New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 25 SUMMER ISSUE AUGUST 2012 July 31 to September 4, 2012

MariBlanche Hannequin

Paris Walkabout Summer 2012
 by MariBlanche Hannequin.
MariBlanche Hannequin

With most of the photo world making the annual trek to Arles, there were relatively slim pickings in the city of light this July. Several large photo shows with big names, of course, but no great surprises until I discover MariBlanche Hannequin. She has a booth at La Nuit de Photo, a photo fair held at Place San Sulpice close to Montparnasse. I amble through the exhibits, rather disgruntled and ready to dismiss the whole thing as salon photography, until, out of the corner of my eye, I see one of MariBlanche’s exquisite black and white prints. Immediately I turn around to see if there are more. And there are. Image after image, classically composed yet individually perceived, fills the small space, each so beautifully printed you feel lost in visual free fall.

There are some who simply cannot stand the constrictions of normal working life, of offices and set hours, of time tables and routines; MariBlanche is one of them. Seized by the twin seductions of travel and photography, life on the road was irresistible. She first ran off at the ripe age of two and has been doing so ever since. Every other year she goes to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Iran—one war zone or another–where she turns her back on warfare to photograph the daily lives of people, particularly women. Then she returns to Paris, her silver gelatin treasures well in hand, to spend a year developing and printing.

One of her greatest strengths comes when she looks up, to capture in silken greys the brilliant and ofttimes blinding light of the countries she visits. Her skills are at their best in the play between stillness and motion, matter and space, animate and inanimate forms. Especially compelling is the contrast between open sky and architectural forms. Protecting us from the elements while standing in formal relation to them, architecture requires a certain kind of photographic vision, and MariBlanche has it. Resonating in the same infinitely luminous space is the human form, most frequently in motion. Though possessing a decidedly Western eye, Hannequin shares the sensibility of the great Chinese landscape painters for whom this human presence was but a minute part of the cosmic picture.

 by MariBlanche Hannequin.
MariBlanche Hannequin

Along with her purely photographic skills, Hannequin’s ability to win trust is an inestimable asset, allowing her to effortlessly connect with people living in harsh circumstances. As her other great theme is Islamic women, this is very valuable indeed. Masked, veiled, covered from head to toe, these women manage to break free of the prison of their clothing to acknowledge her. Sometimes there is not even a trace of the face visible––just the inclination of the head wordlessly making contact. In this group of pictures she has accomplished something of great human and ethnographic value––the series may be one of the most comprehensive of its kind and several ethnology museums have shown interest in it. Hopefully a major book and exhibition will follow.

Paris Walkabout Summer 2012 by Barbara Confino

Barbara Confino is an artist and writer whose work is housed in such collections as The Bibliotheque Nationale de France and the British Museum. Her graphic history, The Genetic Wars, can be viewed at www.thegeneticwars.com. Her writings on art and culture have been published in ArtsCanada and The Village Voice among other publications. She is currently associate editor for The New York Photo Review.
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