Stop/ over Cities
In the few years of studying photography, I have developed a special weakness for nineteenth century images. Those first photographs ever taken, still hold the alchemy that photography once was. I wonder how it must have felt to be the first to experience that magical chemical process. A ghost of the image appearing on the paper in the development bath, as if it were covered in fog which slowly dissolves until the picture reaches its full density. Perhaps Nicephore Niepce thought, as Roland Barthes argues in Camera Lucida, that it was an instant painting. It had the same framing, the same perspective as a painted image, with only the brushstrokes missing. My personal magical moment of developing a picture for the first time has since long passed. But perhaps that particular moment is what drives us photographers. Whenever I go ‘hunting’ for that one shot, it is the longing for that magic, not the rational consciousness that pushes the button. Failing to find that ultimate image which expresses it all is the twofold blessing that keeps us passionate. As contemporary urban citizens, we are daily confronted with the millions of visual stimuli. Few images force us to really look, most of them are even hardly noticed. Being born in the digital age, my mind is spoiled (maybe in both meanings) with imagery. I can only dream of erasing that inner image bank, clearing it of contemporary references. The innocence of wondering has disappeared. The moment is lost in a stream of meaningless pictures. As hard as the advertising market tries to draw our attention, the more I tend to overlook those billboards. Chocking images, like the universally loved or hated Benetton advertising, don’t stick anymore. They are based on a two second-snap effect of getting the clue and remembering the brand. The only effect they had on me, over all these years, is a diminishing attention span and a built-in filter against easily gained content. However seldom, some contemporary images are still able to freeze my pace. They have the same silent quality I find in some old photographs. A kind of timelessness, an alchemic excellence, transforming metal into gold, moments into journeys. I see Christophe’s work as a ‘peregrinatio pro alchemia’, the quest for the mercury, a search for the lost magical moment. His pictures of contemporary cities, using the same emulsions applied by those first photographers, travel between eras, one of alchemy, obscurity and darkness and another one of fast movement, bright city lights and technology. He captures the speed of the metropolis. Showing instants of urban life environments and transforming them chemically into traveled stories. Railway– Brussels moves me in a very personal way. The picture seems grated onto the canvas, like ongoing Belgian rainy days, sad and beautiful in their melancholy. In his work, Christophe reveals himself as an alchemist of modern times, discovering his own elixir; that of creating a stopover in this ever moving society. Alexandra Verhaest, Shanghai 2007.