Born in Antwerp in 1941, the photographer Harry Gruyaert is one of the pioneers of colour photography, like the great Americans he discovered and fell in love with at an early age: Joel Meyerowitz, William Eggleston, and Stephen Shore. Far from the narrow confines of his native Belgium, New York in the early 1970s exposed him to pop art and taught him ”to cast a different eye on the ordinary, to accept a form of ugliness in the world and to do something with that!’ His friendships with the avant-garde (Gordon Matta-Clark, Richard Nanas) reinforced what Antonioni’s Red Desert – ”seen a thousand times” – had already instilled in him: the need to explore the world, to throw himself into it headlong, not in order to describe it or to inform us about it, but rather to shape it, to model it. To render his perception of things instead of the things themselves. To become a seer, not a witness.
Harry Gruyaert describes this physical struggle, this hand-to-hand combat with things and beings: ”I throw myself into things to experience this mystery, this alchemy: things attract me and I attract things:’ ln the flow of life, when everything escapes our grasp, and for ”everything to fall into place”, one must be bath present and absent, forgetting oneself in order to seize the matter, the texture, everything that makes up the here and now; while cultivating a sense of prescience, surrendering to an instinctive arrangement of forms, colours, symbols, light, and motifs.
In Correspondance New Yorkaise Alain Bergala distinguishes between two types of photographers: those who believe in reality and make photography an art of presence, and those who experience reality as impossible and only capture absence. According to this reading, Harry Gruyaert would be an anomaly, a photographer whose visceral presence in the world above all aims to capture its fleeting, intangible character. lsolated trajectories, disjointed spaces, bodies in the margins-the patterns in his images contributes to rendering the absurdity of the world, the surreal collage of life and its individual fragments.
What if photography could be about communing with a state of solitude and telling a lie that is truer than truth itself.
Text by Diane Dufour