For over two decades, Éric Poitevin has forged a singular path as a photographer, brandishing his retro 8-by-10 camera with the conviction, fervor and savoir faire of a practitioner of yore. He lives and works in the Meuse, a sparsely populated rural area in northeastern France where he was born in 1961 and which was decimated during World War I. Far from the hubbub and tittle-tattle of the Parisian art scene, Poitevin focuses his camera on things close to home: flora, fauna, local residents. The following declaration he made, published in the French newspaper Libération in 1998, encap- sulates his matter-of-fact yet humanistic approach to his medium: “Tree, animal, man, there is not one thing more valuable than another, or rather there is not one thing less valuable than another.”
Poitevin’s latest exhibition (all works 2010) underscored this credo. The 28 color C-prints displayed in the lower two galleries (ranging from about 14 to 80 inches on a side) were taken in the whitewashed confines of his studio, a minimalist laboratory-like environment that bespeaks his admiration of Carl Andre and Donald Judd. Hung in five groups, the photographs comprised a patchwork of singular portraits (heads and busts), full and partial corpulent female nudes (standing or recumbent), plants (a lone thistle), animals (the lower half of a dead conger eel, a leggy brown lamb) and a series of human skulls evoking the Western art-historical tradition of vanitas. Each scrupulously cropped image is suffused with light but devoid of all emotion. The attention Poitevin pays to the imperfections that distinguish one individual, plant or animal from another attests to his interest in biology, a discipline he contemplated pursuing before he entered the darkroom.
The upper gallery featured two pendant landscape series. On one wall were two large-scale black-and-white diptychs showing ancient oaks with their gnarly snow-dusted boughs reaching toward a gray winter sky. Opposite them hung five monumental color C-prints depicting sections of a forest path in the Meuse blanketed with soggy, moss-enveloped branches, leaves and scrub. The deep perspective and rich autumn hues call to mind Barbizon School paintings by Corot and Théodore Rousseau.
Whether taken in his studio or out in nature, Poitevin’s serene, static photographs convey timelessness and hence a certain universality. In so doing, they belie the “decisive moment” that Henri Cartier-Bresson championed in photography, suggesting instead the interrelationship of all creatures in the various cycles that define and determine life.
Photo: View of EÌric Poitevin’s exhibition, showing four untitled C-prints, all 2010; at Nelson-Freeman.