SPOILER ALERT: This is a thoroughly search-engine-enabled review; secrets are revealed.
Zoé Beausire's disarmingly simple book about three elderly individuals -- two women in the first half and a lone man in the hand-sewn volume's second half -- seems, at first glance, almost entirely unfounded. Why present these people? Why was Beausire, and consequently her audience, so fixed on their studied touches, static postures, and largely inaccessible eyes? Only after seeing the two women together in a frame is it, in fact, clear that they aren’t the same person.
Providing no textual explanation, this inscrutable publication insists that we linger, and look closely. As noted above, the women's eyes are remote. Even when they seem to face the camera, there is too much upper and lower eyelid and mascara in the way. Our connections to them are obstructed; despite varying degrees of undress and the textures of skin and clothing close at hand, these women seem muted, self-contained.
The tipped-in leporello, titled Huis Clos, unfolds accordion-fashion from the spread just after the book's middle sheet. Read closely, and lightly researched, it unlocks several truths related to Beausire's photographs. Translated from French, the title means camera, and also, in legal jargon, 'in camera' or in chambers -- in other words, a private conversation.
Remember, too, that 'camera' (Latin for room, or chamber) is both the tool photographers use and, in concert with the post-modifiers 'lucida' (light) and 'obscura' (dark), a conceptual precursor to the art of image-capture within the bounds of a cubic space or, projected, upon a receiving surface.
Here’s another kicker. Huis Clos is the title of Jean-Paul Sartre's 1944 Existentialist drama, known in English as No Exit. Jacqueline Audry directed the first film version of Sartre’s classic in 1954. An American version, directed by Tad Danielewski, appeared eight years later; its advertisements included the phrase "One man, two women, trapped by their own immorality!"
One filmed scene, of the man dancing with one of the women, is recreated as a still in the leporello—itself akin to a film strip, extending to the reader's left. A tall and somewhat younger-appearing man, not the man occupying the book's second half, is the male partner. Neither male figure, in Beausire's construction, hides his eyes.
And the thematic intersections continue. I don't believe that Beausire was out to create anything immoral or existentially provocative; her images are, though enigmatic, ultimately respectful, even tender. But her book makes for intriguing reading, with or without consciousness of its major reference. Though, dear reader, you've entered the chamber of knowledge. Sadly, you can't go back. Don't say I didn't warn you.
George Slade , a longtime contributor to photo-eye, is a photography writer, curator, historian and consultant based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He can be found on-line at http://rephotographica-slade.blogspot.com/