By overlaying his photographs with textual forms in black or white ink, François-Marie Banier enhances them in a way that allows two creative elements to manifest themselves simultaneously in his large format prints. What was originally in the pictures remains visible despite the superimposition of the written passages. Opaque white inscriptions lighten areas of shadow, while dense blocks of texts written in black over lighter areas are like pre-established gradations of symbolic structures. The eye is not immediately drawn to these fascinatingly devious experiments in intermediality, and the influence of the literary script on a particular area of the photograph becomes a self-referential process. Objectively speaking, photography still plays a key role in this formal transformation – despite the enhancing effect of the writing. It seems likely that no actual message is intended by the writing that vies with the visual image: what we have here is the visual equivalent of the ‘cut-up technique’.
The most important conclusion we can draw from this is that Banier has transposed ways of seeing into ways of thinking. But it may not be too bold to suggest that, regardless of what may be said in praise of the pictures, this approach to their subject might enable us to cast them as a kind of storyboard. The specifically poetic, literary, notational language used produces an intermediary effect, and in this respect it is useful to consider the written forms as akin to ‘directions’. The various states that punctuate the process of this photography could be
interpreted as resembling the directions for a film; the written features are like traces of memory, and the texts seem to make their way across the photos in pursuance of some vague hope or some distant goal.
Every stage and every state of the process has its own unique quality. A picture is always finished when it no longer potentializes an error that was there from the outset.
We quickly understand the subtle relationship that underlies Banier’s passion for taking pictures. Clearly the writing process comes into its own once the image has been enlarged, dynamic passages adding to one another in many shapes and guises, dividing, mutually contrasting and conveying something essentially poetic: an impression of duality. A unique phenomenon emerges between image and text: a hypertext continuum, a ‘script’
which once again makes my storyboard metaphor seem singularly appropriate. One casts one’s mind back to other methods: back to Gaston Chaissac’s texted Art Brut drawings, for instance. In some instances Banier has written fervent trails of letters on large format photos, piling up texts to produce what is ultimately an “action drawing“. The observer’s eye bypasses all these doubled-up procedures and sees the picture as a whole, even if parts of the visual motif will always inevitably be obscured because here and there the script has been deliberately placed over the details, completely obliterating parts of the photo.
The process recalls the collage techniques of artists like Schwitters or Klee, or Burroughs when he moved from Tangiers to Paris in 1958 and made his home in the legendary Beat Hotel at 9, Rue Git-le-Coeur. He arrived
with a suitcase full of manuscripts from which he pieced together The Naked Lunch, and over the following years, with the help of Jack Kerouac, he assembled The Ticket That Exploded, The Soft Machine and Nova Express
from some 1,000 single pages of writing. Finished texts were folded, torn, or cut up according to certain rules, and the resulting combinations recorded.
François-Marie Banier does not regard his method as a fundamental critique of language, the prime medium in our society, nor does what he writes on his pictures refer to describable worlds. Language is used here as a system of signs, and one contemplates the large format photographs as one would an open window. The bodies of text form layerings and discrete areas that conflict with the picture beneath; they are visual pointers, snatches of conversation, stutters, acts of self-mutilation. The eye sees an aggressively inscribed picture-space, the array of black and white segments of writing forming processions of letters like the crowds in James Ensor’s Christ’s Entry into Brussels.
The writing sets things in motion, and once the photographs are enlarged and the attractions of the field of experiment become visible, we should do our utmost to learn to switch back and forth between two ways of reading.
This text was written by Dieter Appelt, published on the occasion of the release of the exhibition catalog Written photos which took place at Villa Oppenheim in Berlin from the 28th of september until the 25th of november 2007.