Spring 2008, Degree Critical

Saturday 01/12/2008

Chris Marker. Quelle heure est-elle? Untitled 33 (2004–2008); black and white digital photograph mounted on black Sintra; 7 3/4 x 10 7/8 inches. Courtesy of Peter Blum.

Chris Marker at Peter Blum

by Alyssa Timin (Class of 2008)

Chris Marker is an acknowledged master of montage, and although still imagery has figured prominently in his films since 1963, when he directed the iconic science fiction parable, La Jeteé, his photographs have just been shown for the first time. These portraits and group shots crackle with the contrast between black and white, society and individual.

Marker favors limited areas of sharp focus, bringing his subjects forcefully to the viewer’s attention. However, since many of the displayed works derive from film shots, they are most rewarding when viewed as fragments of a larger whole.

The first of four sections offered portraits taken primarily from his 1982 globetrotting film essay Sans Soleil. Unfortunately, stripped of their poetic voiceover, the gazes of these charismatic men and women occasionally fall flat. The following two sections document French street protests, first during the ‘60s and then in 2002, tracing a shift from the utopian dreams of the artist’s generation to the more utilitarian demands of today’s youth. Faces frame one another with variously passionate and inscrutable moods. Deep within the flow of the crowd, the camera registers the persistence of its opposites, both personality and alienation, in downcast eyes, pursed lips, faraway expressions. A wall text asked viewers to notice how much a tree had grown between the two events.

The artist provided a fourth, tender subset of Marker’s photography—pictures of animals. Like so many people, he has a weakness for felines, and the image of a young lion was among the most memorable in the show. At the zoo, the big cat lies prostrate to stick his nose under the thick chain link of his cage. His loyalty to freedom, even a muzzle’s worth, is unswerving and uncanny.