Charles Matton
Masoch mask in and out and self portrait


The Agathe Gallard gallery will be showing 30 unpublished photographs by Charles Matton from the 8 November to the 24 December 2011. This revelatory and unprecedented exhibition has been curated by Agathe Galliard, in which all the images are gelatine silver prints.

“Ingres said that the photograph is such a beautiful thing that it is not necessary to speak about it too much” Charles Matton liked to quote the painter that he admired.

Matton’s photographic oeuvre has, until now, remained largely unseen, stashed away in the drawers of his studio.

A virtuoso in all of the visual arts (painter, designer, sculptor, photographer and film director), Charles Matton nonetheless recognised the specificity, limits, borders of each medium.

He said that his visual research consisted of passing one art form to another, crossing borders like a smuggler, “encircling” his subjects, never giving special preference to any particular medium, yet aware of the capacities of each. Matton appreciated the unique properties of photography: the rapidity of execution, the intimacy of its testimony and the brutal, indexical precision of reportage.

Apart from the occasional exception, the only photographs which were exposed in the artist’s lifetime are those produced during the 1980s, at the time Matton was creating his so-called boites, or boxes. Photographs of the boxes served as references for paintings, helping the artist to restore a more human scale and investigate their architecture.

Matton’s relationship to photography can be seen from his early youth and adolescence; his gaze was intensely fixed in this wordless dialogue with the lens. Time is frozen in moments which reveal the powerful emotions of childhood – curiosity, discovery, love of life, humour. Soon Charles posed for the camera, learning to settle into the photograph’s tiny fraction of eternity, waiting for the click, the snap.

Later, Matton produced numerous self-portraits, pursuing the unfolding of time, at first through etudes, embodiments of the representability of life, and then fictional scenarios, manifestos and jokes. Self-portraits by Matton showing the artist at work reveal his painting methods but also, because of their long exposure times, show him as a blurred figure engaged in vital, energetic creation. Alongside these images, the series “I as another” (Je est un autre), which continued over three decades, comments ironically on his own resoluteness and integrity as an artist, deaf to the Sirens of contemporary art. The scope provided by the camera, as well as the apparatus of the camera itself, soon became a kind of accomplice, holding up a mirror to the world and encouraging the revelation of dark secrets, the destitution of consciousness.

Forms in Matton’s photographs appear amplified – the roundness of a skull or the belly of a pregnant woman. Details are picked out in shafts and streaks of light, punctuated by dramatic shadows. A triptych consisting of casts of a self-portrait mask highlights the power of negative space, reflections and voids embedded in mirror images. While the mask may be mute, Matton’s photographs are far from silent – they rustle with life, whispers and laughter, and sometimes with cries, as in these images of Louise, the scream, four variations.

The Photostats are the final, unique manifestation of Matton’s photographic work. In the late 1970s he experimented with this forerunner of the photocopy, now obsolete and destined to be known only to designers and magazine editors. Photostats were reproductions of black and white images on photographic paper, which accentuated contrasts and usually ended up in the bin after exhausting their usefulness.

Matton immersed the photostats in a solution of nitric acid, varying the submersion times according to his specific requirements. Using a particular light fixture allowed the production of images in a wide range of brown and coppery tones. In addition to these variations, individual pictures could yield different results in multiple exposures as part of a complex interplay of accentuations and dissolutions, attentive to the spasms of life and increasingly spectral.

In an additional step of this process, Matton rephotographed these unique works with Kodachrome film. Thus, step by step, each time losing descriptive clarity and allusive contrasts, going beyond the original pursuit of purity to a more personal, symbolic vision. 


Agathe Gallard Gallerie, Paris France

3 Rue du Pont Louis-Phillipe 75004 Paris