Maison Européenne de la Photographie

February 7, 2010By Heidi EllisonArchive

Prison Break-ins,
Fathers and Sons, and More


“Intérieur d’une Cellule” (2010). © Grégoire Korganow pour le CGLPL

There are no real links between the new crop of photography exhibitions at Paris’s Maison Européenne de la Photographie, but each one of the five is worth seeing on its own merits.

Two of them are by the same photographer, Grégoire Korganow. For “Prisons,” his reportage on French penal facilities (constantly cited for overcrowding and poor conditions), he found a way of breaking in: as an outside inspector, he was given unprecedented free access to 20 institutions and shot in each of them for between five and 10 days and nights. He was even allowed into solitary confinement. The only rule was that he could not show prisoners’ faces in his pictures.

Unsurprisingly with such subject matter, the results are powerful, imparting an overall impression of sadness amid the ugly, harsh environment. Much of it looks familiar from the many films set in prisons we have seen, but knowing that that is a real person undressing while a guard snaps on a latex glove, standing on a rickety chair in a desperate attempt to get a look through a window, walking in circles in a tiny exercise area or trying to have a conversation with a loved one in the visiting room makes it that much more heartrending.

After this exhibition, appropriately shown in the building’s rather claustrophobic low-ceilinged basement galleries, it is something of a relief to arrive in a gallery with big windows on the street in which another of Korganow’s projects is on show: the more


“Diven et Erio, Père et Fils” (2011) © Grégoire Korganow

lighthearted “Père et Fils.” For these images, he had fathers and sons pose together with naked torsos. The bare skin creates an unusual intimacy between the men of different ages. Some of the pairs lean into each other affectionately, while others pull or turn away from each other, seemingly revealing a great deal about their relationships. It is also interesting to study the physical similarities and differences between the generations: bald father, son with a full head of hair, resemblance or complete lack of resemblance, etc. This is a surprisingly fascinating exercise.

Upstairs, the exhibition “Insularité” features the work of Patrice Calmettes, former photographer for Vogue and Interview magazines. These sumptuous old-school black-and-white prints were mostly taken on the island of Ibiza, showing the stark beauty of


“Finca.” © Patrice Calmettes

the village houses and walls, landscapes, along with a few portraits of people, styled to take on mythological status with their costumes or tattoos.

Another exhibition offering a very personal look at a particular place is “L’Italie de Bernard Plossu,” the result of many visits to every corner of Italy over a lifetime by this French photographer who has lived around the world


“Italie, Île de Capraia” (2014). © Bernard Plossu

but always maintained a special passion for the country of his ancestors and traveled there as often as possible. “I feel good there,” he says. “Everything is just right: the atmosphere, the painting, the food, the literature (90 percent of the books I read are by Italian authors).” His images, some of them color carbon prints with a grainy matte surface and others black and white, are a heartfelt expression of this love affair, some of them documentary and some exquisite nature scenes: the moon over the Gulf of Naples, for example, or clouds over the volcanic island of Stromboli.

Finally, for something completely different, the MEP, in conjunction with the Maison d’Art Bernard Anthonioz in Nogent-sur-Marne, is showing “Images Secondes,” the work of Eric


“Courant” from the “Seuils” series (2008). © Eric Rondepierre

Rondepierre, who plays with moving film images to create something new, either by manipulating them or taking advantage of accidents. In one series, for example, he selected frames of corroded film from old silent movies, and in another he cleverly superimposed images from old movies onto scenes from more recent ones. The results are variously enigmatic, surreal or humorous.

Heidi Ellison

La Maison Européenne de la Photographie: 5/7 rue de Fourcy, 75004 Paris. Métro: Saint Paul. Tel.: 01 44 78 75 00. Open Wednesday-Sunday, 11am-8pm. Admission: €8. Through April 5, 2015.

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