Valérie Belin : Creative obsession of the image
Valérie Belin
Creative obsession of the image
F.B., August 2, 2010
PHOTOGRAPHIC PORTRAIT

Photographer Valérie Belin’s (born 1964 in Boulogne-Billancourt, France. Lives and works in Paris) work is based on a precise protocol that may be considered as an obsessive endeavour to appropriate the real. The way in which she deals with people and things in her works is striking for its spectacular, uncluttered character, which limits any narrative or documentary interpretation. Her work develops through a series of images based on a subtle use of repetition and variation. The absolute head-on view, the radically two-dimensional approach, the lack of context and the size of the formats give an iconic value to the various subjects she has chosen for their power in illustrating the uncertainties and paradoxes of the “living”.

Valérie Belin_Serie Sosie of Michael Jackson, 2003.
Valérie Belin_Serie Sosie of Michael Jackson, 2003.


In her first series, and especially those dedicated to crystal vases and glasses (1993), Valérie Belin worked only on the light spectrum of the objects and remained very close to the primary process of photography. On the other hand, in her very latest creations, whether colour or black-and-white, the new image technologies have given her the option of using a freer, more pictorial, dreamlike treatment of the subject, as, for example, in the pictures of the magicians, of the dancer at the Lido and of the baskets of fruit (2007). Modern tools have led the artist to see photography beyond the analogue, as a means of creating a pure image captured directly by the artist at the very heart of her models. Much more than a figurative medium, photography offers the artist the possibility of probing the evanescent frontiers between reality and illusion, to reveal the profound supernaturalism of her portraits.

Valérie Belin_Ballroom dancers 2008
Valérie Belin_Ballroom dancers 2008


Valérie Belin undertook her art education at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Bourges from 1983 to 1988. She also studied Philosophy of Art at the Paris-Panthéon-Sorbonne University, where she obtained a DEA qualification in 1989.

When studying at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Valérie Belin has quickly applied her artistic research towards the practice of photography, with her work distinguished by a marked awareness of the medium which drives her to offer real depth to its aesthetic potential; she compares her approach with that of some American minimalists such as Robert Morris or the painter Robert Ryman. Her early work concerned the photographing of light sources which have the appearance of X-rays or pure imprints left by the light.


Valérie Belin_Untitled 2003
Valérie Belin_Untitled 2003


In 1994, Valérie Belin exhibited her work for the first time in Paris. She displayed a series of black and white photographs of crystal objects. This series is governed by a photographic protocol which is both strict and minimal (on-site shooting, ambient lighting, no staging). Paradoxically, out of it came an aesthetics of presence, of which the vehicle is an imprint, existing as a trace, or a memory of the object.

The end of the 1990s was a turning point for the artist. Valérie Belin asserted her style through the experiment of the series, which allowed a truthfulness of the object to emerge by casting aside its anecdotal background or any expressionism associated with individuality. The object is subject to a process of objectification without compromise, where representation seems to turn back on itself through over insistence – the philosophical subject it presides over is held at a distance, defused, stripped of its drama ; dissolving in the photography.


Valérie Belin_Untitled, 2001
Valérie Belin_Untitled, 2001


In 1999, The Union Centrale des Arts Décoratifs exhibited the bodybuilders series which introduced the human form in the artist’s iconography. The dented, metallic bodies of the bodybuilders bear witness to an ambivalence which is always present in the work of Valérie Belin: things and beings are photographed as though beyond themselves, and for their power in converting their image into a form which evokes a feeling of absence. At the start of the new millennium, the HSBC Foundation for Photography published the first monograph devoted to the artist.


Valérie Belin_Untitled 2003
Valérie Belin_Untitled 2003


Valérie Belin began a research linked to questions regarding the existentialism and identity of the human being, and produced a series of large-scale black and white portraits between 2000 and 2003 of transsexuals which illustrate the grey areas around the boundaries of identity, linked to the question of gender. The series of black women, whose faces are almost sculptural, questions the cultural filter and its projections. The culmination of this work on the face is completed by the series of shop window mannequins who, paradoxically, appear more animated with emotion than ‘real’ human beings. Nonetheless, we find no spectacular effects in these photographs; rather, a feeling of abstraction comes from them which contrasts oddly with the subject. If there really is a question of identity here, it is in its most imperceptible form.

Valérie Belin_Untitled 2003
Valérie Belin_Untitled 2003


In the middle of the 2000s, Valérie Belin’s approach to photography was expressed through a specific treatment of human beings and things which marked her, both dramatic and simple, giving no narrative or documentary leeway.
The series of images are based on a subtle game of repetitions and variations which participate in an interest in an abstract form of photography. The absolute full-frontalness of the point of view, the radical bi-dimensionality, the absence of context and the large-scale formats give an iconic value to the various subjects chosen for their power to evoke the incertitudes and paradoxes of the ‘living’.
 
As from 2006 on, her photographic approach began to steadily attract the interest of institutions at the heart of contemporary photography in Europe, and important American and French museums acquired some of her works (MoMA in New York, MoMA in San Francisco, the Musée National d’Art Moderne/Centre Pompidou, the Palais Galliera, and the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in Paris).


Valérie Belin_Untitled 2002
Valérie Belin_Untitled 2002


Colour began to appear in work by Valérie Belin and introduced ambiguity regarding what was real and what was virtual. The medium of photography made itself technological, interfering in the shaping of the being. The 2006 colour portraits are distinguished by the quasi-technological appearance of their beauty, evoking the aesthetics of the avatar.

In 2007, a retrospective exhibition is dedicated to the artist by three photography museums: the Huis Marseille Foundation in Amsterdam, the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris and the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne. A second monograph of the artist was published by the German publisher Steidl.


Valérie Belin_Untitled 2007
Valérie Belin_Untitled 2007


In her most recent works, the artist has detached herself from an indexed concept of photography, and her style has evolved towards a form of magical realism. Valérie Belin now positions her topic at the heart of its era’s evolution. Her new works display a hybrid character which places the subject between the organic and the sublime.  The huge photographs of fruit baskets with their vivid colours which were displayed at the Musée d’Orsay in 2008, as well as three series of black and white works exhibited for the first time at Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont the same year, bear witness to the evolution of the artist’s style towards a form of magical realism. At the same time, the Norton Museum of Art in Palm Beach exhibited her work alongside those of Bill Viola and Hiroshi Sugimoto. In 2009, the Peabody Essex Museum designed her first personal exhibition in an American museum.

www.valeriebelin.com