Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

In the Station of the Metro by Chris Marker

[Text published in the limited edition book: Chris Marker, Passengers, New York: Peter Blum Edition, 2011.]

“The apparition of these faces in the crowd / Petals on a wet, black bough” … The short unforgettable poem by Ezra Pound was my first idea of an epigraph for another photo exhibition, STARING BACK. Then I decided to drop the epigraph. Too easy to shelter yourself behind a great poet, like a metaphorical bulletproof jacket, methought. Please note that I didn’t mention that repressed idea to anyone. Then came the first reviews. And Brian Dillon’s piece in Art Review started with : “The apparition of these faces in the crowd / Petals on a wet, black bough”—after which he elaborated on the kinship between these verses and the mood of my photographs. I was thunderstruck. So it was true, after all, there existed such a thing as poetry, whose ways are by nature different from the ways of the world, that makes one see what was kept hidden, and hear what was kept silent. I had always been convinced that in my small essays, the untold part was more meaningful than the blabbering, and there I had the burning proof. This time I won’t shy away from quoting Pound, and I guess that with this latest experiment inside the Paris subway it fits even better. Petals are for sure these visages I capture like a benevolent paparazzo. Stolen, yes, but by another trick of the mirror, here stealing means giving. Tabloids love to catch people (preferably celebrities) unaware, if possible with an awkward or ridiculous expression, things that happen mechanically, independently of the subject’s real intention. When I was a kid, French President Poincaré once visited a WWI graveyard under a blazing sun, and the extreme light made appear on his face, for one-tenth of a second, a rictus that could be mistaken for a grin. A photograph caught that moment, and for the rest of his career he was berated by the Rightest opponents as “the man who laughs in cemetaries”. It may be that this childhood’s memory did help me to generate a defiant curiosity toward images. So my aim in collecting these “petals” is exactly—small wonder—the opposite of tabloids. I try to give them their best moment, often imperceptible in the stream of time, sometimes 1/50 of a second that makes them truer to their inner selves. I started the experience with a wristwatch camera, hence the title “QUELLE HEURE EST-ELLE ?”. Then I used different contraptions but I kept the title, for my personal pleasure and also because the stolen moment of a woman’s face tells something about Time itself … But that’s another story and, oh yes, I had almost forgotten… Pound’s poem : it was written in Paris, and the title is “In a Station of the Metro”.

Chris Marker


Chris Marker Notes from the Era of Imperfect Memory

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