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ANGEL • Foreword by WIM WENDERS
An Angel Passing…
It happens every now and then,
in an animated conversation or an otherwise noisy get-together,
that there is a sudden momentary silence.
Somebody might whisper into the hush:
“An angel is passing…”
And everybody will keep quiet for a few more seconds
and feel a slight shudder.
Isn’t it strange how this saying is only related to silence?
Why would it be strictly limited to an aural experience?
Just because angels are invisible?
Couldn’t they still give us visual cues
to indicate their momentary presence?
Even if these visitors are only floating by proverbially,
and even if the person who notices “the angel passing”
does not believe in them in a religious sense,
he (or she) wants to express, and share,
that something special is happening for a short instant…
Follow me for a moment on my wild chain of thoughts:
What if we did translate that saying to the act of seeing?
When would you say (or notice)
that “an angel is passing”,
because of something you’d see, not hear?
And what is it you would need to see
that could make you evoke that angelic presence?
Let me rephrase it, a bit more abstractly:
is there anything like a sudden “visual silence”,
– if you permit the oxymoron –
which would make you so fully aware of the very moment it is happening
that you’d somehow feel transported into “transcendence”,
for lack of other words?
Come to think of it: this has happened to me.
Actually, most photographers will agree
that instants like this do occur in their lives and their work.
They just might have different names for it
and not necessarily evoke celestial assistance.
So that apparent contradiction in terms is not so outrageous after all.
I’d even go further:
That “visual silence”, to stay with the expression,
almost seems like a possible definition of photography to me,
or rather a condition for it,
something preceding the “act of taking a picture”:
a moment of somehow perceptible “peace”,
serenity, harmony, promise…
or whatever the eyewitness wants to call it.
Is it a necessary condition?
Only the romantic in me might suggest this.
The realist knows: this is wishful thinking.
Most photographs do not need a moment of bliss to precede them
or to be included in the process of their creation.
But then again: a certain kind of picture does.
If you think this is all a bit too vague, I agree.
I’ll do my best to be more specific…
What does happen when “the angel passes” (proverbial or not)
and gives us (a yet undefined) visual cue
to notice how special that moment is
so that we have the instinct to share it?
As a fellow photographer I know:
in that split second of recognizing the signal
and of noticing his (her, its) presence, occurrence, incidence
(- or maybe the opposite: his, her or its sudden absence! -)
wanting to take a picture happens simultaneously
with raising the camera to the eyes
and pressing the release button, all at that same moment.
You become part of a short ecstatic flash,
– or call it a glimpse of grace –
your eyes are guided, “remote-controlled”,
you don’t think much,
you don’t even look for the frame:
Don’t misunderstand me:
I’m not talking about “snapshots” here!
That’s a whole different ballgame.
I’m (still) talking about the realm of transcendence,
about the (not necessarily) proverbial angel passing,
and about an ephemeral moment of photographic bliss.
If you follow the angel’s hint
something out of that realm of “visual silence”
ends up on your negative or on your digital storage.
Again, not a whole lot of pictures are taken like that,
in fact only a precious few…
The stillness that precedes (and produces) the passing of the angel
escapes many a camera.
You hesitate for a second, and it is gone.
Sometimes I have the feeling
you can only see it from the corner of your eye, anyway,
and as soon you decide to take that picture,
the very act of decision-making ruins it.
Those “angel-driven” pictures are only made instinctively.
The photographs in the book you’re holding in your hands
are a much better definition for what I am trying to say
than my clumsy verbal efforts.
Ronan Guillou is one of the few photographers I know
(well, not personally, yet)
with the eye (and the inner ear) for those highly ephemeral instants.
I indeed see “the angel passing” in many of his pictures.
As the title of this beautiful collection of images
was already suggesting something in this context,
I was suspicious, I must admit, initially,
but I agreed with its bold statement after I had turned a few pages.
(And before I got to page 69,
where I acknowledged with a smile
how the title was firmly implanted here as the “Next Day Angel”)
I was smiling a lot, to begin with,
when I tried to immerse into the world of these photographs.
They make you smile…
They don’t ask you for it, though. (Which is a big difference!)
They let you share these moments of grace
very much like that person whispering “an angel is passing…”
You stare at these pictures like into a momentary silence
and you might feel that slight shudder for a second.
It’s always been a mystery to me
how photography (and cinematography)
are sometimes able to show the invisible.
Another contradiction in terms, you might say,
but as a matter of fact paintings, photographs and movies
every now and then(and never so much on purpose, it seems)
reveal what cannot be seen.
(And I guess that’s what “transcendence” means, after all.)
There are gaps in the visible world,
that open up and close again,
(which almost solves the “visual silence” oxymoron)
and when you follow the whispered hints
you can catch glimpses of what is “behind”.
As I am writing this
I notice I’m humming a song by Leonard Cohen
and to my amazement his lyrics sum it all up:
“There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets it…”
(Do you know that phenomenon
that a song you have on your mind the whole day
might say exactly what you feel?
If only you pay attention to its words…)
What I love about the photographs of Ronan Guillou in this book:
all these pictures are found.
They are all made on the spur of the moment.
They are not manipulated or “worked on”.
They are dripping with reality.
What a relief!
I can’t help feeling
that “finding” has become a more creative process that “inventing”.
(I know I maintain this idea against a current trend in photography.)
You don’t just find, because you’re lucky.
You have to search first.
And you have to know where to search.
And when to see what you were searching for.
And then, if you are lucky,
(and if you followed the angel’s hints)
you come up with pictures that you can consider “gifts”.
They have been given to you, presented to you,
and you can pass them on again as presents.
Thus the viewer is included in the grace of each moment,
and doesn’t have to stand in awe of your creativity.
You invite him to share the moment of the angel passing…
Ronan was finding (and looking) in America,
and that’s why his collection of precious gifts
means even more to me.
The United States are a difficult territory for photographers
(especially European ones),
because they’re such a minefield of déjà-vus.
I can safely say this
as somebody who has found himself in that danger only too often.
Ronan escaped (most of) these traps.
The Americans looking at him in these photographs
(and at you now)
were all seen
through the crack that Leonard Cohen is referring to,
so that the angel of photography could shed some light on them…
I thank the angel for passing.
And Ronan for noticing
and whispering to us…