Gérard Pétremand
gérard pétremand
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Mémoires recomposées
Topiques | 1997-2001 | Introduction > Français > English


The photographs assembled by Gérard Pétremand under the “Topiques” title are an essentially paradoxical representation of urban life. The reality of cities is transformed by a strange perceptual shift, as one’s gaze is ensnared by images in which notions of scale, distance and perspective are completely disrupted. The onlooker’s eye, attempting to settle on an object, is immediately diverted to a different object and then seemingly diffracted to all points in the photograph: the city takes on a new substance of pure colours and shapes. The constant and somewhat disorderly to-ing and fro-ing of our gaze from one level to another, from the reality depicted to the specifically formal surface of the photograph, establishes a dynamic of transformation – and we are suddenly transported into a virtual space.

For a number of years, Gérard Pétremand has been conducting visual research into the urban landscape, concentrating in the last two years on the suburbs of European or American cities he has visited in the course of his travels. From the south of France to Sarajevo, via Finland, Switzerland and Silicon Valley, we find the same motorway slip roads, the same warehouses, the same rails, the same buildings, the same work sites, providing his images with their colourful construction. Unlike many works with a documentary intent, the real centre of gravity of Gérard Pétremand’s images is specifically photographic, residing in a depth of perspective that has blurred and sharp areas co-existing regardless of any linear scale of distance; each plane can be both indistinct and focused, one’s gaze is literally taken on a tour of the image via a tortuous and unpredictable path that bears no relation to any possible physical route in the space the image represents; hence the very strange impression we invariably have of being confronted by models. Once photographed, the familiar landscape becomes entirely virtual. As if the built space continuum of the world we know and experience was split into different levels or zones essentially different in nature, but contiguous and intertwined. As if the photographic image turned virtual spaces into a reality, revealing a potential geography within the familiar space.


This work of revelation is undoubtedly the specific intent of photography, which creates images in a movement of capture and restitution that is always suggestive of abstraction. With “Topiques”, Gérard Pétremand succeeds in bringing together a multitude of very contemporary perceptions of the city, linked essentially to the idea of movement. The paradox here resides in the impression that the photographed locations are mock-ups, fixed or stuck-on objects, pure artefacts, in short the very opposite of a living space in which bodies move about – but that at the same time these virtualised spaces require incessant movement of the eye, a metaphor for the hustle and bustle of city life. The outer circle of today’s cities is indeed this place of transit, crossover and incessant motion, and Pétremand’s photographs simply record this, without any discursive or critical impedimenta. However, this movement of urban life also informs our gaze, formatted by video, as if perpetually scanning the environment to decode signs of recognition. With Gérard Pétremand’s photographs, the eye’s movement is not interrupted or analysed, it is diverted and drawn towards the ever-receding boundaries between the world and its image. This merging of several simultaneous approaches to the suburban landscape has nothing sophisticated about it in the “Topiques” collection. It does not demand any special effects, any subsequent retouching, any intervention by virtual image technologies – and it is in this simple photographic operation that the power of attraction and richness of Gérard Pétremand’s images resides. It is not a question of imitating the effects of virtual imagery by photography, but of incorporating into purely and specifically photographic methods a new, dynamic and wholly contemporary perception of our environment. The images in “Topiques” have little to do with documentary photography and formal photography, and it is precisely because they contain within them a variety of genres and schools of thought that they can legitimately be classed as contemporary art.

Lysianne Léchot Hirt