Memento Mori
2/12/15 - 27/01/16

En français | NL versie


Johan Legraie, from series memento mori, 2010-2015

Johan Legraie must not be mistaken for a novice: even though he is almost completely unknown in the world of photography, he is not someone who fell like a raindrop in the most recent thunderstorm in today’s proliferating jungle of digital images. On the contrary, he is slow, crafty, wily and cannot be pigeon-holed. His experience in the film industry (as a director of photography, cameraman, and, above all, as an adventurer, wandering the world with insatiable curiosity in his eyes) has given him the opportunity, without false naivety, to engineer and take advantage of the most improbable encounters and the most bizarre visual coincidences, those shots from next to the viewfinder which only appear banal at first (naive) sight, those images of faces and landscapes captured on the road. However, his work is not mere dilettantism or travel photography; although he has been in charge for around ten years, he has only recently stopped taking self-portraits, and instead now projects himself into other things and places than himself, impregnating his images without appearing in them.
This is what he calls, very loosely, “encounters of memory”, captured and redistributed over the last four years as part of his “photographic logbook”.

It’s probably more appropriate to talk here of “photomontage” rather than “encounters”, but nevertheless to at least examine his work as both. First, it involves juxtaposition (two images are always richer, more complex and ultimately more numerous than their simple sum).
Second, it involves ellipses or intervals: often an unwitting, invisible or limpid tracery which links two images, despite their apparent differences. What is good about this approach is the mental image or the missing part which creates a disturbance, leaving underneath the enigma, despite (or beyond) appearances and evidence. According to Legraie, photography is playing, in both a joyful and a disturbing manner, with visible forms and the freedom of interpretation.

Within, or, more precisely, between these diptychs, time and space are redistributed, truth and fiction are negotiated and the intimate, the unknown, the worrying and the familiar attract each other. Removed from their context and re-imagined (but in no way manipulated), every fragment of reality reveals here some fiction and every obvious reading is twisted or melts into metaphor.
And in the background is another dialectic, a touch more metaphysical and even slightly orientalist, which goes far beyond the hackneyed dialectic of the given and the constructed: like an incessant pendulum, swinging between rest and growth, or, to put it another way, between unity and difference. And all that, which is certainly not insignificant, simply using black and white, well perhaps with a few additions, obviously!

Perhaps, going forward, it becomes a question of the very photography that Legraie is attacking as an outsider, but it could also be that he is attacking himself as a photographer, more because he doesn’t appear to be addressing the question, or even the sense of the question. Having empowered his audience, or even himself, not to know what to think about what they see and to juggle with the symbolism that is undeniably present, but which deliberately diffuses or confuses itself.
Having said that, and to prove that we can never completely escape from codes, the photographer finally chose the title “Memento Mori”…

A reminder of the ineluctable finality of things and beings, the fleeting nature of we small mortals and the huge infinity, this title invites us almost to a sort of morbid contemplation, a sort of funeral vigil, a reflection on vanity – its incarnations, its rises and falls. For sure, Legraie’s images are full of holes and voids, silences and cracks, uncertainty and fragility, where death prowls. But we must not forget that, in Mexico – whose light inspired him to take up photography - laughter is never far away and that its shadows dance in secret for those who know how to see them through closed eyelids.

Emmanuel d'Autreppe, September 2015

Johan Legraie won the “Propositions d’artistes 2014” competition organised by L’Espace Photographique Contretype.


cover_MM (1)

Johan Legraie, memento mori
Self-published by the author, 300 copies.
Size: 16,5 x 13,5 cm - 48 pages.
30 illustrations in black and white.
Photographies: Johan Legraie.
Four-color process printing on Munken Artic Ivory paper.
Graphic design by (in)extenso & Johan Legraie.
ISBN 978-2-8052-0292-6.
Price: 19 €.