Friday, January 22, 2016

Edouard Boubat at Photomed: Something's on the move.

Photo credit Edouard Boubat
Another year, another Photomed edition, another triumph brought to us by Byblos Bank. Naturally, the loss of Leila Alaoui cast a dark mood considering she previously exhibited in the realm of the festival, but if anything, we knew Leila wanted life to continue and for art and beauty to triumph. Which is why having an Edouard Boubat exhibition as the opening of Photomed at the Byblos Bank headquarters in Achrafieh mattered more than ever.
This year, due to private reasons the ever welcoming Nada Tawil could not be in attendance, but Rouba Taouk as master of ceremonies was more than gracious to run the show along with Rana, Karim, Elie and the Social4ce team.
Boubat, one of the foremost leaders of "humanist photography" was indeed that, someone who put humans at the center of everything. Give him a beautiful flower field and he would find the kneeling woman doing the ceuillette. Give him a village square, and he would find the lady running the odds and ends store. All of the photographs, save for two, had endearing humans in them, and of the two which did not, one had a chicken running across with laundry (human presence minus the human!) hanging above it. And in the other, the interminable process of goats vanishes in the mist - where one would guess an invisible shepherd is guiding it.
The main difference between Boubat and say, Cartier Bresson, is the element of mobility. Cartier Bresson would make you feel that his hotel de ville lovers would always and forever be interlaced in a kiss, that the man jumping over a rain puddle would be suspended for all eternity and never go back to the ground. Boubat is more human, that woman caught in mid-step, you'd be forgiven to think she might vanish from the photo. The man holding the child next to the sea would put in on the comfy armchair in the exhibition hall. The ladies passing next to the Baalbeck temple might just continue and walk on by. Everything is in flux.
Present in the exhibition is Bernard, Edouard Boubat's son. If there is anything I have learned, having someone famous in the family might not sit well with its members, but Bernard is very much at peace with that. "When I was thirty, my father asked if I wanted to help him with archiving his oeuvre. It was not a quick answer as it was something of a life's work. I have indeed worked closely with Edouard (notice the use of the first name) for the last ten years of his life, I have also written painstakingly his Wikipedia entry. Let's say he was not organized, and I spent a long time in boxes archiving, dating and arranging images. But I am glad I am the "connection" between the public and him, my own son, who is now 25 might continue the work."
Artists, history teaches us - from Picasso onwards - are not exemplary parents, so how was he as a father? Bernard pauses to find the best word: "Absent". "Just looking at his trips and their dates makes one understand it was impossible to take the family along. He was not a bad father, just an absent one. And it was not all negative, because we would make up for the lost time when he'd be around and do all sorts of interesting activities".
One of the paradoxes of fame is that sometimes children are not aware of it, but Bernard says that "even as a child I was aware who he was. All his friends were artists and sculptors so there was no doubt in my mind he was famous". Does he have a personal favorite artistic moment of his father? "Oh yes, do you know that photo of the child listening to the sea with a seashell?" (sadly the image was not part of the Byblos exhibition) "well. That is my son! As a child Edouard would give me a seashell and I gave one to my son and he just took that photo". But, I inquire quizzically, "was it Edouard Boubat taking an artistic photo or was it an emotional grandfather shooting his grandson?" Bernard thinks for a while, and adds "no, I think it was Edouard Boubat taking a photograph". It reminds me of W Eugene Smith I comment, minus the constant posing and preparing. "Smith is someone Edouard liked a lot, but yes, he (Edouard) was much more spontaneous!" Does it not bother him than an intimate family photo would be bought and sold at galleries and downloaded from the net? "Ah! That is a very pertinent question" Bernard answers almost taken aback by it.
But I know from personal experience how artists work. We involve the personal and the professional with an ever growing osmosis between the two. David Sedaris exposes this duality hilariously in his short story "Repeat After Me" after his sister told him a story she judged exceptionally sad, and his reply was: "Your life, your privacy, your occasional sorrow - it's not like you're going to do anything with it." And indeed, that boy with a seashell on his ear.... It's not as if Bernard was going to do anything with it, so might as well immortalize it as art.
Philippe Heullant, one of the founders of Photomed, described in his speech how Edouard Boubat was the Polaroid before his time, the Instagram before the word, "Ah! J'en ai une" (Ah! I have one) he would say knowing he just caught a photograph right on the go. Boubat is the immortalizer of the here and now which seems to transcend the place and time. Throughout the exhibition a theme kept running through my mind, Jethro Tull's "Something's On The Move".... No wonder!