Texte de Charles Arthur Boyer, 2002.


Translated from french by Rachel Stella.




Looking at the world


Paradoxically, all notions of categorization are absent from the work of Frédéric Lefever. This is one of the many traits wich distinguishes his work from most other contemporary French creation, indeed from most of what is being produced internationally. His practice of working with inventories is consequently neither systematic nor coolly emotionless; in this way it is different from School of Düsseldorf productions. If he does manage from one piece to the next, to report upon certain urban or architectural situations, he does so without detachment or disenchantment. By the same token, he avoids black and white photography - whose ducumentary and conceptual heritage was so important to American practitioners (Ed Rusha, Sol LeWitt, Robert Smithson...) and then English artists (Art & Language, Willats, Burgin, Hilliard, Long, Fulton, Knorr...). Lefever chooses to measure himself against today’s reaty in full color. «I operate in the shade: the lights are dim, not very expressive, nocast shadows no effects of contrast».

It is with disarming simplicity that Frédéric Lefever describes a quasi-anthropological map of the elementary cliches in a world outside of most people’s viewpoint. And yet this world assembles and resembles us, brings us together in our own image. In this way, Leffever’s work can be compared to that of Jean-Marc Bustamante who, at the end of the seventies, began one of the first photographic inspections of the periphery of contemparary cities by making very big color prints that he called «Tableaux». For both artists, photography is used for itself and of itself. In other words, used as much as a process as it is used as an image. Undoubtely, «Stella-Plage» (Stella beach) is to Frédéric Lefever what the «outskirts of Barcelona» were to Jean-Marc Bustamante: the locus of a singular story, their own, and the territory of a collective memory. For Jean-Marc Bustamante it is an experience of uprootedness, seen through the scenes of a never-ending construction site where things are doing their utmost, and with great difficulty, to become, to cast new anchors. When Frédéric Lefever gazes upon the architecture of seaside resorts and paid holidays, he is having an experience of being adrift. This is a deflection of a utopia, as opposed to a disenchantment with it, because Stella-Beach in the Nord Pas de Calais is just one among many others wich will no longer exist. Leisure activities have developed endlessly within the time of actual social time. But this happens because modernity, the spirit and the ideal that paid holidays used to conjure up, no longer have in and of themselves any reality or presence in today’s modern world. Jean Prouvé incarnated this aspect of the modern world which is both architectural and social when for example, he worked side by side with the Abbé Pierre on emergency shelters or housing which would be the cheapest to produce and set up. That is to say with the spirit of a society based on the ideas of reconstruction, sharing and renewing a sense of solidarity. The ideal of progress and a common destiny is comparable to that of the pioneers in the western USA as it was summed up in the ambiguous formulation, «40 acres and a mule». With this attitude, Frédéric Lefever’s joins a certain lineage in the history of photography, and one no doubt want to cast him next to Atget and August Sander, or closer still to the photographers of the Farm Security Administration, Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange, and later yet Robert Frank or William Egglestone.





«To introduce an image of an object by emptying the space around it is to create some monumentaly. Mywork consists of showing what is not spontaneously visible in the world, what is at the limits, at the borders of a common interest.», says Frédéric Lefever. The frontality and tight frame used in his photographs, notably in the series «Stella-Plage», never seems as deliberate as it might in photographs by the Becher who always clean up and organise the image, in order to dis-index it or expropriate its reality. On the contrary, frontality and the tight framing reinforce the singulary and the originality of this world in wich each one of these old houses may represent something. indeed, the effect of the repetition, this community which calls forth solidarity. And so if symmerty is central in the composition of their facades, it only serves accentuate the play of the pedestals, thresholds, staircases, stoops and balconies each of wich we must interpret as gestures in favor of public space. Similar approach for the duality that several of them incarnate: twin homes, two family homes, happiness and space and sharing of shared space. Or better yet, the details which individualize them, the given names or the expressions posed as titles «Aux Tiercés» (gagnants) (win, place, and show), «Mon Rêve» (my dream) or «Eden», «Geneviève» or «Marylène»... In Frédéric Lefever’s photographs, the houses of Stella-beach are never masks behind which individuals protect themselves, but rather the expressions on a face they hope to have recognized or noticed. And through the transparence of each of the windows one is allowed to glimpse the details of an interior which is always carefully arranged; alternatively it is the reflection of the sky-never denatured or abstracted, which one sees... Similarly, the thin band between the edge of the house and the frame of the photograph is never treated as an abstract ribbon, but on the contrary, as an edge where a crowd of details can contextualise each structure in a specific and characteristic public space: a shared bearing wall, an urban perspective, certain kind of signage, etc...


Even if in today’s light the project, the ideal, the modernity of this houses is questioned or even defeated, the facades of the houses on Stella-Beach express a «poetics» of habitation which has lost none of its freshness or brightness. «In this search for memory, there is something which pushes me to chose architectural objects which have no importance in the greater history of Art: does not vernacular art better characterize the very essence of life ? Even if we do feel, in front of some of these buildings, the heritage of Le Corbusier, Nervi or Prouvé, they remain what I call infra-architectures, with their traces of wear,the simplicity of the materials, the astonishing symmetries, the association of colors. They remain indexes of the social state of human activity.» Thus, without wanting to be objectively documentary and sociological, or even excessively realistic, Frédéric Lefever’s photography seems to be the simplest and most immediate tool for looking at and measuring the state of reality. «I like each photograph to be a receptacle, an enclosure through which one can look at the world.»




The next series, the «italian grandstands» continues the same approach of living in the world. But, whereas the facades of the houses on Stella-Beach could be considered like faces, the bleachers in village stadiums appear like systems of organization and circulation of the «in common» space they welcome and hold together. The monumentality of their architecture and the symmetry of their composition seem to exist only to serve as a backbone, in the strictest sens of term, for the experience of a community divided and brought back together, showing off and being shown. This is what gives the viewer the strange impression of having to assume a reality that is much more complex than that which appears at first view of the image.

Again, it is possible to consider Frédéric Lefever’s photographs as portraits, portraits of territories as portraits of the social body across the traces and signs of the process of appropriation of the former by the latter. An appropriation wich one would be foolish to consider as modest just because it expresses itself in a savage and uncertain mode rather than along principles of nobility and refinement. What reveals Lefever’s «envisaged» images is the paradoxical beauty of their lack of scale and commonplace heroism. «I am happy if people find in each of my photographs some kind of balance, the right measure of things : between objectivity and subjectivity, between modernism and post-modernism, as a document as well as a picture, between order and sisorder, distance and intimacy. I like my photographs to be both an ironic criticism of the little vanities of this architecture and also a repectful observation of human desires. I also like it when they show very small details with emphasis and determination. Ultimately it is all these little contradictions which make them so fragile: they are on the razor’s edge and risk falling at any moment, but the precious equipoise which holds them on brings me a very strong emotion».

Thus the neighborhood stores, the houses of Stella-Bezch, the suburban garages, the stands in village stadiums, the Italian diving boards, the mobile home campgrounds, or even the shells of swimming pools are never «lost» items in a picture, but rather the «inhabited» subjects of the photographic endeavor. Subjects which look at us just as much as we look at them because they resist and confront us with a tenacious obstinacy, strengthened by their frontality and the cropping which installs them in the image. Subjects which look at us because they introduce into the heart of the image what Georges Perce called Leurs espèces d’espaces; these images question us about the importance we attribute to the speech of these social histories and also of the collective memory which they bear. And not only do they inscribe themselves as subjects in the photographic process, they even reappropriate the whole endeavor of photography not only as image as of speech in order to better requalify if in its nature and final status as a document. What can be read is never just a simple covering of the visible. And it is precisely what is visible in reality and which exceeds what is readable in photography which particularly interests Frédéric Lefever. By doing this, he delves into what is most particular to the photographic experience: singularity, the fact that each image is the locus for the inscription or revelation of a reality which must always be re-invented or rediscovered.

  Robin Wilson, décembre 1997 Charles Arthur Boyer Charles Arthur Boyer (english version)