“Lointains souvenirs” of Indochina and North Africa: Franco-Spanish photographer FLORE – artist profile

Having herself lived part of her childhood in Alexandria, Egypt, Paris-based FLORE develops contemporary photographic projects evoking memories of her past and the past of her family.

Travelling to distant geographies in North Africa and Southeast Asia, her photography is far from being reportage or chronicles, but instead closer to poetry.

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From the book ‘Une femme française en Orient’, 2014, Postcart Edizioni. Image courtesy FLORE.

FLORE (b. 1963) is the daughter of Spanish painter Olga Gimeno. Part of her family lived in Saigon. Her photographic projects are conceived and realised in the long term, often during travels, or after a new encounter. They have been presented in various prestigious institutions such as the Musée du Petit Palais, the BNF, the MMP + of Marrakesh, the Mémorial de Rivesaltes, and regularly in art fairs throughout the world. She currently gives master classes in Paris.

In her photographic images, FLORE depicts landscapes that do not convey an ordinary idea of harmony and beauty, but instead reveal mysterious and enigmatic locations in which roads do not lead in any direction and buildings are immersed at random in the midst of nature.

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From the book ‘Une femme française en Orient’, 2014, Postcart Edizioni. Image courtesy FLORE.

FLORE’s photographic series require careful preparation, which always occurs slowly. For Une femme française en Orient, she travelled across the Mediterranean basin from 2008 to 2012.

“It is important for me to work slowly… when everything in the world goes faster and faster, instead,” she told Art Radar when meeting for the fifth edition of Castelnuovo Fotografia, a photo festival organised annually near Rome, Italy.

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From the series ‘Le temps endormi’, 2017, Palladium platinum print. © FLORE. Image courtesy Galerie 127.

Lointains souvenirs

Each of the two photo books she has published so far is a story, a journey, an adventure, an encounter in itself. The latest one, Lointains souvenirs (Contrejour & Postcart Edizioni, 2016), is fascinating. The concept was nourished by a thorough and passionate reading of French writer and experimental filmmaker Marguerite Duras, and in particular the four books she devoted to her childhood in the former Indochina: Un barrage contre le Pacifique (1950), L’Eden Cinéma (1977), L’Amant – Prix Goncourt (1984) and L’Amant de la Chine du Nord (1991).

Duras’ writing is intimate enough to echo FLORE’s memories of her grandmother, who lived in the former Indochina at the time and in the same locations as Duras. To have memories resurface completely, “it became obvious that I had to travel again, taking me and my husband in a new three-month trip to Vietnam and South Cambodia,” she says.

In Lointains souvenirs Flore gives a second life to the words of the late French writer. Extracts of Duras’ writings form short texts placed next to the images in the book, but not with a descriptive intention. The relation between written text and photographic image creates a virtuous circuit dense with nuances and possible free interpretations, all of them significant.

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From the book ‘Lointains souvenirs’, 2016, Postcart Edizioni. Image courtesy FLORE.

Water and the Little Miracle of Life

In FLORE’s photography, the presence of humans is never obvious and is not set in the banal frame of a portrait. Rather, there are strangers framed by the camera without premeditation. “The girl was already standing on the pontoon when we stopped our scooter nearby to ask for directions. I remember it was during one moist day, late in the afternoon. And we were lost near the Mekong,” she says, before pointing with her finger to the girl in the frame to exclaim: “Look, the little miracle of life!”

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From the book ‘Lointains souvenirs’, 2016, Postcart Edizion. Image courtesy FLORE.

Water is another element at the center of Flore’s photography – perhaps one of the most fundamental. There is water in a selection of images published in Lointains souvenirs (‘Distant Memories’), as well as in Une femme française en Orient (‘A French Woman in The East’). Water is also present in the series FLORE has just started to shoot in Morocco, entitled Le temps endormi (‘Time Sleeping’).

In these images, water is enclosing: it divides the land but also connects it. In some pictures, strangers look at the water as a vital element, in others elements dissolve in the aquatic component.

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From the book ‘Lointains souvenirs’, 2016, Postcart Edizioni. Image courtesy FLORE.

Crafting images

It has been said about FLORE that she is a contemporary photographer, because her knowledge and mastery of the medium allows her to combine various technical possibilities, infinitely – from historical techniques to the digital – and to put them at the service of her art and her photographic imaginary.

The photographic images published in her first book are processed from gelatin silver prints, in a square format, which without a surprise is ideal for fine art photography because elements in this space frame become stronger.

In her last book, Lointains souvenirs, two photographs recount the multiple faces of the former Indochina with shots realised with old colour films, dropping the viewer into a different, dreamlike atmosphere.

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From the book ‘Lointains souvenirs’, 2016, Postcart Edizioni. Image courtesy FLORE.

From the series Le temps endormi (2017). Palladium platinum print. Copyright FLORE. Image courtesy Galerie 127.

From the series ‘Le temps endormi’, 2017, Palladium platinum print. © FLORE. Image courtesy Galerie 127.

Others, instead, were shot with a black and white film, and it was in the darkroom that the warm tones appeared. She says about her production process that mixes modern technology with tradition:

I use black and white photography when I want to give a sense of timeless memories. I also change cameras for each series (among which there is a Polaroid, ed), depending on the emotional quality I try to convey to the photo.

At AKAA (Also Known As Africa) taking place in Paris from 10-12 November 2017, at the Galerie 127 booth FLORE is presenting the first platinotypes of her new series Le temps endormi.

Elisa Pierandrei

1928

Related topics: French, memory, time, family, photography, book

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