Etienne Conte: Eye Witness

By Ellen Turner Hall

Draps de RosesFor someone who describes himself as shy, Etienne Conte overcomes his natural reticence when talking about photography. A native of Roussillon, he describes himself as a “flaneur”, strolling, gazing, and letting his eye stray where it will. 

An activity that appears so casual is in fact the result of a life devoted to mastering different techniques in the service of the image: as a graphic designer, creating commercial posters, and then working in Indian ink before turning to photography 30 years ago. Etienne Conte started to frequent photography clubs, learning as he went along, participating in group shows and finally in solo exhibitions. After 2000 he experimented with digital photography. Once he was satisfied with the print and paper quality of the new technology, he adapted his material and methods.

Raie de lumièreZen-like, his images eliminate all but the essential. Often his eye is focused on a single object: a length of rope washed up on the sand, a heap of rocks in the middle of a field or a single post seemingly supporting the horizon. Sometimes the juxtaposition of two forms, like a merry-go-round and a palm tree, strikes us with their structural similarity. Then there are pure strokes of genius where Conte works with light to create memorable images: a single hand lit like a Caravaggio painting or a vase reflecting earth and heaven.

Conte’s photographs seem to suggest a world beyond the image. The series devoted to the Hotel Belvedere in Cerbère, for instance, implies its past elegance. The former Nobel factory at Paulilles moved Conte to photograph the dust, the abandon and ruin.  Solitude and silence inhabit the artist’s images and provide the frame for our own interpretation.

“You are responsible for what you see,” Conte believes.

To document past exhibitions in Perpignan, Avignon, Toulouse and Montpellier Etienne Conte has created hand-made books. Here the artist’s attention to detail is felt in the grain of the paper and seen in the clarity of the colours.

You can see a selection of Conte’s beguiling images at the Galerie Therese Roussel in Perpignan from 13 January to 10 February, from Tuesday to Saturday in the afternoons.

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