoke a nocturnal universe in a present-day out-of-time where the variation of night and day would have been replaced by a permanent darkness. This darkness seems to be breached by luminous flashes emitted by humans and the things that silently passes through it. In the course of this series, Philippe Calia traces an itinerary in an imagined, recomposed city which, however, possesses all the consistency of reality. It is inherent to photography to always take away its referent, which “adheres”, however, it is for the photographer to continually draw the referent towards an elsewhere, to make it become an other. The post-city of Philippe Calia is thus, an anonymous space textured with undergrounds, enclosed rooms or rough exteriors. A city whose matter clings to the photographic one: grounds, walls, screens, posters, so many skins itching, grazing or stroking the surface of the image and thereby generating the its grain. From this itinerary stems a peculiar and disquieting sensation: the familiarity of daily spaces in tension with the violence revealed by the photographer – elusive bodies, sour appearances. The city is, in Post, a space where solitudes cross each others, where people drift aimlessly, a space where muted signs jostle together in the same helplessness.

There is something cinematographic in the manner in which the slides of Post. follow one another. Each image is not given to be seen in an essentially photographic time, the time of the instant, but it exists as a moment of a series. In fact, Post. does stand as a juxtaposition of autonomous instants, but rather as a unique temporal entity unfolding through the course of visual experience, with its own rhythm, its uncommon vibration. Here, the perception of the photographic series finds echo into the experience of the cinematographic sequence. The length of the series forces the spectator to let escape the memory of the previous frame and to really look at each new picture. The same viewer is thus confronted to a paradoxical succession of appearance and disappearance of images: it is at the same time an effective disappearance of a given picture, which facilitates the vision of the following picture, but also it is the mental persistence of this image which nourishes the experience of the following picture. It is therefore a phenomenon of sedimentation of persistence but also of tearing which permits the spectator to work upon the link between the pictures, in the same way that the unfolding of photograms and film shots invites the spectator to dwell in the gap and the proximity between the pictures, summoning his memory, his imagination, his unconscious. By this practice of the photographic sequence, the photographer makes himself a presenter as much as an operator in arranging passages and echos between the pictures ; arrangements which, again and again, produce a unique and intimate meaning.

This stream of visual, however, is not elaborated as a continuous or linear narrative. The language is rather musical: some recurrent themes mingle with each other through the playful use of aesthetic and symbolical motives. Here, a face responds to another, a light or a line prolongs the movement of an earlier image ; there, a palpable ground or a cropped body linger and re-emerge as the gaze subconscious. Each image contains a potential story, nevertheless the fragmented narrative takes us elsewhere, farther away, abandoning to their fate the mother and her child, the dog, the passer-by, the homeless. The writing of the sequence of Post figures the fleeting time of wandering ; the irregular, uncertain but constant movement of a route whose end is still to be found. The series ends on “POST.” written on a wall, written in the image, as a way to manifest the vacancy of the “after,” showing the ebb of the present towards the past. Times are blending, history is not linear. Post. is haunted by a back and forth movement between images seen and images revived from the memory.

The feeling, in Post., of navigating through a subterranean city makes me think of Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1982) : Paris was destroyed by a third world war, the survivors take refuge underground. The flow of sharply contrasted black and white images stands here as a possible reminiscence of the markerien photo-novel. This aesthetic correspondence gives a dystopian aura to the contemporary city whose political charge is ceaselessly coming forth. The post-city is a city where human beings disappear from the surface, dodging sight. The dissolution of the human figure, its escape out of the photograph or under its surface runs throughout the series. The human presence is constantly evoked but never in its entirety. Instead, the human gives way to its traces : the urban space, shaped and inhabited by man, is what inscribes his presence in these vistas. Its detritus, its food, its merchandise, its roads, its staircases, its furniture, its posters are as many signs of those who are absent from the images. When a body appears within a frame, it is often from the back or from far away, out of the framed or hidden in parts, blurry or under exposed. The faces slip away too. What remains are thus signs of faces : mannequins without life, portraits within ripped posters, faces covered by modest hand, faces consumed by photographic black, faces whose features get blended in the blur. These suggestions of faces are intertwined with other body fragments : legs in a crowd, a chest without a head, a fleeting silhouette, a hand which emerges from darkness.

Here, the city is the place of anomie par excellence, of solitudes crossing each other and sometimes gathering in silent parties frozen by photography. The disappearance of faces corresponds to the disappearance of a place of recognition and exchange between men, where social ties are on the wane. The photographer keeps his view also at a distance and experiences the world as a stranger, in the position of someone who continually interrogates his place, his identity and his relation with the here and now. He is practicing street photography ; but far away from depicting the street like a signifiying place with its scenes of local life and decisive moments. Philippe Calia photographs the city like an immense non-place where each journey, each relation is labyrinthine. To quote François Choay, the photography of Post. testifies of “the recede of the body in movement and the correlative disaffection of localized space to the scale of human body – today divorce sanctified by the multiplication of prosthesis which, from ultrafast transports and telecommunications to computer generated images, mediate our relation between natural and artificial space” [3].

In Post., the human and its symbols seem to have been replaced by a riot of signs clashing with each other. Philippe Calia not only takes note of the “conflagration of signs” which has taken place in contemporary environment. Through the montage between the images, and between the heterogeneous elements within their frames, he clusters these signs for the creation of new ones, problematic ones, thereby activating the potential criticality of photography, far away from a pure art of monitoring. Different types of signs appear in the course of the series : at a first level appears a series of commercial, religious and political signs, which precede the sight of the photographer. At a second level, Post. assembles these signs through montage and interrogates their values as well as their shifts. The merchandise is promoted to the sacred rank – the illuminated basket is in levitation such as a divine artefact – while the religious objects become consumer goods – the crucifixes are displayed in a shop. The homeless and the wanderers are embodiments of the political demands which are otherwise pasted on a wall or at the front of a newspaper. From this collision of signs emanates an atmosphere of violent absurdity. The signs of the second level – signs of signs - have no more direct referent.

Post. comes after the moment where meaning has been constructed on the depth of the world, Post.designates the moment where everything is already sign : already seen, already framed, already thought. Philippe Calia tries to overturn this state by producing complex and polysemous images. Between images saturated with signs, he tries to bring out poetical spaces, open-ended images where everything is not operating at the surface. On the one hand, Post. seems to mark the end of utopia and to propose a pleasure of signs for their own sake. On the other hand, the series tries to disturb a cramped framework of signs by fitting out respirations, evocations and moments of freedom. In other words, it is about renewing a direct relation to the world and others, to thwart what Jean Baudrillard refers to as the “age of simulation [which] thus begins with a liquidation of all referentials (. . .). It is a question of substituting signs of the real for the real itself; that is, an operation to deter every real process by its operational double, a metastable, programmatic, perfect descriptive machine which provides all the signs of the real and short-circuits all its vicissitudes” [4]. By photography, Philippe Calia attempts to revive the link between the map and the territory.

Thus, while this series accounts for an ever expanding non-place, the space of the image becomes a new anthropological place, a photographic place “simultaneously principle of meaning for those who live in it and principle of intelligibility for those who observe it. (. . .)” [5]. The montage of the images and within the images is a means of creating a “space of carved and symbolized meaning” [6], a political and poetical scope baring witness of a humble commitment with the world. In Post, it appears to me that photography creates a space and time where we can interrogate the (re)construction of a common meaning from the pondering of a devastated time.

[1] Pomian Krzysztof, « Philosophie de l’histoire », Post-ou comment appeler ? , le Débat, 1990/3 n 60, p. 230

[2] Alexandre Laumonier, « L’Errance ou la pensée du milieu », Le Magazine Littéraire, n 353, « L’Errance », 1997 ; p. 20, cité par Raymond Depardon dans Errance, Seuil, Paris, 2004

[3] François Choay, Pour une anthropologie de l’espace, Seuil, Paris, 2006, p. 104

[4] Jean Baudrillard, Simulacres et Simulation, Ed. Galilée, Paris, 1981, pp. 10-11

[5] Marc Augé, Non-Lieux, introduction à une anthropologie de la sur modernité, Le Seuil, Paris, 1992

[6] Ibid.

Original text in French (2010)

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