What are we looking at when we look at a photograph? What is the relation between the spectator and the picture? What kind of connection exists between the photographic image and its referent?
The work of visual artist and photographer Julien Menand does not reveal simple truths, but revolves around questions. Blurred landscapes, photo booth portraits with eyes closed—most of Menand’s photographs confront the spectator with his/her own expectations and viewing habits by emphasising what he actually does not see. Sometimes, the spectator even becomes a proper part of the artwork, entering the image and being observer and observed at the same time (RS Installations).
Within Menand’s body of work, the RU Studies hold a special place. They perfectly seem to correlate with the artist’s quest for the essence of representation. In his essay Camera Lucida – Reflections on Photography, Roland Barthes speaks about the difficulty to distinguish a photograph from its referent (from what it represents):
Whatever it grants to vision and whatever its manner, a photograph is always invisible: it is not it that we see.
The RU Studies show and hide at the same time, enticing the spectator to be drawn closer, to maybe even bend the head in order to catch a glimpse of the face—an impossible endeavour. Eyes lowered and only partly illuminated, the people in the photograph have a strange, ghost-like character, defined more by their absence as by their presence—and thus recommitting to the photograph itself.
Born in France, Menand studied in Paris, Leipzig, and Geneva and is currently based in Berlin. He conceives photographic installations that reflect the place of the spectator and accentuate the tight knot between a piece of art and the context in which it is exhibited. He also photographs actors and writers and makes tableaus.