10/24/2007 , By Martine Dancer
“Whatever we understand and enjoy in human products instantly becomes ours, wherever they might have their origin. I am proud of my humanity when I can acknowledge the poets and artists of other countries as my own. Let me feel with unalloyed gladness, that I can be a part of all the great glories of man.” Rabindranath Tagore(1)
Do we have the simplicity or will we be accused of naivety “to be proud of our humanity” - like the open-mindedness of Rabindranath Tagore - seeing the photographic works, fruit of an order that throws a bridge between the East and the West. These words are not artificial. The mission of the two photographers, Diwan Manna and Michel Dieudonne, chosen by French and Indian authorities, invites us to participate in “all the great glories of man” reminding us of the great stalwarts such as Pandit Nehru, Minister Claudius Petit, Le Corbusier. Some fifty years after the completion of the building sites of Chandigarh and Firminy - two amongst the major post-war architectural realizations - this order for photographs reveals the links between the two cities brought together by the vision of an out-of-the-ordinary architect. Chandigarh, Nehru "temple of new India", became in 1953, after the partition of India in 1947, the capital of Punjab. It is here that Le Corbusier developed his architectural concept from 1951 to 1962, as well as what some have poetically called "his Indian grammar". Development in Firminy, a city situated in the Loire district, is further given impetus by E. Claudius-Petit, its mayor and former Minister of Construction and Urbanisation, who commissioned Le Corbusier (1954 - 1965) for extension of the city. The course of history destined that we wait for 2006 to discover the Saint-Pierre church of Firminy.
The conditions laid down by the order led the two photographers, an Indian and a French, to venture into territory alien to them, into history that is not theirs. When confronted with cultural sharing, photographs, like films, "take on hues of a certain number of local factors, such as... behaviour, manners, ancient traditions, new trends... a foreigner obviously possesses only limited awareness... local variations... can surprise or disconcert the foreigner... and consequently, cloud his judgment" (2) as underlined by Satyajit Ray in his "Our films, their films" However, since the middle of the 19th century, succeeding the sketch-artist, the photographer became an important traveller-witness - let us recall Maxime du Camp who left for Syria with Flaubert, let us evoke the 'orientalist' photographs which bring the world to he who will never ever cross any border... Diwan Manna and Michel Dieudonne accepted the conditions, exchanged their territories, as both work respectively in Chandigarh and Firminy. Bearing witness to this are 57 photographs selected from the collection of their photographic journey, presented in November 2006 in the Ecole d'Unite d'Habitation de Firminy: the challenge was taken up. The people of Punjab will judge in October 2007.
"In history, everything begins with the act of putting aside, with collecting and in this way transforming into "documents" certain objects organised otherwise. This new cultural reorganisation is the first step. In reality, it consists of producing such documents through recopying, transcribing or photographing these objects, by changing their place and status at the same time". "Changing their place" refers here to inscribing on the photographic film, to restore not only architecture and its stylistic features but also the state of its inscription in the life of a territory. "Changing their status" is today, to place oneself in the centre of the process “of activation of a dialectical art-document (which) constituted the display perspective of contemporary photography" (4).... Photography in its multiple forms and practices “ceaselessly carries out proposals on the basis of values envisaged as absolute: truth of testimony, authority of representation, fairness in the relation image / spectator” (5) In this particular case that holds our interest, let us agree with Walter Benjamin that “it is impossible to define the present state of any discipline whatsoever without showing that its current situation is not just a link in the historic development chain, independent of the science in question, but above all an element in the whole cultural set-up at a given particular time".(6)
Diwan Manna and Michel Dieudonne are both heirs of distinct artistic traditions that rubbed shoulders with each other for centuries. The order of photographs for "Regards Croise" - “the term order here is used in its more noble meaning of the artistic order - intervenes in a cultural space that is both common and distinct at the same time. Common: development of science and culture is, across the ages, interdependent in a marvelous and subtle manner. The western artistic sphere - qualified by some as hegemonic - has had new life breathed into it by foreign contributions at all times - to be brief - let us take for example the 19th century and the formal contributions of Japan, art from black Africa and Oceania, South America, the East... Le Corbusier is among those who perceived the importance of inter-discipline. "War [...] has enabled civilisations to resurge with considerable worth and signification, these are the civilisations of India, it's Islam... it's China". (7) However it would be fallacious to continue this discourse and erase any specific local character. "In India, as recalls Deepak Ananth, early emergence of proto-modernist art [...] at the end of 1930s was inseparable from the dilemma that the ex-people of the British Empire faced while constituting national identity, which presented obviously two faces that were torn between autochthonous elements and the imported ones..."Let us not forget” to become aware of the rich past of the works that appeared in the 1990s and more controversially to remember that other kinds of modernity have existed outside of the hegemonic western sphere."(8) These other kinds of modernity that have nurtured contemporary Indian artists are today, perfectly integrated in the international artistic scene.
A mission like that of "Regards Croise" is no longer in the straight line of presentation by Arago in 1839 of Daguerre's invention in the Academie des Sciences. To photography, England claims equally to be the father of it, the role of registration was devolved. But the early photographers were going to disturb the limits claimed by Baudelaire, photography would only be "a humble servant of science". This artistic legitimisation of photography was confirmed in the 20th century during the 1970s. Meanwhile photography gave rise to another prehension of architecture, very quickly perceived by W. Benjamin: "Each of us will have observed how a painting, or more so a sculpture and, above all of them, architecture are better captured in a photo than in reality... we are obliged to notice that at about the same time when the reproduction techniques were being made, a change came about in the manner of perceiving great works. These works cannot be envisaged as individual productions: they have become collective compositions so powerful that we cannot assimilate them unless they are reduced."(9)
The great models of institutional order in the photographic space repose on the legendary heliographic mission of 1851 in France, on the Farm Security Administration in the United States, 1935 to 1942 (with Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange...) during the economic crisis, finally in 1980s in France on the order "Territory of France" of Datar who addresses the artistes. The architects also find a place among great sponsors. Le Corbusier must have been always particularly inclined towards this medium. Boissonnas, Salaun have clicked photos which when published, - Le Corbusier is aware of this - constitute a "wonderful instrument of celebration of new architecture, in time and in space" (10) But it is with Lucien Herve that he builds for himself veritable adequacy... "You have the soul of an architect, come fast and find me. For 40 years, I have been looking for a photographer who is capable of expressing architecture." (11) It is in these terms that Le Corbusier invites Lucien Herve to join him. The dialogue between the architect and the photographer finds expression in "the sacred art", the journal of Pere Couturier, then in Andre Bloc's "Art and Architecture Today". In it Herve visually defends the principal qualities of this architecture. The photographer defends himself "In the same way as a music conductor or a pianist, (he) selects the sonority of the instruments and the tones in order to remake more complete harmonies, but at the same time respecting scrupulously the intention of the composer, in this case the architect."(12)
It is the architect in him that enables Michel Dieudonne to capture the monumentality that flows naturally from places of power of a regional capital. The "Assembly hall" and the "Capitol complex" reaffirm "the desire to use geometry for making something superior, and only with it" (13). Sensitive to majestic structures, Dieudonne's style seems to espouse closely the thoughts of the master architect: "I have made four grand buildings, they are there, and they have forms that deserve to exist. They are good".(14) Dieudonne takes interest in the structure of facades, in the vocabulary of openings, in contrasting monochrome with brightly coloured surfaces, yellow, green, cock-of-the-rock red of the pillars, in the play of horizontal lines underlined by a streak of light that keeps a trace of the manufacturing technique of the concrete surface. A fine connoisseur, he adopts the viewpoint of the architect: "view point in perspective defines things. And one can see from the top or from the bottom the reality that presents itself differently, each time different from the other, according to viewpoint".(15) With full desire to guide the eye, he imposes his vision, his reading, for he needs to express himself, he says, "with his architect's eye". However, in spite of great attention paid to stylistic vocabulary, he avoids the trap of a disembodied vision that would elude the reign of plants. He contrasts the haughty curves of concrete wings with the fragility of lush green leaves. The diagonal of a tree trunk breaks the supreme order of the Capitol complex facade. The enormous knotty trunk of the twisted tree with multiple columns -less than the baroque dimension given to Chandigarh - illustrates the preoccupation that presided this "coherent architecture that is like a living organism, biological... there are blood, lymphatic, nervous networks in there". (16) By diagonally capturing the wrinkled effects of the jointed surfaces of a wall, hemmed by a play of light and shade, our attention is drawn towards the silhouette of very frail tree at a distance. "The tree, Dieudonne knows it very well, is a symbolic figure for the architect from the Jura region who in the enamel door of Chandigarh has underlined by the tree of life, the axe on which the door turns...."(17)
Curious, intuitive, Dieudonne loves to capture the most ordinary life: two people on the terrace rooftop of the Assembly hall, some local people chatting, daily newspapers whose big headlines printed in black stand out against their packaging, a red cloth. He takes interest in details that make up this "daily life of twenty-four solar hours, which is the time in which flows our daily life, family life" (18) One has to be attentive to notice the signs of these moments of life, fragments of daily life that seem to hide themselves in the folds of the photographic image. Dieudonne takes on fully the digital medium in juxtaposing certain images underlined by large black margins. The assembling of the three images horizontally or vertically condenses visual impressions. The author of the film "Waiting to see the sea" (19) masters perfectly the scansion of sequences, when, in counterpoint to his monumental images, he forms storied walls with some of his photographs. It is in this manner, that in very moderate light, are revealed the inside decors of the Capitol, the gangways drowned in the penumbra pierced by coloured effects of window slits. One hesitates between a quasi-futuristic reading with a bicolour play of the pillars of the inside hall of the assembly and a more mysterious approach that preludes the luminous effects of the Firminy church.
One of the characteristics of Le Corbusier's architecture is the animation of the inside surfaces by play of colour. In 1925, Theo van Doesburg was already defending zealously this role of colour that had somewhat been neglected in architecture. "Colour is one of the basic means to make visible the harmony of architectural links. Without colour, these proportion links cannot be rendered alive". (20) Diwan Manna is amongst the first artists in the church of Firminy -just completed in 2006- to oppose very closely the coloured impressions. Knowing the potential that deep zones of shade have to offer, to which he is often confronted in India - by following, for example day after day, the role of penumbra that renders a small restaurant mysterious - Manna knows its qualities and its sumptuousness. He inscribes the ephemeral luminous figures that surge forth, standing out in the architectural mass, like coloured paths. The daylight penetrating through the painted slits, accompany in this way the force lines of the inner architectural space that it sometimes sets ablaze. On the surface of the vintages henceforth only red, green or yellow geometrical forms can be inscribed, having become signs. Here, there are no stained glasses as in Chartres but the principal is the same for one obtains pure coloured light". Diwan Manna adopts the method of Matisse during his latter years: "I separate the forces. My inner feelings, I don't know what it is, gives it rhythm" (21). Are we then living in the domain of photography or are we rocked in the "picturality" seeing the outside view of the church, one evening, bathed in dark blue. The blues, the greens, the yellows or "light colours" are acidic, Diwan Manna pushes them to the extreme. He transcends movement to attain supremacy of the spirit in homage to the architect: "I am always accused of being an unrepentant rationalist. On the other hand, I am accused, not praised but accused, of being a poet... question of spirit is a capital thing"(22).
In Firminy Vert, the photographer surprises you with his tender love for strong tonalities -the whites or grays- almost expressionists. They make you doubt some, confronted with the pictures of familiar scenarios that escape them. At Maison de la Culture, he also devoted himself to the influence of daily routine: from the office of the director of the site, the eye moves across a succession of plans whose dark mass of heaps of files and books placed before the crossings - rhythmic with the undulatory glass panel system- the green of the lawn, he pyramid of the rows of the stadium - to end finally on the majestic church. As a child, he liked to draw; he was in a small city where modernity of any kind was alien. After his artistic studies, he got interested in some chefs-d'oeuvre of Indian and European cinema (Ingmar Bergman, Satyajit Ray Fassbinder...¦) and also in the practice of conceptual photography that he discovered in the USA. He worked, in the first instance, to integrate his painting in his system and then he appeared sometimes as an actor in his own productions as in the narrations of Duasme Michals. Manna places himself in a position well noticed by Dominique Baquie: "critical and polemic stakes appear...clearly: against objectivist dogmatism, claiming right to subjectivity...but more so to transformation, transmutation of the "real in the "possible worlds" against pure registration, order of the real of which, moreover, restoring its improbable essence is no longer an issue - but to show, on the contrary, how the support of phantasmagorias indexed on the fabulous, enchantment or fantasy can be made," (23) At Firminy where the concrete pierced with tiny openings become one Milky Way, generator of huge swaying lassos of light, the photographs of the visitors interrogates us. What does the face of this woman with closed eyes express in quasi penumbra? Her attitude evokes fervor; our impression is reinforced by the initial destination of this place imagined by the architect as a place of religious vocation. In fact, in these vintages, every emotion of discovery felt by all in 2006 is crystallized in each of them - some forty years after the conception of the church and its extraordinary sweepings of light imagined by Le Corbusier, realized by Jose Oubrerie and his team.
A drawing by Le Corbusier bears witness that he saw Chandigarh coming up while he was making the plans of Firminy The imposing photographs of Michel Dieudonne et Diwan Manna - the cross glances- divergent or sometimes common, presented in the Ecole d Unite d'Habitation in Firminy, in Chandigarh is inscribed in history. Each vintage has something of this exchange between the East and the West, in respecting differences, exchanges that take the gangways pierced with coloured slits common to the two cities of Chandigarh and Firminy.
"If the word «photography» - to write with light - tells only a part of this technique of expression, it says nevertheless the essential. Made with technical means and on visible signal support, luminous or shady of material things so that it reunites in a new vision of our world, such is the meaning of photography, In order to execute it well, nay perfectly, prise de conscience or awareness «typically photogenic» is necessary"(24)
This prise de conscience was claimed by Raoul Hausmann - Diwan Manna et Michel Dieudonne practise it, and they also know that "there is one road towards progress, a difficult road that is open to all of us, and the photographers have had the occasion to walk on it and participate in its progress...never have we needed them more, those who can, whatever be there means, to explain to each of us that what is new, "(25)
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Musee d'Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne Metropole