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Matinee: 'Sophie Calle' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

15 March 2014

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the twenty-fourth in our series of Saturday matinees today: Sophie Calle appearing at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco on March 30, 2011.

Calle's appearance was the last in the college's Photography Lecture Series that year and was cosponsored by Pier 24 Photography, a partnership that continues with a lecture by Michael Wolf on March 18.

The nearly two-hour production owes its length in part to Calle's taking questions during the lecture rather than at the end to prevent becoming bored by a lack of feedback, as she puts it. Despite the poor lighting (which renders her like a shade), you won't be bored either, though. Her stories involve magical and entertaining events that take place in a familiar landscape.

As photography professor Jim Goldberg says in his charming introduction, Calle puts images and text together in a way almost no one else can.

That approach means her work is usually seen in the context of an exhibition and the slides she shows are mainly of installations. So the stories she tells are the main attraction of this lecture.

But have no doubt she can shoot. She was the 2010 Hasselblad Award winner. The Hasselblad Foundation described her work:

Calle's work often has the character of a personal diary that tells of human vulnerability and intimacy. Her "True Stories" are depictions of a deeply private world. She portrays themes such as unhappy love and dissatisfaction with her own appearance in a factual, analytical way. At the same time, these works can seduce us with tales of romantic escapades and humor. She tickles viewers by exposing her intimate fantasies and loves for voyeuristic observation in a public context. Her photographs leave the viewer with traces of bittersweet passion and nostalgia. These autobiographical works seize upon photography's fundamental ability to capture time passed and to immortalize memories.

She discovered herself as an artist in Bolinas, Calif. when she photographed gravestones in the local cemetery. But she begins her lecture at the end, with a show about her mother's death, and continues telling her story backwards.

She wanted to be sure to attend her mother's last breath but realized she couldn't be there 24 hours a day. So she decided to install a video camera in her mother's room, which had two strange effects.

The first was that she began to worry more about how much time was left on the tape than in her mother's life, a displacement of worry she appreciated. The second was that the camera was a reassuring presence for her mother, assuring her that Sophie was still keeping watch even when she couldn't be there.

How she disposes of her mother's wedding ring and why we'll leave her to show and tell.

She continues, project by project (skipping a few), showing the images, stopping for questions, discussing a project she did with a clairvoyant, another with 107 professional women interpreting a letter, an amusing phone booth installation for the city of Paris, the search for the angels in Los Angeles that made her a success (and turned up a real one in Frank Gehry), being followed by a private detective 20 years after doing a similar project, a project on the families of people who have disappeared, a 16-year project about failure, each one as interesting as the last.

But don't miss the problem of her own grave around 1:24:13. It ties everything together. As only a very good storyteller can do.

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