Ainsi (Thus): Jean-Claude Pondevie
A couple weeks ago, I got a very nice letter from a French photographer named Jean-Claude Pondevie. If the name doesn’t immediately ring a bell for you, you’re not alone. Until last year’s Paris Photo LA, I’d never heard of him either, but he has since become one of my favorite photographers. The chance of discovery is actually one of the great things about Paris Photo; that and the fact that it’s hosted on the Paramount Pictures backlot. Sure, there is an abundance of fantastic work from all of the photographers you’ve likely heard of before—Avedon, Eggleston, Mann, Erwitt, etc.—but it’s been the photographers I hadn’t ever heard of before attending the show both in 2013 and 2014 that have most inspired me to pick up a camera, explore a point of view and make something. Through Paris Photo I have been introduced to the work of Fred Herzog, Mona Kuhn, Cristina De Middel, Alex Timmermans and a host of others, as well as the subject of this article, Jean-Claude Pondevie, whose work absolutely stole the show for me last year.
In addition to taking over many of the sound stages of the backlot, the store fronts in the Old New York section are transformed into makeshift gallery spaces. From the stairs leading up to the space occupied by Galerie Melanie Rio, Mr. Pondevie’s work looked like little more than simple dark grey boxes against white backgrounds. But once I entered the space and gave my eyes a few moments to adjust, the generic squares and rectangles became viewports into a world of deep shadows and subtle details waiting to be explored. His is not work you simply look at, but rather you experience. The matte black and white prints looked as if they were rendered in graphite, rather than ink. While they are not large prints, especially compared to some of the pieces by Edward Burtynsky or Gregory Crewdson (who I met briefly at Paris Photo 2013), they are just as dense visually, perhaps even more so in that the nuance of each piece isn’t as readily apparent.
As I was looking over the dozen or so pieces, Melanie Rio, the owner of the gallery approached and asked if I had any questions. I asked her a few questions about sizing and editions and remarked that I would love to talk to the photographer. “He’s just there,” she said, pointing towards the landing on the stairway I had just come up where Mr. Pondevie was seated alone on the rail, looking over the goings on of the show. “May I say hello?,” I asked. “Of course,” she replied, “but he only speaks French.” Since I don’t speak French, despite taking two years of it in college, I asked if she would mind translating. We only spoke for a few moments, but I think I was able to cobble together how brilliant I thought his work was and that my emotional response to it was much like several of the color field painters that I had long studied and admired. “Merci,” he responded as he offered a warm handshake of appreciation. “Thank you,” he continued in English. I asked Melanie how to tell him that it was my pleasure. “Avec plaisir,” she responded, which I awkwardly parroted back to Mr. Pondevie. He smiled warmly and with that I was on my way to explore the rest of the show. I remember thinking then that had I been able to afford it, I would have happily purchased at least one of his prints, specifically an untitled piece from 2012 (shown above), which was my favorite of the work on display.
So, back to the letter. As I mentioned at the beginning, a couple weeks ago I got a letter from Mr. Pondevie. He wrote to let me know that he would not be represented at this year’s Paris Photo, but that he would like to send me a copy of his new book Ainsi as a gesture of thanks for the kind words I had said about his work. Honestly, I didn’t know how to react, other than to allow myself to accept his gift and be grateful—not for the book, not entirely, but rather for the opportunity to have been able to make an honest connection with someone and, despite the obvious language barrier, to have been able to communicate how moved I was by his work. Then again, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m reading way to much into this and he’s just a guy sending out a bunch of books—but I don’t think so. Instead, I choose to believe that this type of connection is the both the journey and the lesson. It’s why we struggle. It’s why we celebrate. In short, it’s why we live.
PS – The photographs in Ainsi are absolutely gorgeous and I invite you to purchase a copy directly from the publisher, Editions Xavier Barral.