reviews

LAURENCE DEMAISON
Autoportraits

Chronogram Magazine, Arts & Culture Forecast - May 2009
Damsel in Distress by Sparrow

Everyone has an urge to save a drowning woman-but some women don't wish to be saved. Laurence Demaison is one of them. Dozens of times, she has "drowned" herself, for the cause of art. "Autoportraits," a show of Demaison's photographs, will appear at the Galerie BMG in Woodstock, beginning May 22.

Demaison is a self-taught photographer. All her work is black-and-white, taken with a Contax 645. She appears in each picture (but not very recognizably). There is no digital process. It's all real film; nothing is Photoshopped. Demaison achieves her effects through reflections on water and glossy black paper. She develops the film herself.

Originally, Demaison worked with a model, but she eventually began taking photos only of herself, partly to limit expenses. "She doesn't feel that they're self-portraits at all," notes Bernard Gerson, director of Galerie BMG. "They're not about her. She's using the reflecting and distorting qualities of the water or the glossy paper to make phantoms, ghosts of herself. She disappears from the image." Demaison built a glass tank, the size of a coffin, to lie in while modeling for her photos. This human aquarium exploits the refractions of water.

Demaison typically writes her life story with startling brevity, on her website:
Born in 1965
1984-88 Strasbourg School of Architecture
1990 First experiments with photography
1993 First self-portraits
Living in Strasbourg with the photographer Patrick Bailly-Maître-Grand

Thus her entire life becomes an elusive five-line poem. Demaison has always lived in Strasbourg, France, and dislikes travel. She told Gerson immediately that she would not visit Woodstock, although this is her first show in the United States. In fact, Demaison rarely visits her Parisian gallery.

A woman's body is a prison. She is at the mercy of all men's eyes. All day, she must calculate how pretty she is, and why. Every female knows exactly how wide her hips are, how long her arms. Demaison attempts to escape from the female prison, to dissolve the self, or to shatter it.

Gerson first saw Demaison's work at the yearly Association of International Photography Dealers show in 2008. He was immediately impressed by her originality. Last June, Gerson and his wife Judi journeyed to Strasbourg to visit Demaison. Though they had seen dozens of her photos, they didn't recognize the photographer when she met them at the railroad station. "She carried a copy of her book; that's the only way we were able to pick her out," Gerson explained. Demaison had successfully erased her visual identity.

Gerson visited the artist's studio, which is in her house. He was surprised that she collects the same sort of objects he does: drinking glasses and bottles. "There must have been 40 clock faces just in the bathroom!" he said. (Gerson himself collects clocks.)

"Autoportraits" will appear at the Galerie BMG, 12 Tannery Brook Road, Woodstock, May 22 to June 29. (845) 679-0027; www.galeriebmg.com.


Woodstock Times - May 21, 2009
Paper Phantoms by Paul Smart


There's something classic about French photographer Laurence Demaison's black and white "autoportraits," which will be getting their first major U.S. showing in a new exhibition opening this weekend at Galerie BMG on Tannery Brook this Friday, May 22. But classic in a 20th century modernist way.

DeMaison uses herself as not so much a subject for her work, but as a constant for her to focus her stylistic experimentations around. It's an easy way to get beyond the manipulation of models that has characterized so many before her, as well as the manipulation of image inherent in the post-modern work of a Cindy Sherman or William Wegman (okay, he uses a dog, but...).

It feels natural to find out that the Strasbourg-based artist works at home, obsessively...or "obstinately engaged," as she likes to put it. These pieces are not about how we explore our own bodies and selves, but how we see. They're like paintings, reminiscent of what the great Francis Bacon would do to figures. Yet solid photographs, silver-printed (albeit on a variety of surfaces) where what we see is broken down by mirrors, reflections, fun-house devices are utilized as a metaphoric tool.

At first, they can remind one of Man Ray and other great Surrealist experimenters. Faces are distorted, or captured in droplets of what could be tears on the artist's face. A body becomes a silhouette made up solely of open-palmed hands, or a death mask, a blotted-out visage caught from some nightmare. But then the endless experimentation moves beyond such simple categories.

Her own writings tend to focus on the technical, the medium. She may share with Ray and Ernst, Magritte and Bunuel a basic reluctance to explain what she's up to. But the mixture of elements she is working, from a concentration on process and a dialectic between surface qualities and an audience's will to find representation in what they see, beyond surface beauties, as well as some meaning in any manipulation, lends her something more than a drastic classicism.

DeMaison's work is post-Modern, albeit in a more subtle, Europeanized-fashion than much of what we've become used to in standard shock-value American art shows.

The BMG show, a break away from the artist's string of European successes, including a finely received series of books in recent years, came about after gallery owners Bernard and Judy Gerson saw the woman's work at the annual AIPAD photographer's art fair in New York and decided they had to meet her. After visiting her Paris gallery a year ago, the two traveled to Strasbourg to meet DeMaison in person. Within half an hour, she had decided to her first American solo exhibition...in Woodstock.

The result, the Gersons have pointed out, has put together pieces representing several of the artist's recent series, with an eye to exemplifying, "the contradictions of attraction and repulsion; the desire to exist, yet disappear" inherent in her work (as well as so many of our own inner selves.)

The artist came to her concentration in photography, and herself as model, in 1990, after getting a degree in architecture following a number of years experimenting in various art forms.

She has sometimes called her creations "paper phantoms," and noted her process' deep involvement in silence and solitude as one of its avenues of exploration...and strengths.

Forget the 20th century... DeMaison's work is solidly of the twenty-first.


Metroland - May 21, 2009
Museums and Galleries


French photographer Laurence Demaison has her first U.S. gallery exhibition in Woodstock, at Galerie BMG, beginning this weekend. An architect who turned to photography almost two decades ago, Demaison became primarily interested in female portrait - which, eventually, became self-portraiture.

Yet, you'll notice that images like Eautre (pictured) are from conventional. As the gallery notes explain about the evolution of her technique, "Rather than portraying her body as it was, she sought to conceal, modify, even destroy it and reconstruct it in a form more acceptable to her."

All of the effects re created "in camera" and these are silver gelatin (not digital) prints made "in her own darkroom".

Laurence Demaison: Autoportraits opens tomorrow (Friday, May 22) and runs through June 29 at Galerie BMG.