I recently had the pleasure of reviewing the extraordinary Picturing Derry photojournalist exhibition at the Void Gallery, which will be showing in the Grand Hall in Stormont from August 12th, for the arts journal Studio International (formerly The Studio). It was a pleasure not just because it consists of shots of my home-town in a time of war, a time within living memory, but because it features, among others, the work of a photographer I’ve become fascinated with; Gilles Caron. Sometimes you chance on certain artists over and over to the extent it feels almost eerie. I first came across Caron’s work whilst writing about Situationism and his photographs of the riots of Paris, Mai ’68, which combined the decisive moment of Cartier-Bresson with the dynamism of Robert Capa. It was immediately clear that Caron was a major talent, a view reiterated when I came across his iconic portraits of Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin much later. The two subjects may seem disparate but in terms of composition and depicting personality with incredible succinctness, Caron had skills that matched both and raised them to high art. Whether his protagonists were celebrities or rioters, he captured them much more vividly than their mere appearance.
Last year, my friend and I had the pleasure of meeting Tim Page, one of the greatest living photojournalists, in Phnom Penh. He’s a fairly-daunting, semi-legendary figure if you’re familiar with his work or have read the portrayal of him in Michael Herr’s remarkable book Dispatches or seen Dennis Hopper’s character in Apocalypse Now on whom he’s partially based. Page was a real gentleman and endlessly fascinating to speak to, relating tales of being terribly injured and almost being killed in Vietnam so many times he seems to be one of the luckiest men alive. Yet there’s been a unenviable price paid for his adventures, not just to his physical health but his peace of mind and he was there in Cambodia, as he has been habitually for many years, trying to find the grave of his friend the photographer Sean Flynn who was disappeared by the Khmer Rouge and continues to call to him. In the course of our conversations, the name of Gilles Caron arose, given that he too simply vanished from the face of the earth in the same Angkar-controlled part of the country, indeed on the very same stretch of road as Flynn a day later. It was with some surprise that I found out that a mere year before he died, Gilles Caron had photographed The Troubles erupting in my home-town. It’s a strange world and one onto which we continually see significances, pattern-seeking mammals that we are. What we do with them is another story but I hope to write some more in the future about Caron and those who disappeared during that time, whether Western or Khmer. Anyways, here’s the review, hope you enjoy it and check out the exhibition or Caron’s work if you can.