The disappearance of the figure
A photographer by trade, Simone Simon has been developing for fifteen years an artistic practice combining photography, videos, sound recordings and written testimonials. Each of her projects is built in a pragmatic way, to render a raw, often poetic reality. Anchored in a social approach, she seeks in the subjects she captures a living testimony, where absence and time weigh sometimes as a threat, sometimes as a hope.
Thus, time seems to have stopped when she photographs industrial districts and disused infrastructures in several European cities, giving light the leading role (Smile, we are being destroyed, Thus goes the light). With Les portes du St Pierre (ed. Le Passager Clandestin), she goes to meet women in a suburb of Nice as their unhealthy building, already half abandoned, is about to be destroyed.
Invoking the buried memories of childhood, cradle of the first emotions, she gathers audio testimonies, on the edge of a dream (Ne regardez pas le renard passer). With Nostalgie du présent, a nod to the world of Paul Auster, she brings children’s and adults’ faces face to face: “Everything is already inscribed in a child’s face “*, she observes, and the double portraits she offers bring out in a disturbing way the astonishing resemblance of a face that time cannot denature.
Simone Simon often relies on the participation of anonymous people (On the passage of a few people through…) and whatever the problem posed, the images, stories and testimonies speak a language common to all. The artist highlights mental images, convictions, regrets or dreams, taking the time to listen, with the strong will not to stage anything, but simply to grasp a subjective reality in which each person can find a little bit of himself and his relationship with others. This is also her approach when she directed with Eric Antolinos the film, Boxing-club, shot in a boxing club in the suburbs of Nice. There, she gives free speech and lingers on the sporting gestures and attitudes that create the link between these inhabitants of all generations and communities.
In her current work of photographs and testimonies, Le vent se lève, she gathers about thirty testimonies of women in the often shocked relationship they have with their bodies. Posing naked in a setting that is intimate to them, these anonymous women affirm their desire for freedom: they speak out against cultural diktats and aesthetic codes, which are often alienating.
Without ever getting into pathos, nor claiming any militancy, she nevertheless evokes how people’s lives are affected by political decisions of all kinds. Benevolence and slowness make up this very particular poetry, where time seems suspended.
* Paul Auster in, L’invention de la solitude, ed. Actes Sud, 1993
At the beginning of this afternoon, which announces a Côte that we love so much and that we finally find again, after these few months of barbarism, this Côte so nicely named by Stephen Liégeard, of azure, I look at this face -that of Simone Simon- as we are both sitting, side by side, on the orange skaï couch of my office. To tell the truth, it is she who turns to me and looks at me. Her narrow shoulders, her whole bust, her legs against each other with her hands resting delicately on them, her whole body sets itself as a “goal” to look at me and not only at me. She sees me. Does she know that inside, I am enjoying this name that perspires with ambiguity? I wonder doubly. Who is this woman?
We made an appointment for me to write a text about her, about her work.
Like everyone else, I meet her regularly at openings. We greet each other and talk about the works on display, the artists, everything, nothing. Finally, I realize that she is a stranger to me.
She came with a plastic bag containing a book. And, as if it were useless, shows me the contents quickly, turning the pages with a certain embarrassment, almost in a hurry to get rid of this formality that also embarrasses me. I hate these moments. Very quickly his smile takes over. She talks to me… about others.
What do I know about her best? These are some photographs seen at Eva Vautier’s gallery. Rigorous photographs which, at the time, seemed to me distant, almost cold, photographs of architecture taken in Eastern countries, I think. Small format photographs at modest prices that convinced me, without really knowing why. She talks to me about this work. I am absent, I hardly listen to her, I look at her and, in my turn, I see her.
I understand now. What I had identified as a somewhat cold distance, is only honesty, sincerity, modesty and… forbidden.
She forbids herself any form of corruption, she who worked for a while for the fashion press. She refrains from any self-centered ambition, she who today dares not call herself an artist. She refrains from any form of grandiloquence, she who devotes herself to the sole pleasure of photography. She refrains from talking about herself, she who never ceases to be interested in others.
This honesty, this sincerity, this modesty are truly the material with which she works, in addition, of course, to her camera.
If I had to cite only one work, or rather one project, since this is how she considers her way of working, it would certainly be the one realized in Nice in 2007/2008 Les Portes Du Saint-Pierre. A project, encounters, testimonials, words of women about their city where she has, with an astonishing acuity and a remarkable accuracy, not only testified to the daily life of the women of this suburb but really made work. As always, this project has been the subject of a publication, with deceptive modesty.
As in Boxing Club, a short film made earlier in 2006, or in the project Ne regardez pas le renard passer, the one that occupies her today and which she presents to me with thoughtful enthusiasm. It is the human being that is at the heart of her preoccupations, sometimes to the point of absence, as in these photographs found in Eva Vautier’s work.
At the end of our interview and as the light slowly fades, I walk back to the gate this small silhouette, so luminous in this late afternoon. How time can pass quickly. I forgot about Simon… and dare not tell him that I find her magnificent, that her work touches me and that I would have so much pleasure in writing a few words about Simone.
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