Barbara Tannery
Two photographs - From Hand to Mouth and Fonce Alphonse, Interview in Katalog - Quarterly magazine for photography, Spring 1996, Volume 8, Number 3

The installation consists of two very different photos which in their juxtaposition allow the perception of a particular space, that of the time of the gaze.

One, From Hand to Mouth, is a photo which measures 22 meters long by 1 meter tall, hung from the ceiling in a circle. The spectator must lean over in order to enter the space of the photo. This panorama is composed of 24 images, each one made by placing a piece of film in my mouth and using it like a camera obscura. In a way, it is a completely physical photo, from the long exposures to the gymnastics of printing. (1)

The other, Fonce Alphonse, is a conceptual photograph that I neither took nor printed (The French police set up cameras on the sides of the highway which flash and take a picture of those speeding. Later, if you contest the violation you must also say that the person pictured is not you). I wasn't even driving the car. You can say that I sort of produced it from a distance by uttering the phrase Fonce Alphonse (which roughly corresponds to the English "put the pedal to the metal" - go fast).

Fonce Alphonse can be thought of as a reflection on the work of Duchamp, on speed, the machine, the bride, the ready made, identity, etc. It is a question of one of the most intimate moments in the life of a couple, marriage. And precisely at the exact moment where the police photo tries to identify us, our identities are in flux, marriage bringing about a change of name, of social status, even of nationality. From Hand to Mouth also speaks of intimacy, but rather a relationship with daily objects, where a gesture, a touch, is enough to create an event.

Developing the events of daily life is a documentary attitude.

Yes, a particular kind of documentary attitude. From Hand to Mouth represents an intimate space on several levels. This vision of a domestic space taken using my own body is formalised by the circular installation of the photo into which you have to enter. The photo acts as a place of contemplation. And I wanted to play with the notion of index (2), play with it physically. During the exposure, like a blind person I had to touch the objects in order to "see" because the film was hidden inside my mouth. This particular relationship with objects carries with it an idea of physical connection (an indexical relationship), as well as a distance necessary for seeing.

This gesture, which is both a measuring and a distancing, seems to indicate an effacement.

Each object photographed for From Hand to Mouth is printed life-size. With this device, the spectator is directly confronted with measuring, with the distance "from hand to mouth". He or she must try to imagine the set-up before the camera. I tried as much as possible to approach a notion of photographic presence, even if this adventure is, by definition destined to failure.

I really admire the work of Walker Evans. To make "Let us now praise famous men" he lived with a family to become as intimate as possible, not to be considered a stranger but rather as a friend. This is a strategy of effacement that one finds notably in Flaherty's work. But in the case of Walker Evans I am fascinated by his capacity to foreground both the transparency and the opacity of the photographic medium. If we look at the images in his book "American Photographs" seperately, there is always a reduction, and in a way the object is stripped bare rendering the medium transparent. But when we study the sequencing of the book, we can see just how much he discredits the "transparent" aspect of photography and foregrounds image making.

An updating of the contradictions and the reversibility of a point of view.

If I refer to Duchamp and Evans it's maybe because of their scientific rigor which implies a certain distance. Simple daily objects open up to different points of view, to new contexts.

The title, From Hand to Mouth, like all idiomatic expressions has two meanings. The literal meaning, the one understood by most non-native English speakers, depends precisely on a distance, a measure, while the figurative meaning is "in poverty" (eating everything that passes through one's hands).

Fonce Alphonse is more like a provocation. I was thinking of Alphonse Bertillon who systematized police photography at the end of the 19th century. Police photography seems to approach "objectivity" as much as possible because it has a legal status. The judiciary institution gives it its authenticity. But because we were speeding on purpose, this becomes problematic. The power relationships are reversed. In the same instant that we go into the law through marriage, we also become 'outlaws'. And marriage, institution of the State is presented face to face with the institution of the police.

Both photos were made without having a camera, which allows the work to be defined in terms of "poor" and conceptual means.

An articulation that allows a movement to be produced through a chain of thought.

In cinema, movement is created by what exists between images. Up until now, my work with a pinhole camera used slightly overlapping successive images to indicate the continuity of a walk. With From hand to mouth, the panorama becomes a sort of enormous zootrope at rest. But now it's the person looking who creates movement by his or her displacement in space.

(1) 36 hours of printing to obtain this print, after two solid months of tests.
(2) Notably in the work of Rosalind Krauss and Philippe Dubois.

This interview first appeared in La Revue Documentaire n°10 winter 1995 in a slightly different form

Katalog Spring 1996 - Barbara Tannery