éléments d’une typologie de l’urbanisation contemporaine d’un village français de deux mille huit cent trente neuf habitants

For a change this post is not reporting on one single photobook but on a series of 10 booklets or so-called zines. The series is treating one single subject, that is the place where the photographer is living, his village.

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© Christophe Le Toquin

The village is Noyers sur Cher, a commune in the heart of France and the photographer is Christophe Le Toquin, a.k.a. Christer Ek, the inspiring and always enthusiastic voice behind the photobook blog “Who needs another photo blog“.

It is said that zines are usually made with a very specific concept in mind. And that is definitely the case here. As we can learn from the title, the photographer is zooming on “elements of a typology of the contemporary urbanisation of a French village of two thousand eight hundred and thirty nine inhabitants“.  Changing the scales for each volume, he is patiently observing from each possible angle “the effects of modernity, its accomplishments and its failures, on a rural town”.

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© Christophe Le Toquin

In a way, Christophe seems to have conceived the series as as work of microhistory of his village, in the tradition of the famous, quasi literary microhistories of other villages, like Montaillou (Le Roy Ladurie) or Montereale (Ginzburg). The difference being that he is not delving into the convictions, vagaries and misfortunes of the villagers (nobody from the 2.838 co-citizens is made visible). Instead, myriads of tangible traces are shown that the villagers are leaving behind while constantly building and re-building their habitat.

Let’s follow two (of the many) threads of such traces that are laid out throughout the series. First, there are those elements that have been disaffectated with the pace of time:  a rocking horse with broken legs, a worn out mattress, a car without headlights. We also see a factory, a signal-cabin and a filling-station all fallen into disuse. They are dismantled. All these elements may have been certainties in a local’s life. Now they lay forsaken in the eternal shadows. Only the photographer-microhistoriographer hasn’t discarded them from his work.

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© Christophe Le Toquin

Another thread doesn’t cast any doubt about the speed at which progress is imposing itself onto the place:  thoroughfares, electricty and telephone cables, railways, road markings, parking facilities, power pylons, roundabouts. Yeah, these are the elements that are conducting the villagers fast and efficiently to their future!

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© Christophe Le Toquin

Like a real historiographer, the photographer is never becoming sentimental, neither when he is focussing on the elements that are disaffected nor when he is focussing on the elements that are promissing progress. The series has nothing in common with Rimbaud‘s mindblowing farewell speech to his own French village Roche, where he was declaring his sympathy with all things disaffected, with “les arriérés de toutes sortes, mendiants, brigands, vagabonds, saltimbanques“, while at the same time crying “il faut être absolument moderne.”

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© Christophe Le Toquin

But I find Christophe’s microhistory evenly poetic. The sober and neat black & white representations have the feeling of a futurist poem. Sometimes the elements that he shows us are formally becoming letters of a new alphabet, the only one that is able to describe what is going on in the name of progress. In this new alphabet, the ode to progress becomes at the same time its subtle critique! The speaker of this new language knows that the commuter’s functional roundabout is a nightmare for the Tour de France cyclist; that trees whose only function is the decoration of the straightened Routes Nationales are too dusty to grow, that the prefabricated constructions in the SME-zonings have blind walls because they refuse to tell how they are contributing to Noyer’s future. Fortunately, in the very last picture, a very tempting aspect of the future is acknowledged as well. A tomato plant is blooming and blooming and its fruits are nearly  ready to taste! Nothing is forgotten.

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© Christophe Le Toquin

Zines, by their very nature, are also said to be able to target a specific audience with whom it is possible to develop a tight and close interaction. And also this is definitely the case here. The series (regularly self-published over the last few years) is actually on tour since the beginning of 2017 meeting with its audience. There have already  been shows in Val de Loire and in Paris (Librairie Volume).  Next stop is Brussels in the photobook-treasury Hors Format. And the show is from June 14th till August 26th.

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Looking very much forward to it, Mr. Le Toquin!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Stars of Albania

Albania during the communist times. The country is totally sealed off from the outside world. Landowners have been expropriated by a radical collectivisation drive. “Exorbitant” capital goods have been confiscated. A kind of generalized paranoia is reigning all over the country. It is whispered that you can even receive the death penalty for having one chicken running around the house. When the smell of a fresh leaf of bread, baked for private consumption, reaches the nostrils the secret police (Sigurimi), the courageous baker will vanish into a labour camp.

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© Matthias Aschauer

Freedom of movement is something very abstract for Albanians. It is forbidden to move out of their home town without formal permission. Anyway, Albanians are not even allowed to have their own bike. In the 1980’ies there are only 300 cars driving through the streets of the Tirana.

The Albanians are the last of the Europeans to wake up in the so-called free world. Eventually, Enver Hoxha’s statue is toppled in december 1990.  Consumer goods and western values start flooding the country. In the years thereafter, the new economic is still very frail and there is social unrest but the spirit of the nation quickly shifts from “everything is ours” to “everything is mine”!

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© Matthias Aschauer

In times of uncertainty and chaos, it is natural for  human beings to look up for a star that will show the way to move on.  And here we have Sterne Albaniens (Stars of Albania), a very original photobook by Austrian photographer Matthias Aschauer. The title is beautifully explained in the introduction (David Staretz). The book is about stars that are guiding Albanians through the cultural shifts their country is undergoing.

To be more precise, it’s about one very specific star: the emblematic star of Mercedes-Benz. This is because – since the collapse of its stone age communism – Albania famously has attained the highest concentration of Mercedes-Benz automobiles in the world. It is estimated that 60 percent of the cars and trucks in the country are Mercedes-Benz! Sure enough, there is no room for discussion in Albanian families about about what should be number one on their priority lists. A Mercedes-Benz will always come before the washing mashine!

And the funny thing is that  Matthias’ book contains dozens of pictures made in the streets of Albania in 2010 and 2011 that (how did he do that?) depict ONLY Mercedes cars. Most of them are private cars but there are also taxis, learner cars, hearses, busses, vans…..

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© Matthias Aschauer

 

With their long noses, spacious trunks, solid doors, typical radiator grilles, chrome lines and big steering wheels they present themselves in everyone’s subconsciousness or dreams as archetypes of what a car should be. They are not only symbols of success and prestige but they also stand for total reliability, safety, durability and – most importantly- also sovereignity. All what is needed during the chaotic aftermath of the communist era, full of hardship and terror.

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© Matthias Aschauer

 

What I like about Sterne Albaniens is that it seems to be conceived as a book of typologies. The annotations with the pictures don’t mention the time and place where Matthias made the shots. Each picture is only provided with the official factory references and the period of construction of the  vehicles (e.g. Mercedes-Benz E-Klasse (W211) 2002-2009). The main focus is on the wide variety of Mercedes-Benz types that he found in the streets.

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© Matthias Aschauer

As it goes in a book of typologies, there is no story line in this book. The sequence of Sterne Albanniens seems to be (at first sight) a purely random one. In a way this book brings to  mind the famous books of typologies from the German culture, like the ones from August Sander or the Bechers.

The concept of the graphic designers (Knis Steizinger and Simon Walterer) is maintained till the very end. In the back of the book all the references are grouped in an index. In a way, with its sober and neat outlook, they made the book also look like a prospectus for professionals. You may even say that the book design is reflecting the sober -German- design of the cars themselves. (BTW, the type that shows up most is the Mercedes-Benz W123 series (1975-1985), this oxymoronic ubiquitous luxury car of which you may have some good memories.)

At the same time, Matthias Aschauer offers us much more than a automobilographic overview of the different lines of executive cars, sedans or limousines that once have left the factory in Stuttgart. The book is also ethnographic. We get intriguing glimpses of the Albanians and how they behave in the public space. Time still seems to be on their side! We see many persons who are enjoying a friendly chat and the state of strolling idleness. In spite of the turmoil from which they are coming, in spite of the barrenness of their country, they seem to consider the public space as a very pleasant social space.

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© Matthias Aschauer

That there is time, also might have to something with the absence of economical drivers that allow the country to move on. But, as Matthias is showing, Albanians always keep up the good spirit and they have found their own stylish ways to move on. So, if the country is doomed to be some economic wasteland, I would say “Oh Lord, why don’t you buy them ……”

Thank you very much, Mr. Aschauer!

reporting on the art of the photobook