Isabelle Waternaux, photographer. #1

Isabelle Waternaux likes film photography. She prefers it to digital, considering that the latter format is too flat, cold, without grain, in a word: dead. Waternaux loves beauty, and life. We have an example with the dancer Emmanuelle Huynh. Let’s start with this portrait:

Isabelle Waternaux, “Portraits singulier pluriel – Emmanuelle Huynh”, Polaroid 4×5 inch, 1996

We have the idea of chiaroscuro, but often, in photography, chiaroscuro is Black and White. Here it is color, but dark. It is of a nobility, this face. Nobility which comes to oppose, by the play of the forms, with the osseous structure; everything is salient on the body of a dancer. This salience, shoulder, clavicle and clavicular head, comes to contrast with the softness of the female face. This is what also interests Waternaux, in his search for points of balance between feminine/masculine, softness and hardness (skin and bone), ambiguity of human bodies. Buddhist lips on chest.

Distance is taken:

Isabelle Waternaux, “Portraits singulier pluriel – Emmanuelle Huynh_3”, Polaroid Polacolor 100, 1996

The chest recomposes with the face, the softness resumes on the bone (2 against 1). But we see this greenish tone (already captured in the first photo). Where does it come from? Why is there so much green on the epidermis? As I’ve been told, it is the film which, by itself, turned green. However, there is no green on a living body, it is an absent color. Now this body has become statuary. The noblest statuary is often of bronze. Bronze oxidizes. QED. 

And then there is the movement.

Isabelle Waternaux,  “Série Stillness – Emmanuelle Huynh_3”, Pentax 6×7, négatif argentique, 2001

Dancing. Contortion. Often dance evokes fluidity, or rigidity; seldom the fold, not of the limbs, but of the skin. Contortion (etym. « gestes outrés ») implies muscles, limbs, bones, and skin, and, in this arrest, one distinguishes these folds of the back, the folds of the rhythm, the weight of the body on the folded leg, the flatness of the back, the lumbar dimples; a course of the rhythm. And then one will note the chromatic variations of the skin, passing from marbled purple to white, from gold to cream. And certainly that the argentic allows these epidermic variations, and all on the same body. Argentic, it is the grain. There is no grain in digital, it is smoothed out; just as most CDs have smoothed out the warmth and roundness of vinyl, and even, in the digital literature, grain seems to have become one of the defects to be erased, to be avoided; redhibitory. What a technicist obscurantism! Because it is however what likes so much Waternaux, one thinks, this sensuality of the grain, so close to life.

Body in process (fuzzy ponytail).

Another proces. Trembling fall, making us squint at the flank, the hand, the leg; but a blur or like a supplemental lining of the body. The ribs forward, without breath, toppling into the off-screen, outside the frame. Body cut in the plan by the diagonal of the gracilis and the edge of the wall. But, does this body fall or is it caught? Drawn in by what? By whom? The room capsizes.

Isabelle Waternaux,  “Série Stillness – Emmanuelle Huynh_2”, Pentax 6×7, négatif argentique, 2001

Waternaux knows how to capture corporeality, which is not always obvious, even for a photographer. We know, in photography, bodies, faces, inexpressive and hollow (see here). To make a body speak, to make it give, is not easy. Of course a dancer’s body, a sportsman’s body (his famous portrait of football player Éric Cantona, here), speaks; because it is a body on and in which one works, when most bodies do not work, are not at work, sportingly, muscularly speaking. A dancer’s body, certainly, is the one that speaks the most, because it is often close to, or a paragon of, perfection. One would not say as much about bodybuilders’ bodies, for example, because everything is excessive, outré, disharmonic; however, the beauty of a body holds precisely in its harmony, which, to be well played, with thus need of form, muscle, and flesh. The body-builder’s body cancels the sexual difference; nothing there. The worked body of the dancer combines the three: feminine, masculine, gender-trouble. It is surely what is most moving in a human body; its beauty, and its oscillation. And only this oscillation freezes and flickers in the rendering of the grain. The body of a brute may fascinate, but beauty captivates.

Léon Mychkine

(art-critic, poet, philosopher, writer)