Franck Bijou, Présences, introduction PRIVATE 49 – FRANCE présences[I] recently made a train journey in France. Leaving from Paris but, and this is what I asked the ticket seller at the station, avoiding all express trains, travelling rather by night trains, semi-direct, tortuous local trains, thereby experiencing something I had previously only done abroad: long journeys, with the countryside passing by a window on which sometimes is still written forbidden to lean outside.
By train – Saint-Léonard-de-Noblat, Limoges, Angoulême, Royan, Le Verdon-sur-Mer, Bordeaux, etc. – one sees France: the expanse of fields, undulating areas, farms, cars stopped at level crossings, the limits of towns, wastelands, the back of houses, private gardens giving onto, playing fields; shapes, roads, walkers, people who are only glimpsed for an instant then already left behind. It is a view on the outside, on contours, on façades.
But what is there on the ‘inside’? What would we find if we got closer?
Such photographs are there not to gratify a curiosity, but are made in response to a feeling: it is not only the landscape we see, even if it takes solid form, and darkens or brightens in certain frames, or is transformed by the space under changing skies (teenagers wandering in the street, an abandoned bus-shelter in the distance), but rather it is the interior (of homes), the proximity (of faces), the torment or desire (of souls and bodies).
Such photographs propose a vision of something that is not so much in France (we could be beyond) as within France. Frozen moments on which no train window could give a view. This is to say that the image is a moment of fleeting magic, the same that Philippe Forest characterizes as “an imprint, trace, mark, notch” adding that it is “a sign empty of all meaning, testifying to nothing more than its pure presence in time, authenticating the passage of someone among the procession of days”.
The photographs comply to this sign.
This sign was missing from my view of the countryside from a train.
And it is this sign which, forged, makes of a shadow on paper, an inscription. The shadow of trees, of the dead, of bodies, of sex, of objects, all evidence from which we pass quickly by and that is then remembered, not so much as presences as evidenced in family photographs but as absences: beings from a psychiatric hospital, their eyes turned away, legs hanging from a life of disengagement like an untacked poster, beings uncomfortable in the new interiors in which they find themselves just passing by like the photographer.
And this absence retains light, it reinforces another kind of presence, that which we don’t show on the thousands of screens nowadays put at our disposal, that which is not seen. Like a fallen swan on a town pavement, the neck darkened from a small hole.
And if photography, these photographs, taken from within the heart of France, gave us a vision of elsewhere? While the politician examines the debate on French national identity, the photographer does not illustrate this identity, he shapes it while taking part, from Beauvais to Marseille, in our imagination.
(PRIVATE 49 – FRANCE présences, introduction, p. 3)