Inside the Mysterious Photo-Book Capturing French Life

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Alessandra Sanguinetti, Intermission, Saint-Martin-Boulogne, Pas-de-Calais, 2016Courtesy the artist

Nothing is quite what it seems in this beautiful new tome from Alessandra Sanguinetti, documenting an intriguing trip across France

Le Gendarme Sur La Colline – a photo-book bound in a deep red velour, its pages edged in gold – is the latest photographic endeavour of New York-born, Argentina-raised imagemaker Alessandra Sanguinetti. The subject of the Aperture- and Fondation d’entreprise Hermès-published book is France: Sanguinetti journeyed through the country, capturing its lifeblood in shots laden with a sense of intrigue that is both beguiling and informative. Take, for example, the numerous photographs in which a small gold mark obscures the subjects’ eyes – a gesture, carried out in order to adhere to France’s exacting privacy laws, that tells so much in the very process of refusing to give information away. The photographs’ subjects are wonderfully varied, comprising intimate portraits, vast landscapes and curious still lifes. A young girl practices gymnastics on impossibly green grass, while elsewhere a small bird perches lightly on an anonymous hand, and a bejewelled sunbather glances knowingly into the camera. Variety is in abundance here.

The very first image that appears in Le Gendarme Sur La Colline depicts a completed jigsaw puzzle of a château in darkness, silhouetted against a pink sky. This seems particularly apt, given that the publication itself feels like an unravelling mystery, each photograph building upon the next to form a dynamic portrait of France, as seen through Sanguinetti’s eyes. This idea is further emphasised in the book’s closing essay by Susan Bright, who describes Sanguinetti’s work as “a tapestry of interwoven stories”. “They sharpen our view of the actual world and give us hope for the future, just as fairy tales do,” Bright muses. “Happily ever after is not the mood here, however; it’s more optative, cautious, delicate, and volatile.”

Sanguinetti’s book is an exploration of what Bright labels the “infraordinary”. The term, she tells us, derives from a 1970s essay by French experimental writer Georges Perec, and “requires that we pay attention to all that is considered neither ordinary nor extraordinary,” while demanding “that we reconsider what is significant and what is not.” One sees this in the apparent mundanity of each of Sanguinetti’s images, which, once confronted, discloses a hidden significance you can’t help but linger on, making for mesmeric viewing.

Le Gendarme Sur La Colline is available now, published by Aperture and Fondation d’entreprise Hermès.