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Do you like stunning photographs? Children? The French countryside? Controversy? Yes, controversy. A bit of that seems to be stirring around French photographer Alain Laboile’s solo exhibit “Quotidian” on view at Leica Gallery Boston in the Park Plaza Hotel. But you decide. You have until October 29th, 2017 to come see for yourself.
Laboile is a sculptor who picked up photography at age 39, documenting his expanding family at their pastoral home in southern France. Partly a reaction against the one photograph he remembers of himself as a growing boy, he insistently documents the flurry of mundane “Quotidian” (daily) childhood pastimes where fantasy and reality intermingle: the haystack that is a castle, the cardboard cutout mask that transforms you into an owl, the sister who is a drawing board, the close communion with feral and domestic baby animals and the magical, ubiquitous water world that is, in fact, a murky pool that few (American) adults would ever consider entering.
I suspect that Laboile has plenty of the child still left in him because his photographs faithfully reflect their guileless revelry and constant activity, from pensive to playful. His compositions veer from elegant, singular statements to more complex frames that observe the busy bodies of his six children from mid-endeavor to quiet repose. And Laboile appears to be part of the pack. He often shoots from an extreme angle – favoring above and below – which injects his images with a dynamic sense of motion and energy, at times even dizzying. Selective focus, too, confers depth and a loose, natural quality. But however capricious and childlike his subjects appear, Laboile’s graphic sensibility, attentive framing (or cropping) and sensuous, full tonal range reveal an artist with a sophisticated eye.
So where’s the controversy? Laboile drinks from the same fountain as our own beloved Sally Mann who, some fourteen years ago, shocked American sensibilities by photographing her children playing in a similarly natural manner on their rural Virginia farm. Sometimes they were naked, often nearly so. Sometimes they played at being adults and crossed an unanticipated line into perceived sexualization and exploitation. We’ve come a long way but some are interpreting Laboile’s work the same way all these years later. Is a beautifully lit, strongly composed image of an unidentifiable little girl in her panties, grasping an inner tube at water’s edge, a crotch shot or a joyful instant before a leap?
Another point of controversy stems from a related question of exploitation: are Laboile’s images skillful, “found moments” of grace or slickly produced commercial fare? Americans may suspect some of his more kitschy images, like those pairing children and animals, are contrived. But what would be his motivation? If he has created a skewed, mythological narrative, objectifying his children for adult titillation and financial gain, I’m afraid I just don’t see it. I think it’s important to consider the source. The world may have shrunk with the Internet, but Americans are still quite prudish compared to Europeans and Laboile is quite French. So, consider that as you view – and judge – “Quotidian” for yourself.
For more information about this exhibit, go to: http://leicagalleryboston.com/
Feature Image: From the series “Quotidian” (Detail) by Alain Laboile (courtesy of the artist and Leica Gallery Boston).