November 20, 2015

Friday Round Up - 20 November, 2015

Last week when I posted Friday Round Up from Paris the incomprehensible events of that night were yet to come. As I rode a taxi back to my apartment in Saint Michel I was tired but happy after an amazing day at Paris Photo. I'd ended the day with an exhibition at Galerie VU where 40 photographers work was on show. It had been a crowded event. The evening was mild and cafes and bars were busy with those winding down at the end of the week. As I watched the night come to life through the taxi's window I thought how nice it would be to sit at a sidewalk cafe with a glass of champagne and watch the world pass by. But exhaustion got the better of me. As I entered the apartment a friend texted me to ask if I was safe. I got online to discover the horror. All night I could hear the sirens.

This week's post is for Paris, a city I love…

Yan Morvan – ‘Champs des Bataille’

One of the most entertaining interviews this week was with French photojournalist Yan Morvan who is brilliantly eccentric and quite the comedian. Often people tell me incredible stories, but Yan wins the prize in the OMG that can’t be true stakes.

Our interview started with Yan recalling that he had an Australian girlfriend once many years ago when he was living in Bangkok in a brothel where “all these guys from Australia came to have cheap sex”. I’m not sure if this was meant to shock me or if he’s having a bit of fun, but there’s a twinkle in his eye that said there is mischief here. In response I laughed at the idea of this man, who is now in his early sixties, his dark hair more grey than not, his blue eyes framed by black-rimmed reading glasses, reliving his youth through saucy tales. He laughed too and the door was opened.

Yan Morvan at his exhibition in Paris

Over several coffees Yan told me how his exploits – running with gangs, photographing a mass murderer, being tortured, starring in a porn flick (that was an accident, he lost a bet) – when condensed into a few pages for an article make a thrilling tale. “Oh yeah it’s like Yan Morvan the living legend,” he laughs heartily. “You know the stories are true, but it’s forty years in three pages. I didn’t set out to do all these things. I’m not this tough photojournalist guy ready to head into battle”.

Once a film director approached him to do a movie about his life, but was disappointed that Yan wasn’t a macho action man. “In all the situations I’ve been in I’ve never been wounded by bullets, only by motorcycle crashes”. He holds up his right hand to show the little finger is missing in part, an example of his scars. He has others but I don’t need to see them, Yan says. That is correct!

It would be easy to explore his more avant-garde moments and write another ‘wow look at the crazy things Yan Morvan has done’ story, but my interest lies in his new book and perhaps his greatest undertaking in terms of time and scope – ‘Champs des Bataille’ (Battlegrounds). 



Chelley Canyon

Chemin des Dames


Dien Bien Phu

Documenting the world’s greatest battlegrounds is perhaps the epitome for this photojournalist who says he came to the profession because of his lifelong love of history. “Every time I go on the battlefield I am very excited to see what it looks like. I started in 2004 in Normandy. I’ve been to Turkey, to cover the Anzacs, your guys, to Waterloo, Stalingrad, Misrata…there are so many places that people kill each other.” It is clear that last statement holds fascination and horror for Yan who says this project is further evidence that the human race has learned nothing. Events in Paris this week confirm that.

Yan is not interested in photographing the human toll of war rather his focus is now on the scarred landscapes. There is something eerie about these images. On first glace they are fields of flowers and trees, windswept plains, or decaying buildings and urban-scapes, but on closer inspection the scars become evident. In Yan’s pictures we can see where great swathes of earth have been gouged, stones lie broken by mortar, wood and metal are tangled and rotting, and wreckage of battles become grotesque sculptures. In many scenes the debris of battle lies in wait for nature to rejuvenate and cover its path. In others, like the photograph of the Battle of Waterloo and Antietam, crops now grow in the soil that was once soaked with the blood of thousands.

Les Eparges






‘Champs des Bataille’ is a massive undertaking that began a decade ago. In that time Yan has photographed 250 battlefields carting his Deardorff camera with him across 35 countries. After experimenting with various formats he says, “8x10 was the right way for me to tell this story, this world of memory”. The photographs are rich in texture and detail and many evoke notions of Renaissance paintings. I’ve seen them in the book and on the wall in large format. They are impressive works of art as well as historical documents.

The 660-page book is beautifully produced, and Yan is proud that it is by a French publisher. It is a heavy tome in all senses and its weight makes it prohibitive to pop into my case. I’m disappointed because this is one book I would love to own, but at nearly 7kg it is impossible. Yan laughs and shows me an even bigger version with a slipcase. “And there is a larger one again!” He is clearly delighted with the outcome, but is keen to continue the work, as there are many other battlefields to cover before he packs his Deardorff away for good.

Available on Amazon


La Galerie de Photographies at the Centre Pompidou presents the works of French filmmaker and photographer Agnès Varda. This was one of my favourite exhibitions. I am a fan of black and white photography, and historical works, and Varda’s Cuba, shot in the early 1960s, is wonderfully insightful and transcendent.

Opening night had a gala air and while many enjoyed the complimentary champagne, others crowded into the exhibition space to view the work and watch the moving footage. The only disappointment was the fact that many of the prints are small and the lighting and congested space made it difficult to view. The catalogue is a magnificent production and allows you to spend more time with the images. 

Until 1 February, 2016
La Galerie de Photographies
Centre Pompidou

Photo Essay:
Wiktoria Wojciechowska
Short Flashes 

Short Flashes is a series of portraits of Chinese scooter and bicycle riders travelling in the rain. The story began by chance, as often the best photo essays do. Polish photo artist Wiktoria Wojciechowska had recently arrived in China and found herself on the sidewalk watching the riders whiz past in their brightly coloured raincoats. She started to take photographs, an umbrella taped to a tripod to keep herself and the camera dry. As she amassed a collection of portraits she began to investigate the background of the scooter riders and discovered that many were from minorities or regional areas, marginalised by the increasing numbers of affluent Chinese. She says that scooter and bicycle riding is now considered a lowly activity; having a car is thought to be a status symbol that many Chinese aspire to. This series has won a number of awards including this year's Oskar Barnack Leica Newcomer Award, La Quatrieme Image Young Talents and Humanity Photo Awards 2015, documentary category. Wiktoria is now working on a series in Ukraine and she shared a preview of this work with me. She is definitely someone to watch. 

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