Café-Bar

These photographs do not try in any case to draw up an all comprehensive list of the deliberately cliché subject that is the ‘Cafe Parisien’, but rather compose a poetic document proposing a rereading of the codes of archiving and typology. Questioning notions of pittoresque, nostalgia, and objectivity. The places shown by the photographer are poles apart from the Cafes litteraires, artistic, and touristic, of Montmarte and Saint Germain des Pres, that one widely associates with the idea of Paris as an effervescent cultural capital.  Those scattered terrasses packed with pretty young women delighting in fresh and free beverages paid for by writers with unruly locks, as great photographers so often depicted it. No literature award was named after the Bar de L’Avenir or the Cafe du Temps Perdu, where one would be more likely to run into the postman, the factory worker, or the dealer, chatting over le Parisien’s last ‘Man Bites Dog’ news item than to catch sight of a young literature graduate nonchalantly scrawling an acerbic critique of Existentialism.  Rather, no encounters will take place, these Cafe Bars being so desperately devoid of people, as if evacuated.   Neglected as they are for more modern social networks and only these deserted rooms’ walls talk to each other through slick mirrors manoeuvres, reflecting humans’ vacuity.  The bar down the corner as a dead angle, where murals accomplished with different levels of skill can be seen side-by-side with popular icons posters, themselves often deceased.  Images of sportsmen, actors, singers and unknowns, coexist inside vernacular interior architectures alongside many kitsch artifacts.  Thereby creating unlikely compositions where peace would only be disturbed by the distant and sizzling echo of Radio Nostalgia. Despite the eclectism of tastes in terms of decoration, it seems obvious that such a systematic formal recurrence implies that a Cafe Bar style could be defined.  A style that would be shared as we share and pass on popular culture or a common sense of humour, and that would blend until confusing the notions of patina, kitsch and nostalgia. The concept of ‘pittoresque’ also comes to mind as these settings have the strange power of making reappear a period of time that, as recent as it may be, is partly desolved.  In the manner of a local daily newspaper as Le Parisien that, lies ubiquitously on the Cafes’ Bars counters, recounting facts near at hand in time and space from its readers, like a snapshot of the day before ;  Photography as a medium, mechanically captures – therefore objectively captures- and in only a fraction of a second, a moment that from the next second on will belong to the past, will have somehow disappeared.  At the same time, the cafes owners the photographer met, mention almost unanimously and with an apprehension quite similar to the fear of heights, the neighbourhood cafe’s social function disappearing, and ultimately these actual places extinction. In addition to the disturbing dead calm emanating from these photographs, it is the fossilised aspect of the interiors that question our perception of time.  As if frozen in a previous period however close enough so that its image, its particular memory, are largely shared in our collective consciousness.  It would come back from the past and haunt us like friendly ghosts. But who do these empty cups, chairs and places belong to?  Who are Rexy, Jeannette, Maurissette, Hamid, Achour, Maurice and Jin?  Would it be reasonable to presume that only a few moments ago, someone was sitting right there?  And who could possibly guess what is happening behind the filthy door in Les Artistes?  Could a customer in the midst of a delirium tremens episode, drunk with loneliness, beyond all perception, have locked himself up?  Or maybe the owner could have half-consciously sealed up the restroom for the lack of users, and, out of rage, thrown away the key? These questions will remain unanswered, leaving us facing this unsolved mystery with the only option of mediative contemplation.  Witnesses of a fatally doomed-to-failure attempt to authorships subjectivity effacement, aimed at shaking the aura off of things.  Similar to the barfly, brooding his fears alone with only his half-empty-half-full glass of beer for company.  He tries vainly to forget present and reality by burying himself in stale aftertasting misty memories and will only leave behind their humid print on the bar.  They will not take long to disappear either.

Albert Nuel

Simon Letourneau

Simon Letourneau is a French photographer and musician living in Toronto, Canada. His work consists of different series exploring the ideas of strangeness in the vernacular, blurred memory, the confusion of perception, nostalgia and posture, warped vision, the stream of consciousness drowned in time and space, while only kitsch artefacts will remain, for a little while longer…

EXHIBITIONS

2013

Recollection, Superette Gallery, Paris, France.

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