Jean-Christian Boucart
English version


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Born in France, Jean-Christian Bourcart is best known for several distinct photographic projects. One, Forbidden City, is a series of photographs taken with a concealed camera in S/M Clubs in New York and swinger clubs in Paris, while Infertile Madonnas used a similar hidden camera in a Frankfurt brothel. Another project, The Most Beautiful Day of My Life, involved collecting unsold marriage photographs from the storage room of a photography company. And finally Elvis: a 35mm feature film made in Sarajevo with fellow photographer and film-maker Alain Duplantier.

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The sex club and brothel works violate the rules and the unspoken understanding between those who work in or frequent these places. Bourcart is simultaneously a role player, a participant, a customer, and an intruder searching for something, in what for many remains an invisible underworld. The act of making these works places the artist, and perhaps his viewers, in the position of a voyeur - something that the artist is fully aware of. For Bourcart 'a voyeur is an impotent man at a window: James Stewart in his armchair . . . unable to act', capable 'only of looking' - and in his case snapping photographs. Nan Goldin included some of these images in a recent group exhibition in New York called 'Shy'. For Goldin, Bourcart's works 'explore desire and exploitation' and capture 'desperation and pathos [and] religious narratives between heaven and hell'.

Elvis was 'made in a state of emergency' in Sarajevo, December 1993. Bourcart and his collaborator passed themselves off as journalists on assignment in order to respond to the situation outside the parameters of the mainstream media. The film, made using mainly amateur actors (people met in Sarajevo by the film-makers) centers around a wounded escaping stranger called Elvis who finds refuge in a room among the ruins of the besieged city. The story tells of the community around him, a murderous folly and of love that leads to sacrifice. The film has been screened internationally and has received a number of awards.

Of his own work, the artist says 'Maybe I take pictures and make films to identify and distance the forms which haunt me, to fill in the gap between the more intimate side of my life and the vast, infinite outside of it, which is so mysterious too. Or is it about modifying, obstructing reality to better dream of what doesn't exist anymore? An ontologically nostalgic art?'

Works by Jean-Christian Bourcart have found their way into the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Musée d'Art Moderne et Contemporain, Genève, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris amongst others. He has also worked as a freelance photojournalist for the newspaper Libération.

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Selected Exhibitions

'Forbidden City', Reflex Modern Art Gallery, Amsterdam, 1999
'Shy', curated by Nan Goldin, Artist Space gallery, New York, 1999
'La cité interdite', Galerie Serge Aboukrat, Paris, 1999
'La nuit, I'oubli (en souvenir de Gilles Dusein)', Musée d'art Moderne et contemporain, Geneva, 1998
'Résurgences gratinées', Catherine Flay, Paris, 1996
'Sarajevo, ville martyre', Scéne Nationale de Bayonne, 1994
'Besieged and Interned', Centre Culturel Obala, Sarajevo, 1994
'Les filles de la gare centrale', Galerie Urbi & Ubri, Paris, 1993
'Madones infertiles', Galerie Confluence, Paris, 1992

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Selected Bibliography

Forbidden City, Point Du Jour Editeur, Amsterdam, 2000
Guerrin, Michel, 'Entre douleur et extase', Le Monde, 10 May 1999
'Shy', The Village Voice, 16 March 1999
'New York forbidden', Journal du Centre National de la Photographie N.5, September 1998
Frodon, Jean Michel, 'Elvis', Le Monde, 8 September 1997
'It once was S-X', Vicki Goldberg, New York Times, 20 April 1997

Short interview with Jean-Christian Bourcart

By chance Marie Claire magazine asked me to make a reportage about prostitution in Frankfurt. I was impressed, aesthetically, by the rooms with the girls inside, but I didn't want to speak to them to set up a photo-shoot - and those places are forbidden to photographers anyway. So I hid my camera in my jacket, and this became the 'Infertile Madonnas' series. The title has a symbolic, metaphorical aspect, comparing something beautiful with something sad. Anyway, Marie Claire didn't use the images. Too close to reality, too suggestive and evocative. And I think that's OK [laughs]. Whenever I find something that I think is really photojournalism, the media can't accept it. They're fascinated, but they can't publish it.

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Part of that evocativeness comes from the accidental composition.
I never look through the viewfinder. I don't shoot a lot either - maybe one night I can shoot four rolls, but there's a lot of junk on there. I'm looking, in the images I select, for emotion, formal interest - but primarily for something floating in between reality and dreams. I'm not interested in things being too precise and recognizable; it's more like when you dive underwater to find some pearls. For me the work is really about sublimation. In places like the brothels, usually I'm bored because I have to stay longer than I want to, to get the images.

And the S&M clubs and swingers' club images in 'Forbidden City'?
Again, that work was too edgy for the press. I'm fascinated by the fact that people do such things, but I stay behind the camera - maybe doing what I'm doing is my way of participating [laughs]. There is a kind of holding back of information in the photographs, yes, and a warmth towards the subjects. I think people on those scenes, they're making love, they have contact, and they're taking care of each other, particularly in the S&M clubs. There's a compassionate spirit. Some people from the Paris swinging clubs, the owners I think, saw the work in a gallery and were upset - they wanted to know how I'd gotten the images. They were trying to preserve the anonymity of the people and sometimes that's very hard for me, because some of my best pictures are very recognizable. You see the face, and sometimes even more than that [laughs].

There's a compassionate aspect to your 'found' wedding photos as well.

They link with the other series in that they are photographs of ordinary people, and because they have an accidental quality. There's a humanism in them. I'm fascinated by how ordinary people touch, and some of those images are very sad. Some are crazy. It's the ordinary world that is not represented in the media, a hidden world. The wedding pictures are popular art, like folk art - they're not meant to be artistic, gallery art. I like that about them.

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- Versión en español -

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