Magazine article Artforum International

Felten-Massinger: Galerie Michele Chomette

Magazine article Artforum International

Felten-Massinger: Galerie Michele Chomette

Article excerpt

The photographs of Christine Felten and Veronique Massinger call to mind John Berger's dictum that the relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. At first glance, the large-format landscapes and cityscapes the two artists have been making for the past fifteen years in and around their native Belgium recall seventeenth-century Dutch paintings with their panoramic views, low horizons, and cold light, not to mention a strangely varnishlike cast to the colors. At second glance, traces of the present emerge as well, from highways and electrical wires crisscrossing the countryside to urban high-rises and billboards or the occasional parked car. And at third glance, a certain number of curious absences--and presences--manifest themselves: There are no apparent light sources, no cast shadows, no clouds, no atmospheric perspective, but from time to time a cometlike trail of light blazing down from the sky or gleaming mirrors that punctuate building facades in place of windows.

What we need to know in order to make sense--technically, at least--of what we are seeing is that these complex and profoundly unsettling images have been created not with the latest digital technology but with that most ancient of photographic devices, the pinhole camera. In its Felten-Massinger version, the camera obscura becomes a darkroom on wheels, in the form of a secondhand camper (caravane, in French) painted black inside and pierced with a minuscule hole in one wall. Notwithstanding the simplicity of the device, photographing with this "Caravana Obscura" amounts to a paradoxical process of still moviemaking, complete with lengthy location-spotting, meticulous mise-en-scene (via the positioning of the camper), and one long, lensless sequence shot (three to six hours or more), which "films" the passage of time on a sheet of color-reversal paper inside the camper. …

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