The BAL gallery in Paris’ 18th arrondissement is doing a lot of celebrating, and it’s not even Christmas yet. Not only are they exhibiting the winners of the “Prix des écoles d’art, LE BAL/SFR Jeunes Talents” (Young Talent) but they are also showcasing nine graduates from L’Ecole nationale supérieure de la photographie d’Arles (ENSP) as well as several film screenings. Quite a way to see in their 30th birthday.
Dorothée Davoise was the 2012 winner, and pieces from her collection Topos are displayed on the first floor of the gallery. Runner-up Pierre Toussaint is also showing his work, from the “Olaf” series. Davoise’s unobtrusive observations of her mother’s native Greece are poignant, especially considering the country’s current economic situation. Abandoned bus stops, empty playgrounds; her work focuses on deserted urban topologies, hence the title. Her choice to keep the photographs in black and white adds atemporality to the collection: raw cityscapes are connected to ancient Greek history and childhood memories alike. This in turn creates intertextuality, the narrative bridges one piece to another.
Down the stairs, and the gallery opens into a large space, presenting the second half of the festivities: “Ceux qui arrivent”, nine young graduates from the ENSP. When I arrived, I was lucky enough to catch the screening of “After Vegas”, a short film by Laurence Bonvin and Stéphane Degoutin. Having spent three months in America, their film presents us with short clips of people living in Las Vegas, but for whom life has not been the story of money and glamour that the idea of Vegas dreams up. The topology, just as with Davoise’s photography, is essential to the ensemble. Panning shots of empty waste-land and long silent close-ups unite the stories with their landscape. Bonvin, in a short Q&A after the showing, explained that the interviewees didn’t need many questions or encouragement; their stories came naturally, and without any desire to evoke pity for their circumstances, for the most part money – gambling – related.
Once the film came to an end and the question session was over I was able to see the rest of the exhibition. Each of the nine artists has their own portion of wall space. I was particularly struck by Pauline Fargue’s work, entitled “Pas un jour sans une ligne”. Instead of using traditional-format photographs, Fargue has created scrapbooks of images and texts, inviting the viewer to participate, to touch, to flick through the pages and be involved with the art, something that is normally difficult to create in photography.
Fargue is one of the nine who were selected from over 150 of the graduate students of ENSP. These young artists address a plethora of themes, from daily life, family, adolescence, travel and the city to politics and history.
The depth and creativity of what is displayed at the BAL shows us the richness of what is to come from the photography scene. We’re not just talking about individual talent here. We’re talking about something to celebrate.