Kiki Of Paris, The Last French Humanist Photographer
Kiki of Paris, how do you take your photos ?
“While I’m walking”, replies the artist. “I walk a lot; I look for something to happen, something out of the ordinary. I learnt it from Willy Ronis,” he adds. “I was born in post-war Paris, not far from the fortifications, so I walk there with my family, and sometimes a miracle happens.”
Kiki has known the beaches of the Adriatic coast stretching for a hundred kilometres or so between Venice and Trieste, for many years: children bawling, their mothers consoling them, husbands reading the sports pages of the newspaper, girls parading in their bikinis while the boys watch them go by. All of life is there: social, coded, ritualistic, garish. “The Italian soul is a lot more complex than we think,” says the artist.
The photograph entitled The Heroes was taken in this summery atmosphere. Thousands of people in swimsuits, massed along the seashore are looking towards the photographer. It is as if they are watching a flying saucer landing. It was long believed that the photograph had been constructed and recomposed, but it is absolutely not the case, reality is such that it is sometimes stranger than fiction.
The photo was successful worldwide. In fact, a warplane, not seen over the photo, is flying right over the beach in all its noisy, smoky spectacle.
The Morning of the World is another great photograph from Kiki’s Venetian work. Showing the beach of Bibione, very early in the morning, the image seems timeless, like an archaeological site with columns stretching as far as the eye can see, a totemic landscape. In a few hours, life will start again, but for the moment, silent and deserted, the place seems sacred. It is five o’clock in the morning, the photographer squeezes the shutter…
It was Cartier Bresson who said that it’s the decisive moment that makes a good photograph.
There is something conclusive in the making of a successful photograph; a happy coming together in time and space, the moment and place of the ‘click’, when the image is snatched; there is a predatory side to the “armed” photographer, but also a contemplative spirit, a loving soul.
In the eighties, when he was photographing the streets of Paris, his view of people and places was a sensitive one. He only photographed the eighteenth and nineteenth districts – for him the sensitive part of Paris.
Kiki of Paris is himself a sensitive person. The French actor Michel Simon already called him by his pet name in the sixties, and later on introduced him to Henry Miller.
And so, though he wanted to be a painter, he became a photographer on the advice of Henry Miller.
His melancholy situates him among the poets.
The yellow taxi that you can see in the photo called Key West had just set him down by the side of a long road outside Miami. The strange nature of this shot is intriguing. You can see in it whatever you want to see, but there is definitely something, sad, languid, lonely about that day, with the taxi disappearing into the heat and the humidity; he felt abandoned, orphaned, alone in the world.
At the heart of the matter, the artist photographs what is abstract. In the work entitled “The Last Ride” the fairground ride is going round for the last time in the day. The passengers are self-confident; a slim, good-looking man like a lead soldier is operating the ride. He looks something like the Last of the Mohicans; the photographer reflects on the passing of time. Although this photo uses the contemporary style and taste for kitsch and popular culture, its romantic side adds to the interest.
Kiki of Paris has produced a relatively limited portfolio of work. He destroys many of his pictures. Sometimes he even loses them.
He sometimes uses recomposed pictures as well, as in the series entitled Polymorphous Structures. He aims for a meaning that is thoughtful and intended; he produces a carefully constructed image, an allegory: Ulysses, Adios Queens, the Sacrifice of the Cockerel, the Messenger…
Desolation Canyon assembles a group of three people that the artist photographed in Charleroi and “moved” to the famous American landscape of Death Valley.
The immense distress and the desolation of these people are disturbing. Only the face of the young boy is rebellious. “He didn’t want to be photographed” Kiki remembers. “He had the look of someone who is consciously aware that there’s no way out. Everybody isn’t equal, you can see it all the time”, he says, even though he remains optimistic, adding “Miller was always cheerful, and would say over and again to anyone who was listening that life is a good thing, whatever the circumstances”.
The photographs of Kiki of Paris bear witness to his positive subjectivity, his vision of the world, his love of ordinary people, of popular festivals, and of the comic side of street life…
Loulou, a French dog crossing the road only on pedestrian crossings just to please his mistress, a war widow, the spontaneous smile of a young girl in The Prague majorettes…
Far from any mere attempt at seduction, his camera captures intimate moments between people and things. The situations that he chooses make us think and move us, and for that too we have to thank him.
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