Once upon a time the photographer was thought of as something of an alchemist. A shadowy, enigmatic figure who spent far too much time frequenting small, dark, windowless spaces, wearing a faint aroma of ammonia and something like salt and vinegar crisps. He* would produce beautiful images, which would appear before your very eyes – as if by magic – from blank sheets of paper. He would spend hours squirreled away, honing his craft, proliferating prints. Working away tirelessly under the dim, seedy glow of a single red light bulb.
Perhaps it is because I am currently reading a book about magic, or perhaps it is because I am looking at a lot of magical winter photographs in blogs: skeleton trees towering eerily in winter mists; bright, crisp snowy scenes and macro shots of perfectly formed snowflakes glistening like frosted jewels against a backdrop of a perfect cerulean sky. In any case, I am occupied by thoughts of magic and fantasy. January is such a dull, frugal month. I am yearning. I need to believe. I need to find some magic – some wonder – to make it sparkle for me.
I discovered these charming images by French photographer Alain Laboile whilst browsing through the blog emorfes. When I looked at them I felt that little flicker of something I can’t explain…. you know that feeling you get when something connects with you in a positive way. It’s like a little jolt of excitement which progresses into a surge of recognition, with all of your senses immediately heightened in anticipation…
images from the series Reflexion autour du bassin by Alain Laboile
… and then, afterwards, you feel a little bit more content than before and even a little bit changed. At the same time, you have understood something new about yourself. The magic has taken effect.
Perhaps it is something in the dreamlike world he creates, or the way he fuses childlike wonder with gentle humour and surreal elements. Or perhaps it is the quirky perspective; the water which casts a wobbly dreamlike haze, but which also threatens an element of danger to the happy family album: hidden depths, murky waters, a sense of foreboding…. Maybe it’s the big wide sky – more than just background it is centre stage in many images. Children while away so many hours looking up. Daydreaming. Spotting birds, aeroplanes; flying kites; climbing trees to get closer to the clouds, gazing at the moon and the stars and imagining other worlds and whether one day they might visit them. The wonder of the vast, unfathomable sky. It has the power to put us in our places on earth.
I have looked at these photographs a lot recently. I am not really sure why that is. They seem to me to re-capture a bit of that old photographic alchemy. They are not polished, or sophisticated. They are quite low-key, like snapshots, yet obviously considered. They are a constructed dreamworld. Eccentric, you could say. They have something of the air of the slightly mad, nerdy inventor about them – the one who cooks up crazier and crazier scenes whilst his excited wild children froth around him, egging him on. A kind of professor Potts of the photographic world. (I am sure I am completely wrong, by the way and this part is entirely my fabrication, but I do believe Laboile is also a sculptor, which would account for the sculptural elements featured in the photographs.)
Each picture, each little burst of magic speaks to me of its own story, weaving a narrative of a strange, fantastical fairy tale, in which dreams and imagination have leaked into our conscious world and taken hold. And the children – wild and free – are the kings and queens.