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Alessandra Sanguinetti’s Real and Mythical France

Alessandra Sanguinetti’s new body of work “Le Gendarme Sur La Colline” (The Policeman on the Hill), explores France as a real place and as a theatrical, mythical idea. The work, made for Immersion, A French American Photography Commission, a program between the Fondation d’entreprise Hermès and Aperture Foundation, is in a show opening April 27 at Aperture’s New York City gallery and on view until June 29, and published in a book from Aperture out this summer. In images made on a trip around the country, from Calais to Marseilles to Paris, set in green villages and suburban housing developments, Sanguinetti finds poetic moments in everyday life, grounded equally in allusions to French fairy tales and to evidence of the country’s new immigrants.

Children appear throughout the series, but as Susan Bright notes in the book’s essay, the roles played by ethnically French children and those whose roots are elsewhere, are quite different. In two images, “a young blond boy plays pétanque [a French game of “boules,” or balls] and a girl is carefree in the Tuileries garden in central Paris,” both pictures of lighthearted fun within the bounds of tradition.”Compare these,” she writes, “with the spaces where immigrant children are photographed.” A boy with a shaved head looks to a ship just off shore, and young men sit on a field of brown grass in Marseilles’s Quartiers Nord, the city’s immigrant neighborhood.

The color red often appears as a backdrop, giving Sanguinetti’s subjects the air of characters on stage. There are red velvet curtains in several portraits, the red covering of movie theater seats and a red sofa that frames a girl with dark hair, who turns her head away from the camera. Animals also appear throughout—llamas graze at a housing complex, a boy confronts a horse in a field outside of town, and a man pulls a donkey by a rope, suggesting the kind of fables where human and animal lives intertwine. As Bright points out, there is a powerful connection between performance, transformation and immigration. “Metamorphosis often defines a fairy tale: the transformation of actor into character lies at the heart of theater.” It is also, she writes, “the story of immigrants, who must shape-shift to fit in.”

Related Stories:
Light Work’s Legacy
Making Up ‘Lost Time’
Notable Books 2010 The Adventures of Guille and Belinda and the Enigmatic Meaning of their Dreams, by Alessandra Sanguinetti (for PDN subscribers; login required)

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