The magic mountain of photographer Thomas Rousset

Do they belong to the past, to the future or to the indeterminate time of a novel? The characters that populate Thomas Rousset’s photographs seem suspended. Rural, no doubt, and poets of their daily life: they are the modest heroes of the edge that makes us slide from the real to the imaginary.

It was in his family’s village that the young French photographer staged them. Prabert, in Isère, a hamlet fifteen minutes from Grenoble, where he knows all the inhabitants, every nook and cranny. This is where his images veered to the fantastical, vernacular trend. “When I was studying photography at ECAL [Ecole cantonale d’art de Lausanne, en Suisse], from 2005 to 2009, I came back to my village every weekend, and that’s where I did my ‘homework’. says Thomas Rousset.

Uncles or cousins, the local peasants serve as models; over the mountains, he exercises his eye for landscape photography. Exercises in the most classic style: his first images are simple documentaries. “And then the fiction, the staging arrived little by little. »

A surreal campaign

At Prabert, nothing is thrown away: everything can be used, everything can be recycled, everything can be repaired. It is in these heaps of objects, “between Ali Baba’s cave and the storage of theater sets”, that the 38-year-old photographer draws the raw material from his stagings. A woman watching the laundry dry under the gaze of a buzzard, two men oddly gazing at a chicken in front of a table where everything is rotting as in a Flemish still life, a boar’s head hanging from a box spring, in front of a wall painted with ‘a palm…

Under his gaze, the countryside spins surreal. Some of his photographs simply take the bias of things; others turn to burlesque, whimsical, “magical realism”. “I like to provoke doubt, by mixing these two registers of images, he explains. On one side, hypernatural, minimal images, grasses, landscapes; on the other hand, very constructed stagings, which sometimes require several days of development. It’s this mix that interests me, this look of docu-fiction that makes the viewer wonder if everything is staged or not. »

“In recent years, gentrification has accelerated, farms have been bought up and transformed into luxury chalets, all of a sudden, the village has exploded. »Thomas Rousset

At first, the Praberians watch him, a little taken aback. But, becoming “Prabérians”, a more Anglo-Saxon kind, under the breath of his touch of madness, they gradually get caught up in the game, proposing “situations” themselves: “I would never have been able to make these images without their complicity, especially that of my little cousin. »

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