Photographer Younès Klouche’s series Orphée documents the same locations as those presented in the landmark exhibition New Topographics: Photographs of a Man-Altered Landscape shown at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York in 1975. The show epitomised a key moment in American landscape photography with many photographers soon emulating the spirit and aesthetics of the exhibition. Featured were young and emerging talents at the time including Robert Adams, Bernd and Hilla Becher and Frank Gohlke. Inspired by the stripped-back, no-frills aesthetic present in the show, Younès’ sees his own work as an essay on the “evolution of documentary photography and the current conceptual-reflexive turn that it is taking”.
The series also takes its cues from the film also called Orphée by Jean Cocteau. The film explores the symbolism of mirrors as a representation of death. “In my book, mirrors and visual mirroring feature not only in the photographs themselves but in the object of the book. Those mirrors evoke the omnipresence of splendid screens and the society of the spectacle in contemporary north America,” explains Younès. “There are no staged photographs [in the series], so individually the images can be seen in a reportage aesthetic. Taken together, they drive a fiction where Orphée constructs a place that doesn’t exist, with fragments of American reality.”
The complex subject matter provides context for these seemingly disparate images, yet the style Younès has adopted continues the air of ambiguity felt throughout. The photographer’s drive to “redefine the documentary genre” means his work often appears conceptual, objective and captured in high definition. As a result, shots of skyscrapers, vintage cars, suburban houses and other typically American objects and scenes, feel cold and aloof, with people presented like figures and statues.
The project first began while Younès was studying at ÉCAL in Lausanne, and while spending over year working on sequencing, he decided to turn it into a book after being approached by the publisher Les Éditions du LIC. “The physicality of the book allowed me to add something more to the photographs. I was able to make a seductive, shiny mirrored object and create an intimate sequence of images that show a fake territory with real photographs,” explains Younès. Combining visual contrasts with slick photography, Younés creates a striking personal and visual statement.
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