Written and Photographed by Jean-luc Bertini
Mirror Effect – Text from the book American Solitudes
In summer 2008, I spent two months driving around the Northeast USA, thinking all the time of my mother’s death, which happened virtually the day before I left. I was devastated and yet I did not cancel the trip. If I was going to cry, I thought, I might as well do it at the wheel of an old Mercury. I had no precise plan when I set out, except that I wanted to take pictures. In the end, this went on for ten years, with as many journeys. All those years, my method hardly changed: I aimed for a broad geographical area, noted the main towns that helped me draw a line around it, then drove around in my rented car for a few weeks, on the lookout.
In this way, I covered the country in discrete bursts, at slow speed, varying the season. For a long time, the only thing on my horizon was the next journey. I didn’t spend long in the places I drove through and felt more like a outsider looking in, not really on their wavelength, as I was always just passing through; and in those fleeting journeys, I observed ordinary life in the motels (their only charm the lore of that world), in diners that smelt of frying, in gas stations or in supermarkets, places that I haunted several times a day, and finally, from the car that swallowed up half my time. And if what I desired was to concentrate on catching everyday scenes, what obsessed me was finding their figurative extensions, the way you try to make your own fantasies become real.
Robert Frank said that he learned to love this country by photographing it. That was some sixty years ago, an America was on the threshold of major mutations (the construction of the interstate highways, mass retail chains, etc.) that would soon transform its profile. I sometimes wonder if, in the end, it didn’t work the other way around for me. I mean that after all that traveling round the country, all I could see was the excess, the waste, the social injustice, the extremes, foremost among which is this unfortunate need to occupy space, as
if the hunger for comfort refused any limits. But I distrust prejudices, narrow, entrenched, volatile prejudices – starting with my own. And also, since most of the time I was on my own, it is likely that the tormented
solitude of my own travels merged with all other forms of loneliness I saw in front of me.
And so it was that I photographed this country, and the Americans, on the road, as I thought I saw them. And if, as Walker Evans said, the secret of photography lies in the fact that the camera takes on the character and personality of the person using it, then no doubt I was just questioning my own vision of America, and focusing on my own kinds of solitudes.
Jean-Luc Bertini, like Walker Evans, dreamed of being a writer before becoming a photographer.
From his literary training, he has kept this same attention to reality and this taste for stories.
A recognized portrait painter, he pursues several long-term projects that regularly take him from east to west.
Whether for his first book ( Solovki, la bibliothèque perdue, Le Bec en l’Air, 2014) or the one he dedicated to American writers ( Amérique, des écrivains en liberté, Albin Michel, 2016), his work questions the fragile place of man at the heart of his environment.
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