« Le Grand Khan possède un atlas où toutes les villes de l’empire et des royaumes limitrophes sont dessinées palais par palais et rue par rue, avec les murs, les fleuves, les ponts, les ports, les écueils… […] L’atlas a cette qualité : il révèle la forme des villes qui n’ont pas encore de forme ni de nom…. Le catalogue des formes est infini : aussi longtemps que chaque forme n’aura pas trouvé sa ville, de nouvelles villes continueront de naître. Là où les formes épuisent leurs variations et se défont, commence la fin des villes. »
Italo Calvino, « Les Villes Invisibles », Le Seuil, 1972
Text by french Professor Danièle Méaux (extract from the introduction of the book «Anatomie d’une ville », Filigranes, page 129).
Guillaume Bonnel has favoured general collective shots, without necessarily adopting any real perspective in relation to the habitations. This type of framing allows for a certain spread, while keeping the set of represented structures within distance. It enables blocks of dwellings to be featured while leaving discernable the small domestic arrangements carried out by the residents. Here we see a patched up garage door, there a drain pipe repaired with makeshift materials at hand, a naively drawn store sign or a terrace put together with salvaged parts. Saint-Étienne is a working class town whose inhabitants possess technical skills which they don’t hesitate to use to improve their living conditions in a rudimentary way. The photographs demonstrate the role of these grafts and vernacular extensions, attesting to the popular appropriation of the premises. They reveal a know-how (1) of using space, contributing in its way to the development of the town.
The work of Guillaume Bonnel leads us to reconsider ordinary spaces of daily life. The photographer uses focal lengths which tend to draw his images closer to our normal vision. With the exception no doubt of the Mining Museum, his images do not feature touristic buildings, historic sites or noteworthy architectural structures. They offer a vision of an ordinary town, as it is experienced every day by its inhabitants. But, very often, the ordinary is very difficult to capture; for Maurice Blanchot, it is even ‟what is the most difficult to discover” (2). To take on the ordinary, a daily existence, it is necessary to find the right distance: to be close to reality without becoming mired; to take a step back, without falling into a schematization of the affair. To be comprehended, daily realities must be shorn of their obviousness, without however drifting into abstraction. Guillaume has undoubtedly succeeded in finding this ‟right” distance, in a way that his images reflect, beyond the architectural layouts, the manner in which places are appropriated every day by the people who live there. They encourage us feel and to understand the concrete ways of living in an urban space and how it may be developed.
(1) Michel de Certeau, Invention du quotidien. Arts de faire , Paris, Gallimard, « Folio », 1990.
(2) Maurice Blanchot, « La parole quotidienne », in L’Entretien infini, Paris, Gallimard, 1969, p. 355.
Guillaume BONNEL is a French photographer based in the South West of France. Holder of a PhD in Environmental Law, he uses photography to understand the relationships between landscape and mental models (“Orthèses”, Arp2, 2017). In addition, he works as a commissioned photographer, notably for landscape photographic observatories. He is a member of the « France.s, territoire liquide » project. He published articles dealing with landscape photography and territory, and books with Filigranes french editor, and ARP2 belgian editor.
© text by Dianièle Méaux / pictures by Guillaume Bonnel
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