Photographer Clarisse d’Arcimoles went to Central Saint Martins to study Set Design for Performance before going on to take a postgraduate course in photography. Her work today perfectly mixes these two subjects, resulting in beautifully crafted photographs and multi-sensory engaging installations.
At the heart of Clarisse’s work is the theme of time which she approaches uniquely, setting her apart from her peers. The photographic project Forget Nostalgia reflects Clarisse’s radical recreation of a time past.
Clarisse explained “Forget Nostalgia is a photographic project in which I am imagining what my photographic life at the local photographer’s studio would have been in Great Britain a century ago. I focus my attention on this chapter in history of self-presentation when people have dressed and posed for their portraits so that future generations can see them in their best.”
The resultant photographs show a Victorian dressed Clarisse in a variety of carefully constructed settings. Whilst the various costumes and careworn edges of each image authentically imitate photographs taken a century ago, Clarisse reflects a sense of self into the images as well. This transforms them into a wry presentation of how a progressive photographer like Clarisse would be working a hundred years ago. ‘Two Lovers’ epitomises Clarisse’s humorous approach, with the photographer dressed as both man and woman, playing each as a lover of herself. Although her male and female guises are equally believable, her two photographed selves sit rather comically in a painting of a boat, clearly set within a studio. In this not-so-subtle cue to the viewer that what they are seeing is staged, Clarisse is showing that she is imagining and interpreting life a century ago, not trying to reproduce it; Imagination, creation and exploration are all at play and visible to the viewer.
This is a key distinction in her work, as she frequently looks back in order to look forward. She manages to beautifully combine the contradictions and similarities between past and present life to create visually intriguing photographs. The oxymoronic title of the project Forget Nostalgia signifies her ability to transgress time through memory, creating truly unforgettable images along the way.
In the project, Un-Possible Retour she re-photographed images of her family from old pictures in family albums. In one sense, the images are almost like a study of how people present themselves to the camera, the physical performance of oneself. As the title reveals, she is unable to 'retour' yet somehow she is able to create a link, weaving together disparate moments, connecting them through a meticulously staged recreation of that click of the camera that happened so long ago.
The images undoubtably would not be nearly as successful without the personal connection she holds to each of her sitters. The image ‘Contact Sheet (My Mother)’ shot in 2010 perfectly recreates old school photographs of her mother in the same round collared top. What makes the images in this series, Un-possible Retour, so mesmerising is the duplication of her mother's expression. In the photographs her eyes seem to convey the exact same emotion, the young and older versions of her mother perfectly mirroring one another in feeling, as well as in appearance. It raises questions of what it means to be the same person over your life.
Photography is uniquely tied to time, unlike any other medium. A photograph documents a moment, captured for eternity. However, Clarisse uses the inherent characteristics of the medium back on itself to tell us something. You cannot go back to the past through photography, but you can see what the past looked like in order better understand the present.
To keep up to date with Clarisse’s upcoming shows and announcements you can follow her on:
About the Writer
Isabel Casey: I’m a History of Art graduate from the University of Manchester, currently pursuing a career in the contemporary art world. In my free time I venture around London visiting new exhibitions to inspire my own artistic practise.