Interview de Pascal Goffaux
Collisions by Michel Mazzoni
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Experiencing the void
I know nothing about Japan. Even though, like everyone else, I have seen the familiar images of some exotic distant land, subjected to the avalanche of photos that make their way to us—almost through us—, and which are entirely a product of our Western culture. This tradition encourages us to perceive the ‘other’, the foreigner, solely in terms of our own values, and create yet more fictional narcissism.
Accepting the absence of signifiers implies, to quote Roland Barthes, resigning oneself to the ‘emptiness of language’, and being content to simply allow oneself to be ‘imprinted’—as one might also say about photographic film—by the experience of the unknown.
This was the approach adopted by Michel Mazzoni during his three successive trips to the land of the rising sun. He did not set out to collect signs or interpret them via predefined criteria, but rather, on the contrary, the photographer adopted a spirit of openness, perfectly aligned with the sensitive and unstable nature of his chosen medium. A dazzling, even blinding, effect characterizes some of these images, in a series of transpositions that evokes the physical and psychic state of the traveler experiencing the secondary effects of jet lag. The anxiety generated by this loss of bearings is compounded by other hurdles such as the impossibility of being able to communicate, isolation, and solitude. The paleness that envelops the bodies is rendered by light that acts like a cataract, covering with a milky veil what the eye is desperately trying to explore and investigate. Because of this filter, the viewer’s eye is trapped on the surface and the mind is paralyzed by the stupor of self-estrangement. The faces are no longer discernible and dissolve, damaged by a defective memory. They are transformed by irreversible ‘burns’, just as one might describe a photographic negative as ‘fried’ when it is overexposed. Indeed, in contrast with a commonly held belief, white is not always positive: in Japan, it is the color of mourning.
In contrast, darkness plunges the most familiar objects into a tarred mysteriousness, arousing both fascination and fear. The interplay of shadows and light alters the roles and creates unfamiliar cartographies. This perturbation operates at different levels of the interpretation of the images: in the incapacity to distinguish the subject, and also in the way its singularity and finiteness is conceived. The opacity of black, in contrast to white, absorbs the contours of matter, and blurs the relationship between scales and distance. Between these two extremes, all the nuances of grey express the links that are created between the architecture and the landscape, between the invasive, proliferating vegetation, and the straightness of well-organized interiors. The banality of everyday life from whence originates the haiku, poetry of the visible world, is the same that gives rise to these timeless images. The grey matter standardizes and contaminates the images and creates associations of hitherto inexistent analogies between inert and animated elements. Certain images recuperated or created by the photographer have been manipulated and retouched to artificially obtain, one might say, an inversion of contrasts. They are turned from positive to negative, as though to make the strangeness of the reality—which they both attest to and prove—more tangible.
Degradation becomes art for the one who attempts to find the truth in abstraction. Hence, Michel Mazzoni’s book begins and ends with images that reveal its entire content without ever giving it a name, like X-rays that penetrate objects and beings and provide a clear image stripped of any artifice. This act of censure or revelation—depending on its interpretation—is an attempt to reduce the photographic image to its simplest expression, and to isolate its purest essence until it becomes almost nothing: a cloud of pulverized points, a radiating, sidereal universe. Perhaps this is how the title of this book, Collisions, should be interpreted—as the improbable encounter between two planets that collide at the very point when their orbits coincide, just as an individual might goes off to explore another civilization and whose mood and personality are affected by the multiple culture shocks. Or, as an accident involving one of the smallest elements of matter, the atom, whose split nucleus has caused the disasters encountered near and afar. The word still conveys a notion of temporality—duration even—, which operates both in the present and the future. It is this imaginary translation, from the macroscopic to the microscopic, that enables the images created and compiled by Michel Mazzoni to function, as the eye moves from one image to the next. While the certainty of the collision incorporates a certain dose of drama, tragedy, and horror, it also comprises its pendant of salutary joy … and sublime ecstasy.
‘Vide de parole’, Roland Barthes, L’Empire des signes (Empire of Signs), Paris, Éditions du Seuil, Points Collection, 2007, p. 14. The first edition of this work was published by Éditions d’Art Albert Skira in 1970.