Image-text photobooks in a nutshell #13: Matthieu Nicol on Ce qui Compte by Benoît Luisière
We asked a pool of international photobook experts to share with us an image-text photobook they find particularly interesting, regardless of its publication date and where text is a fundamental element in the narrative (not a mere introduction or essay on the photoworks). Here Matthieu Nicol reveals why Benoît Luisière’s Ce qui Compte [What Matters], first published by Editions Innocences in 2018 (96 pages), has made a lasting impression on him.
Benoît Luisière likes to play with images. Especially those taken by others. For the past decade, the artist and iconographer from the Ariège region has turned his attention to vernacular photography: those functional, commonplace, often anonymous photos printed in the local press. He now has thousands of such images, each carefully cut out with scissors. From roundabouts to church steeples, together, they tell a story of everyday life in southwest France. There are community events, road accidents, building works, gym clubs, concerts, local society meetings, weddings, garage sales, football games, fishing competitions, pétanque tournaments…
The artist doesn’t just accumulate photographs ‘without qualities’: he appropriates them and makes them talk. To imbue them with new meaning, he uses the numbers in their captions to rank them from 1 to 100.
Accordingly, his latest book opens on a photo captioned ‘Ranked 1st class’, before continuing with ‘There are two of them: Los Dos’; then ‘Third panoramic view’; ‘The four flat tires…’; ‘The first five’; and so on. Right up to the final images: ’99th commemoration of the Armistice’ and ‘Top 100 boots’.
The result? A hilarious little tome entitled Ce qui Compte (What Matters). By ranking the images 1 to 100, Luisière exercises Oulipian constraint, raising questions about the relationship between text and image and, more precisely, about the function of the caption.
Traditionally used to provide factual information it records the place, date, and circumstances of an accompanying image, but Luisière, a former photo archivist, argues that what interests local readers aren’t questions like ‘when?’ or ‘how?’, but ‘how much?’ All those kilos of frites sold at a village fair, those kilometres of traffic jams, those long years of marriage…
The captions under the images chosen by Luisière will often draw a smile: the relationship between what we read and what we see can appear to be an involuntary joke. It is these small, often absurd discrepancies that interest the artist: with a caption, we can make an image say whatever we want.
In the early 2010s, as the Internet and User Generated Content exploded, many feared that amateur images — free and immediately available — would flood the media, destroying the livelihood of professional photographers. Today, as the Internet celebrates its 30th anniversary, Luisière’s small collection modestly confirms that this practice already existed, and will continue to thrive.
So what purpose do these photographs have? Beyond their merely informative function, the artist tells us, they also create a social bond. In a small way, their subjects — heroes of everyday life — feel a sense of pride when they appear in their local newspaper. The images encourage a sense of belonging to the community. And that is ‘what matters’.
Matthieu Nicol is the founder of the Photobook Week at Shakespeare and Company, held annually during Paris Photo. He runs Too Many Pictures, a cultural consultancy working in the fields of photography and visual arts. He is also a picture editor for the daily newspaper Le Monde.
This article was first published in French in Le Monde on 23 February, 2019
English Translation: Tara Mulholland