While Christine Alaoui was making these photographs near the end of the 1970s, Roland Barthes wrote his famous essay Camera Lucida. In those pages, he defines photography by the phrase: ‘this-has-been’. By capturing a person, by fixing his or her image at a precise moment in time, a photograph bears witness that this person ‘has been’ alive. But it also implicitly suggests that this moment belongs to the past, and that this same person is, perhaps, alive no longer.
The idea that photography is linked to death seems particularly apt to describe the work of Christine Alaoui. The world caught by her images has indeed vanished. More than forty years separate us from these scenes. The Morocco which she photographed – with its barbers presiding beneath tents or with its old dye-works – seems almost as far removed from us as an Orientalist painting of Delacroix’s. Nor do we recognize with any greater clarity the American streets through which Cadillacs pass with their antiquated designs. But this is not the essence of the matter. For, if Christine Alaoui has decided to exhibit her images, it is because her daughters, Leila (herself a photographer) and Yasmina (a visual artist), once encouraged her to do so. This is the same Yasmina whom we find here as a baby, lying on a bed next to her napping father (her father Aziz, entirely wrapped in blankets except for two legs and his still-shod feet). And this is the same Leila who once made a preliminary selection of her mother’s photographs: the Leila who, absent today, was killed in a terrorist attack in Ouagadougou in 2016.
Christine Alaoui’s photographs, with such simple elegance and such touching everydayness, bear witness to a double loss. They are pierced through and through with an arrow of nostalgia, whose path traces the line of a life. As Roland Barthes intuited, sometimes a photograph can be at once the blessing of a captured moment and its curse.
Exhibition curators: Leila Alaoui (†), Yasmina Alaoui & Guillaume de Sardes.
All proceeds from this exhibition will be donated to the Leila Alaoui Foundation. The exhibition opens on Tuesday 21 November 2017 at 18:00 and concludes Thursday 21 December 2017. To view or download the catalogue, please click here
Image credit: Christine Alaoui 'Bled Roknine, 2010' RC paper on aluminuim 40x60cm (Courtesy the artist and Sulger-Buel Lovell)