French artist Didier Naert re-imagines the past at Sofitel Dubai Jumeirah
French artist Didier Naert re-imagines the past using a series of vintage photographs in his latest exhibition ‘Imaginary Extensions’. Chanelle Tourish caught up with the artist to learn more about his process…
‘Old images are an enigma for me because we don’t know why they have been taken, or by whom,’ says French photographer Didier Naert. With a desire and curiosity to dig into the past, the Rome-based artist’s latest exhibition, ‘Imaginary Extensions’, showcases vintage images combined with an imagined setting.
On display at Plantation in Sofitel Dubai Jumeirah Beach until Friday July 31, the show consists of 25 compositions. Each image explores the potential reality and an imaginary world of decades gone by, as seen through Naert’s eyes. ‘I scan and enlarge old pictures and then I design around them,’ he says. ‘You have to look at each one quietly, with attention, because it can reveal a lot of meanings. I take photographs that were asleep and bring them back to life again.’
A qualified architect and movie set designer, Naert is clearly inspired by the film industry in which he works. He begins his process by printing on aluminium or black paper board and then draws with gouache paint around the vintage prints, giving the images a dreamlike quality. He describes each drawing as an ‘extension of the imagination, not the reality’.
‘Focusing on the streets of Paris in the ’50s and ’60s, I try to find out what each old photograph I choose reveals to people. You can add two pictures together and make them fit. They could be pictures from different times, but there’s a way to link them,’ Naert says. He received many vintage photographs from Alexandre Trauner, a renowned French production designer and former mentor to the photographer, who also worked on movies with well-known French film director Marcel Carne in the ’40s. Trauner shot the chosen images while scouting locations for Carne’s productions.
One of Naert’s works, ‘Belles de jour’, taken by Alexandre Trauner in 1961, sees a group of women standing side-by-side in a street, dressed in the typical fashion of the decade. He says that with such images he is essentially trying to capture history, as not to ‘forget’ the nuances of an era. ‘I was young at this time and these districts are either gone or renewed, so the spirit has disappeared. It’s not a nostalgic feeling, but it’s my attempt to not forget.’
Another image that Naert admires is taken from Billy Wilder’s film Irma La Douce. Shot in 1961, the picture was captured in Paris as research in preparation to build the set for the movie in a studio in Los Angeles. ‘These images are framed as if they would be shot with a camera,’ Naert explains. ‘When you work in film you are always obsessing about the frame. When the director of photography comes on set, he will use the best positions for the frame to recreate the atmosphere of Paris of this time.’
In each of Naert’s images, the photographer sketches with precise detail in an attempt to reflect the period of the image captured. We can see the artist’s imaginary scenario in his rendering of the architecture of the day or the furnishings of a typical Parisian café. But in rendering these images, he says that, like in cinema, the use of less is more. ‘In cinema production you don’t have to add things, you have to take off a lot,’ he says. ‘In my extensions I show the minimum detail but each drawing has an exact meaning. For example, the design of a chair used can help people understand where you are because the style is typically French.’
Naert also applies acrylic paint to the vintage photographs to create various scenes. In ‘Notre Dame’ he takes two images, one by Eugene Atget captured in 1880, and the other by an anonymous photographer taken in 1960. Despite the images having been taken in different centuries, Naert links them by painting what he sees to be the setting of these images, resulting in a stunning visual effect. ‘I am moulding the past,’ he states. ‘I love pictures and I spend a lot of time looking at them because I learn more from them than a newspaper of the day would tell me. Photographers have an enormous capacity for memory, but at the same time, little pictures that you find in a wooden box can reveal a lot.’
‘Imaginary Extensions’ goes beyond the lens of a camera to reveal more than just a captured glimpse of history, with each image telling a story of its own – whether real or imagined. Free to attend. Works range from Dhs4,800-16,000. Until July 31. Plantation, Sofitel Dubai Jumeirah Beach, The Walk, JBR (04 448 4848).
Three affordable photography retailers
Drawdeck Choose from a variety of original works from the online gallery featuring international artists. From US$15 (Dhs55) for small prints to US$40 (Dhs146) for larger ones. www.drawdeck.com.
Gallery One The store sells canvas prints, fine art photography, framed art and more. Prices vary. Various locations including The Dubai Mall, Downtown Dubai, www.g-1.com (04 434 1252).
Ikea For photography of famous cityscapes such as New York, London and Paris, Ikea sells images ranging from as little as Dhs15, to larger canvas frames for Dhs625. From Dhs15. Dubai Festival City, www.ikea.com (04 203 7555).