Photo exhibit fails to flash

  • 2007-09-19
  • By Talis Saule Archdeacon

LE CRITIQUE: Many of the pictures in French photographer Denis Jaillard's new exhibitions lack depth.

RIGA - Riga's newest photography exhibition stretches into two rooms, each with a different theme. One room features pictures of women, the other has a variety of landscape photos from the seaside and Paris. The photos in the main room seem to be the same sort of mundane shots that can be found in any women's magazine, while the landscape photos are little better.
Denis Jaillard is the French-American photographer whose work is on display in the Alma art gallery in Riga. His exhibitions are entitled "Peace and Harmony" and "The Charm and Character of Latvian Women." They'll be at the gallery through Sept. 26.

The photographs of Latvian women take up the main part of the gallery. The room features pictures of mostly middle-aged Latvian women against relatively plain backgrounds. The main focus of most of the pictures is the women's eyes, which manage to be strangely captivating without taking up a large amount of space in the composition.
A few of the pictures feature younger, more traditionally beautiful women. Some are even slightly erotic scenes of naked women, half-turned toward the camera and wearing a "come-hither" expression.
"For me, a great photograph is the one which is able to touch the deepest part of our subconscious," Jaillard explains on his Web site. The photographs in the "Charm and Character of Latvian Women," however, fail to qualify as "great photographs." Beyond a relatively shallow passing interest, the pictures do not awaken any deep thoughts or emotions. The only thought that the photos manage to illicit is something along the lines of "that girl's eyes are kind of pretty." The photos are quickly forgotten moments later.

The collection of landscape photos, mostly of Paris, manages to leave a slightly better impression.
It's made up of far fewer photos and none of the pictures has people playing more than a passing role in the shot. There are a few pictures of the Eiffel Tower standing proudly over the surrounding city, and a few of boats and shorelines.
The most interesting work in the exhibition is of a lone rowboat that had been dragged up onto the beach. A fog is starting to settle on the water, but it is still possible to make out a rock formation towering out of the sea in the background. The boat itself has a lone design of a single fish leaping out of the water painted near the bow. The profound loneliness of the boat, the painting and the rock all convey feelings of a deep-seated destitution.

Another photograph of a shoreline reveals a brightly sparkling sea with a dark black cliff rising sharply out of the water. The picture uses light to very good effect, but still lacks the ability to rouse deep emotions that the photographer had clearly hoped for.
While the pictures of landscapes manage to leave a slightly better impression than those of women, the exhibition is still nothing particularly unique or stunning.
Looking through some of Jaillard's previous works makes it clear why the opening of his newest exhibition garnered a relatively large amount of attention among the arts and photography community. Many of his pictures show a masterful manipulation of light and the ability to see beauty in even the most common settings. Unfortunately, his latest show (and apparently the only one worldwide that is currently on display) fails to illustrate these skills.

Peace and Harmony
The Charm and Character of Latvian Women
Alma Gallery
Rupniecibas 1, Riga
Through Sept. 26