French and American photographers train their lenses on Dickinson's campus and a Toulouse bank.
by Michelle Simmons
July 1, 2009
Photojournalist Philippe Brault spent two weeks capturing images of campus life.
One vision is in black and white, the other in color. One is French, one American. Together they represent an artistic and cultural link between Dickinson and one of its most popular study-abroad sites, Toulouse, France.
The different focal points and photographic formats employed by Andrew Bale, adjunct professor of art, and Paris-based photojournalist Philippe Brault were highlighted in The Face of the Other, a joint exhibition in Toulouse held June 9-30. Plans are afoot to bring the show to Dickinson in 2010.
Conceived as a project that would immerse two photographers—one American, one French—in a foreign workplace, The Face of the Other was initiated by the Fondation pour l’art Contemporain, a nonprofit arts organization founded by the bank Caisse d’Epargne de Midi-Pyrénées. The idea was for each photographer to conduct a study of people and workplace—the bank’s headquarters in Toulouse in southwest France and the college in central Pennsylvania.
Dickinson’s role in the photographic exchange began with Sylvie Toux, resident director of the Dickinson Center in Toulouse. According to Bale, Toux heard about the foundation’s interest in a cross-cultural photographic project and contacted Ward Davenny, associate professor of art, who recommended Bale. In May 2008, Bale took off for France and spent two weeks roaming the hallways and grounds of the Caisse d’Epargne headquarters.
Bale’s black-and-white photographs have been shown in juried and solo exhibits throughout the United States, and he is interested in images of what he calls the “common landscape”—objects, places or people that are common to everyday life. The idea of photographing in a workplace made perfect sense to him, but he had some convincing to do while there.
“Many of [the employees] had this assumption that I was just ‘snapping’ their pictures,” he said. “They didn’t know I was making formal portraits of people.”
Bale photographed workers at all levels: executives, custodians, lawyers, receptionists, using a large-format Canham view camera with 5-by-7-inch plates—the same camera used by Ansel Adams. It can take some time to set up, and that became a conversation starter for Bale and his subjects. Once they saw it, they sat visibly taller and smoothed out their clothes.
“It always makes a portrait more serious,” he said, smiling.
For the Carlisle campus coverage, Toux recommended Philippe Brault, a globetrotting photojournalist whose work has appeared in magazines ranging from Vanity Fair and Le Monde to Internationale, GQ and Newsweek. He began taking photos as a soldier stationed in Lebanon in 1988, and since then, a recurring theme in his work has been civilians trapped in the aftermath of armed conflict, from Lebanon and Kosovo to Mozambique and Iraq. Some of those photos also appeared in the June exhibit.
Brault is fascinated with all things American, especially politics, so his first trip to the United States—and to Dickinson—was to photograph student involvement in the 2004 presidential campaign. The serendipity of returning during another presidential-election year was uppermost in his mind when he arrived on campus in April 2008.
“Thanks to the photo project I got the opportunity to come back to Carlisle only a few months before a new election,” he said. “Even at the beginning of my trip, I could feel the presidential-election atmosphere on campus.”
Using a Horseman large-format camera with a Schneider lens, Brault tramped the campus grounds, photographing every activity and nook and cranny.
He captured images not only of the iconic red Adirondack chairs and Old West but of dining-services staff resting in the back kitchen between meals, ROTC cadets during early-morning calisthenics and Sunday mass in Memorial Hall.
“I always need to go and feel things for myself to give the subject a photographic interpretation,” he explained in French-inflected English. “This assignment let me be totally free to find my own original way to access the subject of an American college.”
Different styles and interests haven’t stopped Brault and Bale from developing a close friendship through e-mail. When Brault returned to the United States in late October to cover the final days of the election campaign, Bale opened his home to him.
And when Bale traveled to France in June for the exhibit at the Fondation pour l’art contemporain, he stopped first to visit Brault in Paris. Together, they went to Toulouse to see each other’s finished work for the first time.
To view the work of the photographers, please check out the Dual Vantage slideshow.