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Underground Art: Chris Marker's "PASSENGERS" Exhibit

A photo exhibit by Chris Marker.

Above: Two of three guides in Chris Marker's photography exhibit that explicitly link his vérité metro photography with classical painting.

We should thank the voracious observers among us for keeping a look out—they seem so few, amongst all the unquestioning images of the contemporary media.  Foremost among mobile visionaries, by age and certainly by reputation, is Left Bank quasi-nouvelle vague affiliate and all around proliferate and perspicacious explorer of images and interrogator of the world around us, Chris Marker.  He seems to be making less films these days (but that's okay, we should cut masters a break once they hit the 90-year mark, as Marker will this summer), but he is forever curious, sowing seeds across Flickr, the video game Second Life, and seemingly every media format in between.

Marker always—for me at least—comes as a surprise, even re-watching his (tragically few) canonical works La Jetée and Sans Soleil for the umpteenth time; and so did this: an exhibit of digital photographs by Marker taken in the Paris metro.  The exhibit is titled "PASSENGERS" and is currently on display through June 4 in New York across two separate gallery locations (Peter Blum in SoHo and in Chelsea) featuring different photographs.

The content of the photographs should come as no surprise. The loneliness, self-absorption, isolation and paradoxical intimacy of subway travelers should be as familiar to tourists (who view it as unique) as it is to inhabitants of cities with underground transit systems (who view such temporary states of existence as routine-everyday).  And indeed, Marker's images, all lo-fi consumer grade digital, accentuate the banality of the subject's "discovery."  But all it takes is for someone to pay attention—and with a marked attention (and preference for female faces, a Marker signature) the series strives not to re-cast or re-contextualize the spaces, the people or their existences through these photographs, but rather to pick up a pattern, catch it in surreptitious, fleeting glances.

Marker finds, in his secret photographs, expressions of reflection (on glass) and passing sadness and stoicism (on faces), of sculptural postures (of bodies), and the insistence, like that of the Impressionists over a hundred years before, that snatches of life pictured in all the fluidity of modern living and the inexactitude of modern perception (many images seem strangely manipulated, with low-grade pixelated flourishes and blurrings) can reveal a beauty that speaks towards ancient art at the same time it is utterly of the present.  A few markers (two above, one below) signal a guidance by the auteur; and the quote below, inspired by Cocteau, humbly says it best:

Cocteau used to say that at night, statues escape from museums and go walking in the streets.  During my peregrinations in the Paris Metro, I sometimes made such unusual encounters.  Models of famous painters were still among us, and I was lucky enough to have them sitting in front of me.  —Chris Marker

(Two details.)

(Two more details.)

(Above, instances of Marker's manipulation; above left is a detail.) 

(Detail in middle.)


Stunning set of photographs, Daniel. Thanks for posting this. Reminds me both of Wender’s Wings of Desire and Peleshian’s End, but they are distinctly Markerian as well. P.S: I didn’t quite understand your last statement. Are these shorts available for viewing, because I don’t see any of them available for streaming. May be it’s just because I’m not a Us/Canada resident?
Thanks JAFB! Yes, unfortunately you are correct, the Marker shorts on MUBI are for people accessing the site from the US or Canada only for now.
Have a look at Luc Delahaye’s “L’Autre”. Like Marker, this too is a series of portraits stolen on the Paris subway. Delahaye captures what happens when we believe ourselves to be alone and our alias is suspended. Delahaye photographs absence.
Since they are referred to as “secret photographs”, it sounds like he did not ask the models’ permission to use them (I don’t mean something as formal as a signed release), and if such is the case, I disapprove.
Tannhowser, “secret” was my word to describe the expression of the photographs, not the methodology of their taking, which I have no knowledge of.
Enjoyed the article, thanks much for the abundance of images too. Wonderful Cocteau quote, nicely photographed. On the question of secret photography, I do believe Marker used a hidden camera installed in a watch, though I can’t remember where I heard this bit of information. One thing I wanted to mention re. your video site for CM []: the image you use at the top is actually not Marker. He is and has always has been to my knowledge a thin man. He may have been behind the camera in this shot, but he is not in front of it. You might want to use this one instead: – though he would of course prefer an image of Guillaume, his avatar cat and oftentimes ‘spokesperson’ (ha). Cheers!
I agree, the image you are using on this site for Chris Marker bears no resemblance to any of the extant photos/film/video of him that I have seen. I likewise agree that to use a real image of Marker would kind of be blasphemous. Also, I asked at the gallery and was told that a secret watch-camera was not used this time, but simply a non-specified digital camera.
Thanks John for the clarification on the camera. Also seems there’s a new image (from SL). That certainly works!

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