Beyond Surface Appearance

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Taking into consideration what the digital revolution has brought to photography, it is fair to assume that Laurence Demaison’s surreal photographs are made with digital tricks. They aren’t. It’s a real film. Everything takes place in a darkroom.

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This, however, does not mean that manipulation is not present. It, indeed, has not been performed digitally after shooting, but was carried out using traditional techniques during the image-making process. The manipulation is inherent to photography and has been practiced since its beginnings.

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That said, the French photographer Laurence Demaison uses all the technical possibilities analogic black and white photography can offer striving to discover the performance potential of the medium itself and its complex relationship to visual truth. By experimenting with long exposures, flash, and the negative she explores the limits of photography creating intriguing images that show us what the camera can “see” i.e. what the eye cannot. Furthermore, Demaison is showing us what the camera tells and it is never the truth. With photography alteration and distortion of truth is inevitable.

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Demaison’s experiments principally revolve around her own appearance. Most of her photographs are self-portraits. However, they are not about her. She is a subject that becomes an object, but in fact not even that. In her experimental venture Demaison distorts her own appearance challenging the viewer to find representation, his or her truth, beyond the surface of the seen. It is almost like she strives to make herself unrecognizable and even invisible. She calls her creations "paper phantoms," which reminds us of Roland Barthes’ reflections on portrait photography in his book “Camera Lucida”, who argues that photograph “... represents that very subtle moment when, to tell the truth, I am neither subject nor object but a subject who feels he is becoming an object: I then experience a micro-version of death ... I am truly becoming a specter.”


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Indeed, the work of Laurence Demaison possesses a certain ghost-like look yet it is extremely poetic and, in terms of  form, extraordinary inventive. It’s not about the disappearance and death but rather about the quest for another appearance. Demaison sees the process of  image-making as an opportunity for endless experimentation, like many of her colleagues before her, which she carries out with excellence and intuition. Her bold efforts have led her to exceed the limitations of self-portrait and to reach beyond surface appearance. Through her mesmerizing work she has liberated photography from reality landmarks and of any expectations. 

Finally, whether she has done this in a darkroom or on a computer, we do not really care. We are interested in the end product, i.e. art, not tools. And Demaison’s work is definitely one of a kind.