Vertige du corps

September 16 – November 18 2012

The Bibliothèque Nationale de France presents the work of photographer Etienne Bertrand Weill (1919-2001) in the Julien Cain aisle. An itinerary based on modern prints allows us to discover a work that is an example of the fertile crossroads of languages and forms between photography and live performance in the second half of the 20th century.

At the beginning of his artistic career, in the immediate post-war period, Etienne Bertrand Weill first devoted himself to humanist reportage and architectural photography. In search of new forms of expression, he turned to the Parisian avant-garde scene.

Exhibition catalogue

In 1947, he met the great reformer of contemporary mime, Etienne Decroux (1898-1991), and became a privileged witness to his art. The photographic sequences that Weill produced helped the mime to better articulate his grammar of gestures and expressions. For the photographer, the exploration of the mimic body represents the beginning of an inexhaustible aesthetic research on movement, light, balance and imbalance.
Photographing numerous theatre, mime and dance artists, such as Jean-Louis Barrault, Etienne and Maximilien Decroux, Marcel Marceau, Maurice Béjart, Marguerite Bougai, etc., Etienne Bertrand Weill gradually turned to increasingly immaterial and abstract visual forms.

The “Metaforms”, photographic traces of the sole trajectory of movement, are the culmination of this journey. Created from mobile objects designed for the occasion, subjected to different durations and rhythms, these images achieve a synthesis between mathematical order and unpredictable moment, which questions the very essence of photography, while evoking a symbolic and spiritual language. With his “Métaformes”, Etienne Bertrand Weill has taken an important place in the artistic movement of kinetic art.

From the 1960s onwards, the photographer returned to the theatre, composing kinetic suites and visual scores for shows, in collaboration with the director Jacques Polieri, the mime Marceau and the dancer Muriel Jaer. Proposed in the form of concerts, known as “Music for the eyes”, or as a dialogue between the images projected onto the stage and the dynamics of the bodies involved, these attempts at a total work of art place photography at the centre of an expressive universe of music, dance and theatre.

Through a selection of works held by the Performing Arts Department and the Prints and Photography Department, enriched on this occasion thanks to the generosity of the Weill family, the exhibition provides an insight into the originality of the photographer’s artistic career as a whole.
This exhibition was conceived and organised by the Bibliothèque nationale de France in partnership with the Centro per la Fotografia dello Spettacolo di San Miniato (Italy) and the Association Etienne Bertrand Weill (Jerusalem), based on an original idea by Cosimo Chiarelli, winner of the Louis Roederer Bursary for Photography in 2008.