MEP: Love Songs: Photography and Intimacy



The spring 2022 season at European deputy speaks of Love with a capital ‘L’: all its possible joys and all its potential tribulations; love in all its complexity and mystery; and all the daily poetry that love can reveal. The great exhibition Love songs is a deliberately romantic proposal to rethink the history of photography, including some of its most famous names and defining works. The exhibition was conceived in relation to the old idea of ​​homemade musical compilations that people offered (for a while at least) and exchanged with their lovers. One of the reasons Love Songs recalls this tradition, albeit visually rather than musically, is the sense of being immersed in the emotional landscapes of people we know (people we love) through words, ideas and the emotions of people we don’t know. By choosing a playlist of songs that speak to us about singers we admire, we somehow offer the feelings expressed to our lovers as our own. And by doing this very intimate “curatorial” work and by sharing it, we allow ourselves to say things that we rarely say, or that we say to ourselves very badly, through a kind of appropriate poetry.

All artists from Love songs and, indeed, those chosen for both Studios for this season, tried to capture something of the essence of love for themselves with the camera. However, they did this not only to show what it means (or meant) to them personally, but also what it could mean to us as viewers. In any case, the intimacies revealed are based not only on great photographic art, but on the emotional generosity of the artists, the willingness to share with us not only their work, but their life and their loves.

Simon Boulanger
Director of the MEP and curator of the exhibition Love songs

The collective exhibition Love songs offers a whole new vision of the history of photography through the prism of intimate relationships, such as those between lovers. Bringing together 14 series from some of the most important photographers of the 20th and 21st centuries, it includes both masterpieces from the MEP collection and works on loan from important contemporary artists, many of whom will be on display for the first time. in Europe. As such, Love Songs will show both the importance of this subject to those working now as well as its rich history.

At the heart of the exhibition, and forming the double starting point of the story it offers, are striking series by Nobuyoshi Araki and Nan Goldin. These key works will be exhibited in relation to those produced by other great historical figures including Larry Clark, Emmet Gowin, René Groebli, Hervé Guibert, Sally Mann and Alix Cléo Roubaud, as well as series by leading contemporary artists such as JH Engström & Margot Wallard, Leigh Ledare, RongRong&inri, Collier Schorr, Hideka Tonomura and Lin Zhipeng (alias #223).

Inspired by Nan Goldin’s “Ballad” (“The Ballad of Sex Addiction”, 1986), Love Songs is conceived and organized as a music compilation or mix tape given to a lover, with the A-side, the first half of the show, consisting of the series from 1950-1990 and Side B, the second half from 1980 to today.

Taking us through many different stories and scenarios photographed between different couples and situations, from the early days of an affair, through weddings, honeymoons, domestic bliss and the pain of separation, to the final days shared between loves, the intimacies shared on the film are revealed in all their poetry and honesty.

Love Songs, however, is above all a proposition about the nature of photography: the fact that although the camera is often thought of as ‘objective’, it has frequently been used to record something about which we do not we can agree on almost nothing. , objectively speaking – something entirely subjective. We may not agree on what love is, or what it’s supposed to look like, how it makes us look or how it makes us see, but it has been the subject of some of the work most important and moving photographs of the last century. .

Another history of photography

Love and intimacy have inspired many great artists to produce moving and meaningful photographic works throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

“Sentimental Journey” (1971) and “Winter Journey” (1989-90) by Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki, and “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency” (1973-1986) by American photographer Nan Goldin are among the most compelling examples of this practice. .

Love songs proposes to situate these two series in the context of the work of other major photographers, who have all pushed the limits of the representation of intimacy within their practice. Composed of powerful works by French and international artists, from the 1950s to the present day, the Love Songs exhibition offers a whole new history of photography.

Love, a way of seeing

Love Songs is also a proposal on romantic relationships explored through the question of the gaze. Although love can be considered a kind of universal experience, the exhibition shows how, in reality, it is inseparable from subjectivity, and the way we “look” and “see” during love can change. entirely how we see the world around us. In “The Eye of Love”, for example, René Groebli photographs his young wife, the moments of closeness they share, and invites us as spectators to share a look that transforms everyday life. Through Emmet Gowin’s lens, however, family and domestic life are treated as precious, almost sacred subjects. Elsewhere, Sally Mann explores how the loving gaze treats the body of a loved one when it falters from illness, reflecting on issues of trust, kindness and acceptance. In her Double Bind project, Leigh Ledare juxtaposes her own images of her ex-wife Meghan Ledare-Fedderly with photographs of her taken by her new husband; here the photographer questions the representation of the same model in the context of two different intimate relationships. Depicting different ways of loving, different sexual orientations, and different types of relationships, Love Songs invites viewers to immerse themselves in a variety of personal worlds and experience different subjective views of love.

When photography meets intimacy

By focusing on how photographers create works of art inspired by their personal lives, Love songs also seeks to question the potential and limits of the photographic medium. He wonders if love can ever truly be “captured” on film or if the “objectivity” of the camera makes it impossible. But more than that, what could these works say about the role that photographers give to us, to us spectators? If photographers cannot be accused of voyeurism when it comes to their own lives, what effect does this access to privacy have on the public? The works of Hervé Guibert and Alix Cléo Roubaud, in which we enter the intimacy of the bedrooms or the bathrooms that the artists occupy with their loved ones, could even give us the impression of taking the place of this ” other” intimate. the photograph. With couples of artists working together like JH Engström & Margot Wallard or RongRong&inri, the spectator, once again placed at the heart of their relationship, alternates, taking the place of one partner, then the other.

Love Songs: Photography and Intimacy
March 30 ‒ August 21, 2022
MEP European House of Photography
5/7 rue de Fourcy
75004 ParisFrance

On the occasion of the exhibition Love songs, a catalog is co-published by MEP and Atelier EXB. It includes all the series presented in the exhibition as well as lovesody by Motoyuki Daifu and another love story by Karla Hiraldo Voleau, which were presented during the same period at the Studio, the MEP’s exhibition space dedicated to emerging artists. Introductory essay by Simon Baker, director of the MEP and curator of the exhibition.

Love songs, Photographs of the intimate, edited by Atelier EXB. Texts in French, hardcover, format 19.5x27cm, 224 pages, 230 images, €45.

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