Photo by Chris Marker. Courtesy of Peter Blum Gallery.
“In another time I guess I would have been content with filming girls and cats. But you don’t choose your time,” writes French filmmaker, writer, and multimedia artist Chris Marker in the opening text of his new exhibition, Staring Back, at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. This extraordinary show, composed of almost 200 portraits made around the world by Marker between 1952 and 2006, with wall-mounted text written by the artist, is the first to exclusively feature his photographic work.
Staring Back grew out of an email correspondence between Marker and longtime friend Bill Horrigan, Wexner Center’s film and media curator. In March 2006, when Horrigan received Marker’s images from the anti-CPA workers’ rights demonstrations then raging in Paris, he responded that they reminded him of Marker’s 1962 film Le Joli Mai, in which Marker and Pierre Lhomme ask scores of Parisians about their thoughts on work, politics, finances, and Algeria’s newfound independence from France.
Staring Back includes not only the Paris images (actually video frame grabs digitally altered by Marker) that Horrigan initially proposed exhibiting, but also film stills, video frame grabs, and photographs from Marker’s extensive archive, all presented at approximately the same modest size in flat black and white, dry mounted on foam board. The show is in four sections: “I Stare 1,” 75 photos chronologically arranged by political demonstrations in which Marker has taken part; “They Stare,” paired portraits of people looking right at Marker (“We exchanged looks, as one says, but what did they get in exchange?”); “I Stare 2,” early photos of public figures and fellow artist-travellers reproduced here as an oversized contact sheet; and “Beast of …” the show’s finale, 11 portraits of animals, an emblematic Marker gesture re: humanity.
Fortunately for those who won’t make it to Columbus, the accompanying catalogue (co-published with MIT Press) stands in nearly equal measure to the show, not least for its unparalleled Marker bibliography and filmography.