Editor’s note: old news
At the Fondation Henri Cartier Bresson in Paris, Adam Scovell explores one of the most important European post-war photographers still working today.
Depardon captures institutes with a rare eye; the faces he captures already showing the signs of a different sort of capture beyond language. Throughout the exhibition, the words of Michel Foucault repeatedly came to mind. He writes aptly of the act of exercise itself that it is “the technique by which one imposes on the body tasks that are both repetitive and different, but always graduated. By bending behaviour towards a terminal state, exercise makes possible a perpetual characterization of the individual…”. With the difference taken away, what does this exercise become?
The photo is one of the most disturbing of his images because of how constrained this flexing of individual character is; the route always defined and shared, the mind now locked doubly into both the physical behaviour and the unchanging scenario around the man. Considering in hindsight the pleasure this small task probably produced away from the man’s cramped cell grounds the viewer further in a stark realisation.
One of Foucault’s most famous dictums comes from the same volume as that quote, Discipline and Punish (1975), where he writes that “Surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action.” The idea being that the main role of surveillance is change of behaviour rather than documentation for social safety. I repeatedly thought of Depardon’s eye, a different form of surveillance – momentary, desiring to capture behaviour rather than to dictate it – travelling around the globe to apprehend those trapped in what can only be described as an array of stases.