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Anatoli, 1984

Sophie Calle
  • Artist (1953)

Sophie Calle, who was born in 1953 in Paris, had her first solo exhibition in 1983.   She was already experienced in the modus operandi of the minutes and report of an adventure based on a series of photographic sequences and notes.  Whether the places captured by her lens were the hotel where, taken on as a chambermaid, she photographed the rooms as they were left by the guests (Suite vénitienne/Venitian Sequence, 1986); her own bedroom into which she invited strangers to sleep in her bed (Les Dormeurs/The Sleepers, 1979); a bedroom set up at the top of the Eiffel Tower (Chambre avec vue/Room with a View, 2002) or the street as an exercise in tailing (La Filature/Tailing, 1981), they invariably refer to one and the same approach, that of breaking into the life of someone else, and not so much to voyeurism as to a metamorphosis of “seeing”.  Her work to notice in the 1980s through a series devoted to people born blind, whom she asked to provide a definition of beauty (Les Aveugles/The Blind, 1986).  That period announced what would be a recurrent practice for the artist:  a narrative, backed up by notes, letters and photographs, highlighting the ubiquitous theme of absence (Last Seen, 1991; Souvenirs de Berlin-Est/Memories of East Berlin, 1999; Prenez soin de vous/ Take Care of Yourself, 2007; and the exhibition Rachel, Monique, 2010)  using a method akin to the photo-story, the personal diary, and personal mythology.  Sophie Calle is not so much a photographer as a writer, video-maker, author and even novel character, whose work has been shown in many retrospectives (Doubles jeux in 1998; M’as tu vue in 2003).  She represented France at the 2007 Venice Biennale and was awarded the Prix Hasselblad in 2010.

On 29 October 1984 she obtained a grant from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and elected to take the Trans-Siberian railway liking Moscow to Vladivostok.  On the train she met Anatoli, with whom she shared her cabin.  They did not speak the same language, but they tried to communicate.  The 265 photos and the logbook-like text resulting from that journey endeavour, jointly, to establish the content of a relationship on the face of it without any foundation, because it was arbitrary, a relationship forever being presented and stealing away.  The appearance of the man, at once recurrent, burdensome, obstinate, and silent, captured without any subtlety, seems to want to exhaust the power of a presence on the borderline of civility.  The exploded aspect of this appearance nevertheless repeats that it is elusive, and paradoxically suggests the encounter.  This method, whose violence consists in confusing the being with its clue or trace, reveals the impossibility of handing over the secret of the contact which permitted this gathering of images.  It nevertheless portends the certainty of knowing the other, just through the recording of outward signs.

Nadine Labedade