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Mathieu Pernot et Philippe Artières, "L’asile des photographies"
From Frebruary 13th to May 11th, 2014
" In 2010, Le Point du Jour and the Fondation Bon-Sauveur invited us to work on the archives of the Picauville psychiatric hospital, some forty kilometres from Cherbourg. This invitation came in the wake of an earlier request: the old hospital buildings were due for demolition, medical care are provided elsewhere, and the Foundation had asked Le Point du Jour to help find another way to keep the memory of the hospital alive. It's unusual for a medical institution to approach a local cultural institution in this way. We didn’t know exactly what to expect, but we were told that the audiovisual department had a collection of old photos and films, patiently compiled by Léon Faligot, a nurse at the Foundation. We would also be given access to the hospital’s written archives which included medical files, some of which dated from before the Second World War. When we discovered these hundreds of photographs from the 1930s to the present day, stored away in cardboard boxes and files, we knew straightaway that we had stumbled upon buried treasure."Mathieu Pernot and Philippe Artières.”

Most of the pictures had no captions, and no-one knew who had taken the photographs nor who was in them, but the collection was incredibly diverse and embodied not just the life of an institution, but all the different ways photography could be used: identity photos, architectural photography, medical imaging, holiday snaps, press photos, family photos, postcards and official photographs. We quickly realised that the collection was less the history, in picture form, of an institution and symbol of how psychiatry had evolved, and more a history of photography from the point of view of the hospital which, as a community, is both specific and yet banal - a history much like any other yet rooted in the fringes of society; a kind of photograph asylum. And so a relationship emerged between the nature and the subject of these images. There were no great names and few remarkable events, just the everyday lives of ordinary people; no beautifully composed works of art, but instead a vivid reality captured by the photograph. While certain pictures hinted at Raymond Depardon’s San Clemente, Charcot’s Hystériques or the "freaks" photographed by Diane Arbus, the snapshots of Picauville - mealtimes, fetes, holidays - had a family-album normality. They offered an unprecedented counterpoint to the dramatic vision of "insanity" that had prevailed since the 19th century. Rather than each working individually with this body of material as we would normally have done, one as an artist, the other as a historian, we decided to make it the focus of a three-year shared project. The resulting exhibition and book are montages in which our vision runs alongside that of the nuns, doctors, patients and families who knew Picauville just as we did. L'Asile des Photographies does not, therefore, claim to be exact in every detail, despite its documentary nature, nor does it claim to be exhaustive, despite faithfully reproducing the great diversity of those documents. First and foremost it portrays an experience - ours - as part of a collective and therefore diverse history. We would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to the Fondation Bon-Sauveur and to the "people of Picauville" for having given us this freedom.
Exhibited artists
Mathieu Pernot
Philippe Artières
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