Philippe Durand

Joerg Bader, See what you don't want to see, whereas we product it so that it can be seen (EN)


published in Offshore, éditions CentrePhotoGenève

Any analysis of the social logic that governs the practice of objects depending on various classes or categories, can only be, at the same time, a critical analysis of the “consumer” ideology, which today is behind all practice related to objects. This twofold analysis – that of the distinctive social function of objects and that of the political function of the related ideology – must be based on an absolute prerequisite: one must go beyond the spontaneous vision of objects in terms of need, and beyond the hypothesis of their usage value as a priority.”

Jean Baudrillard *pour une critique de l’économie politique du signe* , 1972 

Philippe Durand is an artist. That is conventionally admitted. Educated in an art school, he makes sculptures, videos and photographs. He is therefore an artist who makes art, just as photographers make photographs. Photographers make black and white photographs that depict beautiful bodies of naked women. According to their own aesthetic values, beauty is represented by a real peach, if not a landscape. At their best, they shoot the bodies of naked women like landscapes and landscapes like naked women. All this smells like nice warm sand, if not like a waste bin. But then again, and precisely here, waste is what is left in our consumer societies and these pictures are colour prints. These are fashion photographs that smell like the everlasting pop critique; but that is still photography. Photography-, fashion- and art magazines publish them, while photography- and art galleries show them and sell them. Photographers are so to say obsessed to reproduce the visual world, as they say: they just reproduce what they see in order to show us how they see it – with a 64 or a 1.1 diaphragm, using Kodacolor or Fujicolor, in 28 or 350 mm. Considered literally, one could say that Christopher Williams or Philippe Durand stick closer to their main concerns, because they precisely show what Kodacolor and Fujicolor are about – in Williams’ case – or what has been produced in order to be seen – as far as Durand is concerned. Like Williams, rather than working on a representation of the world, a sampling process, he is interested in paradigmic photography, a photography that deals with photography itself. Most of Durand’s photographs show what humankind has produced under the reign of capitalism, in order to enter our visual field as conspicuous signs, so that we, the consumers, can see the visible signs into which the other wage-earners have turned their salaries. They turned their salaries into cars, postcards, clothes, boats, and windscreen shades.
This world also includes images that have been produced with intent to make us spend our salaries on other products, such as cosmetics, pharmaceutics, swimming pools, and other consumer goods. Philippe Durand represented this consumerist heaven in his previous series (“les années nonante”, “choses modernes”, “a Lot”, “à propos Denise”, “pharmacie”). He presented them on the most diverse mediums derived from the realm of marketing (stickers, inflatable objects, thermoformed pieces, etc.) as well as on mediums that are more common in photography, such as prints and books. In series such as “bienvenue à Paris” or “doigts, pollution”, he lists the street signs that in no way encourage spending money and that could even be somehow gratuitous. Not as in free newspapers, but rather as a gratuitous move, such as a wall graffiti or an inscription on a dusty, deserted shop window. These could qualify as images that can’t be “taken over”. Philippe Durand is interested in the discrepancy between the image that is magnified by advertising these signs and objects and the way they really work. The figures and the subjects of the photographs are clues about production in a capitalist society. According to the logic of purely visual photographers, we should ultimately call Philippe Durand a photographer (just as Christopher Williams), because both of them do the job that photographers refuse to do, that is, representing everything that is produced by the merchant world in order to be represented. All the rest is exoticism. This accumulation of images on the most diverse mediums should be brought back to our consciousness; we should stop treating these objects as parasites over which or eyes must slip. Bringing to light subliminal shapes and images: we are right in the middle of the realism discussion. What is real made of? Is it the world of visibility as a product under the capitalist regime: information, advertisement/marketing, entertainment, knowledge, or culture? The visual pollution peculiar to the new capitalism echoes the opaqueness of the financial world, which governs the ultra-capitalism that is being championed by the Mont Pelerin Society.. Thus, what may seem paradoxical at first glance in Philippe Durand’s OFFSHORE project –shooting the invisible side of capitalism – is ultimately only the achievement of an approach that he has set up for about fifteen years – this being its final consequence. Having learned from his previous experience of focusing on the visual aspect of the merchant world, he travelled to the Caribbean in 2006. He only found there small towns set in a tropical landscape. But these lush landscapes, which he loosely represents as if he were documenting a piece of Hollywood macadam, are home of the clearing houses where a fair share of the wealth generated by global capitalism passes in transit, only to become invisible – move along, nothing to see here! There is nothing to see indeed, as the figures on the screens of the clearing houses are scrolling far away from the eyes of all of the world’s photographers and tax investigators.
By photographing only the banks and their signs, the photographer brings up to date a comment made by Bertold Brecht in 1931: “The situation (of reproducible arts) is rather complicated by the fact that less then ever does the mere reflection of reality reveal anything about reality. A photograph of the Krupp or AEG works tells us next to nothing about these institutions. Reality as it ‘really’ is, has drifted to the functional. The reification of human relations – the factory, say – means that they are no longer explicit.” However, by confronting the kitsch-looking and insignificant fronts of offshore banks with the image-merchandise of limousines, SUVs, golf buggies, motorboats, sailboats or yachts, he compensates the invisibility of “black finance” with the hyper-visibility that is produced by hypercapitalism. As far as finance and exchange values are concerned there is nothing to see, whereas what you see on the image-production and practical-usage side is sheer exhibitionism. One depends on the other. The new capitalism uses at least 4x4 SUVs, two wheels for finance and two for communication – which can be tagged “image production”. Philippe Durand defines this as “meta-photography”, i.e. the questioning of the subject to the benefit of relating synthetic elements. The “electric vegetation” in the OFFSHORE series is peculiar to this approach: these are isolated electrical wires that have been quickly covered by the lush vegetation. In the OFFSHORE context, these images can be understood as a representation of monetary flux circulation. Whilst suggesting a possible contemporary realism, Philippe Durand introduces a third component to his OFFSHORE series: a large proportion of his photographs represent disused, broken, and rusted cars, boats and houses. This somehow reminds of Robert Smithson, who used to go to Yucatan to visit the Maya vestiges and came back with “Hotel Palenque”, a series of slides showing a half-abandoned hotel that was being smothered by the lush vegetation. At a conference in front of architecture students, he compared the “rund-down” hotel with the Maya temples. By introducing an entropic dimension, like Robert Smithson, Philip Durand develops his critique of the political economy of the signs, while obviously putting his signature as an artist. Here is a proposition for realistic art in this early century.