Matthieu Litt - Photography
Statements & critical texts
Through this series entitled Tidal Horizon, the photographer and graphic designer Matthieu LITT shows a selection of pictures taken during his recent artist residency in Norway. At the core of this work, the perpetual motion of the universal tidal phenomenon brings the photograph to question himself about the dialogue between Man and Nature and immerses himself in a broader reflection around the notion of “Sublime” and the way we are disconnected from this notion in our contemporary society.
The series offers a poetical and philosophical consideration of the interaction between the level of human finiteness, and the scale of Nature’s timelessness, unless, following the observation of different human caused negative impacts, they were to surreptitiously swap roles…
Au travers de cette série intitulée Tidal Horizon, le photographe et graphiste liégeois Matthieu LITT présente une sélection d’images prises lors de sa récente résidence d’artiste en Norvège.
Au coeur de ce travail, le mouvement perpétuel
du phénomène universel des marées amène le photographe à s’interroger sur le dialogue entre l’Homme et la Nature, et le plonge dans une réflexion plus large
autour de la notion de ‘Sublime’ et la façon dont nous nous sommes déconnectés de cette valeur dans notre société contemporaine. La série propose un examen poétique et philosophique de l’interaction entre
l’Homme, à hauteur de sa finitude, et la Nature, à l’échelle de son temps illimité, à moins qu’à la suite du constat des diverses incidences néfastes d’origine humaine, cela ne devienne subrepticement l’inverse…
THE NATURAL ORDER:
MATTHIEU LITT's TIDAL HORIZON
If today we are more familiar than ever with the large-scale cycles and processes of the natural world, this is due not only to advances in scientific knowledge, but also to the fact that these cycles seem to have been interrupted and destabilised largely through human action. Our awareness of patterns in nature, like those of the seasons and the tides, is ancient, but the way that we have negatively affected those cycles, though disputed in some quarters, is a more recent development, and one that appears increasingly hard to ignore. Matthieu Litt’s Tidal Horizon is, in the first instance, a consideration of one particular cyclical process, made obvious by the title of the work, and, in the larger sense, it addresses the human relationship with nature. However, Litt’s approach eschews the documentary in favour of a refined visual and metaphorical vocabulary, giving us new ways to see these cycles, along with new ways to think about what our place in the natural order might ultimately be.
He suggests the circularity of these patterns both in the structure of the book overall, and also in terms of what he has photographed, motifs that evoke reoccurrence and closure. However, they also indicate a kind of disturbance, perhaps calling the stability of these natural patterns into question. Litt’s sense of the natural world is distinctly shadowed; this is not nature generous and bountiful, but something that contains a profound, implacable energy, capable of sweeping away anything in its path. The motion of the tides is, finally, irresistible. Humanity’s place in this order is evoked by one of the opening pictures in the book, showing a group of delicate glass spheres lit by a window and visually echoing the rising sun in the preceding image. Their shape makes us think of the planet as a whole, the sum of those patterns and processes we call nature, and yet the very fragility of this attempt at imitating its basic forms also reveals how insignificant our efforts are bound to be when compared to the vast stretches of time and space on which it operates.
Our place in the natural order is simply too precarious to be seen as permanent; the incursions of humanity into the landscape must be continually maintained in order to hold their integrity, and even then it seems to be a loosing battle. At worst we are a destructive force, thoughtlessly set on making the planet uninhabitable, at least for ourselves, because Litt’s tides will no doubt continue without us, along with all the other cycles and processes of which they are a part. That human constructions are tenuously placed on this forbidding landscape is emphasised in other ways as well. In one strikingly dark-toned image we see what must have once been a fine and well-built house left to decay, a melancholy expression of the fate that seems to be in store for all human endeavour. The way that Litt has structured this picture suggests that the landscape is beginning to overwhelm the house, to reclaim it; nature can, in that sense, thrive on decay. The man-made is revealed as fallible and transient, while nature itself seems inexhaustible. The eternal reoccurrence of the tides is a fundamental metaphor here, elaborated throughout the work in different ways and operating on different scales, from the minute to the monumental.
How Litt depicts these processes is often significantly indirect. He spends a lot of time studying the surfaces of water and rock, as well as the places where they meet. This is perhaps because their depths are (literally) impenetrable to a human gaze, but also because these surfaces are where the energy within much larger cycles and processes are manifested. At the same time, he places them in the context of wider, more encompassing views of the landscape, so that we cannot lose sight of the relationship between these seemingly distinct perspectives. What this contrast also underscores is the fact that any human view is bound, in the end, to be a partial one; we can’t fully conceive of, much less control the forces at work here, regardless of whatever damage may have been done by human action. However seductively beautiful in light and form many of Litt’s pictures might be, then, there’s no mistaking the darker undercurrent that moves them; this horizon can also be the point you pass beyond and can’t return from.
— Darren Campion
TROUGH THE WALLS
It wouldn’t be true to say that Matthieu Litt went to Iran without any preconception about the place or
its people. That anyone could visit that county and not have some idea of what they expected to find there hardly seems likely. But Litt’s work is most often about the complexities of place and how we encounter it, so his view of Iran takes these expectations into account, if only to find some kind of unexpected space within them. At the same time, Litt’s pictures of Iran are not made to any particular agenda, he is not a documentarian in that respect, but he continually negotiates his - and our - expectations about the place, which has been so much represented and dissected.
Indeed, there could be no way of giving a definitive view of such a diverse country. So instead Litt fills these pictures with small, poetic moments of grace, trying the read the text of a culture not his own, one that still remains open and humanly available, despite the differences that separate him from it. This is largely because he doesn’t pretend to understand much of what he encounters, realising the futility of this in light of the frameworks available to him. He wisely chooses to leave the mystery of these encounters intact, conscious of his role as an outsider, never presuming to interpret this place and its layered history or imposing himself on such delicately poised scenes.
We could, of course, over-emphasise the mysteriousness here. What appeared strange to Litt and to us now is simply an everyday matter in the places he has photographed; it is perhaps only the intensification of the photographic frame that renders their meaning opaque. More significant is how Litt at once acknowledges the kind of expectations we might have about Iran and, without actually undermining them, subtly realigns our view, so that these individual moments take on a new significance. We can then read this back in to what we know - or think we know - about the place itself. Litt’s Iran is the sum of these half-glimpsed possibilities
Over there, there are so many horses
that they don’t even bother to name them.
This area of the Faristan, wild, unknown and so fantasied about, is a mix of beauty and harshness, landlocked between the trenches of the mountains.
It’s a quest for the sublime, for distance, but also for the imagery and beliefs related to its pursuit.
It’s like making a waking dream come true.
Like catching the feelings of this terrestrial paradise,
where the borders are as entangled
as the mountain ranges that define them.
It’s a state between imagination and conciseness,
between the quest and the sense of already having seen
these spaces where the people are forged by their environment.
A hesitation between mirage and the reality of what is appearing on the horizon,
probably because we are more open to being surprised.
Là-bas, il y a tellement de chevaux qu’on ne se préoccupe même plus de leur donner un nom.
Cette région du Loinistan, sauvage, méconnue
et donc fantasmée, constitue un mélange de beauté
et de rudesse enclavée au creux des montagnes.
Y rechercher le sublime, la distance, mais aussi l’imagerie et les croyances qui y sont liées est comme concrétiser un rêve éveillé.
C’est emprisonner les sentiments ressentis
au sein de ce paradis terrestre, où les frontières sont aussi enchevêtrées que les chaînes de montagnes qui les définissent.
C’est comme un état entre conscience et imaginaire,
entre la quête et l’intuition de déjà connaître ces espaces où l’environnement forge les individus.
Une hésitation entre mirage et réalité de ce qui se présente à l’horizon, sûrement parce que l’on y reste plus ouvert à la surprise.
The lure of distant places and ways of life is, of course, no surprise; that the camera should be the ideal accompaniment for such treks into the unknown is obvious too, given that it provides both a rationale for the traveller and a vicarious means of bringing ‘exotic’ sights to the folks back home. While Matthieu Litt’s Horsehead Nebula doesn’t fall prey to the deficiencies of the travel photography genre, he remains gratifyingly aware of them, given his role as a photographer observing a place and a way of life that are, we must assume, far removed from his own. Indeed, how he plays with, resists and occasionally surrenders to the exoticising gaze of the photographer abroad, is one of the keys to understanding this work. Litt doesn’t even identify the place or places that he’s photographing. We might guess that it is one of those shaky republics on the edge of Europe, formerly a Soviet possession, or maybe he has travelled still further east, perhaps to the steppes of Mongolia. The narrative remains significantly open-ended; in fact, it’s more about the idea of a place than anything else.
So while Litt concentrates on what probably are, when seen in context, fairly ordinary scenes, because here they are folded into the expectations that accompany viewing images of somewhere culturally and geographically distant, this fundamentally re-shapes our perception of them. Of course this assumes that the present viewer and their place in the world (white, western) is inevitably the norm against which other experiences, other places, must be understood; everything else is, in short, Other. To underscore the nature of this distance, we need only consult the title of the series, which positions Litt’s subject so far away as to be in a galaxy removed from our own, although there are admittedly other resonances to the title as well, connected in particular to the lifestyle and cultural traditions of his subjects. In fact, what the pictures assert above anything else is the particular continuity of that way of life; the thread of its history appears to have survived intact. The enclosed nature of that life, an apparent completeness, means that we (and Litt) must remain cultural voyeurs.
Against that however, is the resolute attention Litt pays to the incidental character of this (largely imagined) place, its daily textures and shadings. In effect, he builds his narrative around these rather unspectacular details, so that the more picturesque elements – such as traditional costumes, and even the showy grandeur of landscape itself – stand out in sharp relief, but are at the same time decidedly undercut by the presence of images that run counter to these mythical set pieces. There is no contradiction in the fact that we call this an ‘imagined’ place when the picture he provides of it is based on the accumulation of so much concrete detail, because while it is admittedly not any one place in particular, it is in fact a composite of places, subsuming a single idea of place as always being somewhere else, somewhere beyond the limits of what is known. Such places have a tenacious hold on the imagination, we continue reaching out to them even knowing that are unattainable or that they are fatally compromised by the incursion of reality.
Not specifying his destination reminds us that it is, by necessity, an ideal that can’t be realised in practice; all such ideals are built on the mundane reality of places composed of stubbornly real lives and histories, the same details that Litt is so attentive to. The other effect of this reticence is to challenge the potential exoticism of his subject matter, even as he brings us – forcefully, if subtly – back to our persistent fascination with the Other. By playing with our expectations in this way and also, though not incidentally, creating a genuinely sympathetic portrait of this place, wherever it is, Litt offers an alternative route out of the deadlock of a photographer pursuing an age-old fascination of the medium, one that has begun to seem increasingly burdened by its own ugly heritage. By contrast, Litt’s pictures are light in a way that can at once acknowledge his (and our) role as interloper, without sacrificing any of the often magnetic pull that other cultures – and not just the culture of the Other – continue to have over our imaginations.
— Darren Campion for Paper Journal
Few places in the world still seem to instil a true sense of distance today; through a proliferation of information, images and travel, even those places geographically far from us can be easily reached both virtually and physically. Yet this slight feeling of melancholy towards dwindling far flung lands is, for the duration of Mattheiu Litt’s Horsehead Nebula, somewhat suppressed and it appears that Litt has found a place that is genuinely distant, and one that he never formally reveals to us.
After a cover laden with galactic gold and black formations, we are presented with one of very few pieces of text in the book, it’s title, which sharply foreshadows two prominent themes within the book; the profound notion of distance, through literally using the name of a celestial dust constellation and secondly that of horses, which progressively become an unassuming motif of this unknown region. Further saturated gold and black pages throughout the book, lined sparingly with poetic phrases, punctuate it’s rhythm and the cosmic hues of these interjecting pages are then delicately echoed throughout Litt’s hazy golden colour palette.
For myself, the deep-seated feelings of distance established through the cover and title are cohesively sustained not only in the physical means that Litt’s photograph precipitate between this unidentified place and my own, but moreover within the photographs themselves; Litt maintains a palpable space between camera and subject and this seems to only accentuate the elusive nature of this land. As a result, Horsehead Nebula manifests itself into a series of exceptionally quiet and astute observations of a region vastly unknown to myself and to some degree Litt as well. At points I encounter familiar scenes in the smaller details of everyday life; dusty roads, washing hung out to dry, a TV satellite and a window, framed by golden drapes with a plant sat on its sill. These all seem known to me yet are then offset with reminders that this place is wildly more unfamiliar than it is familiar to me; a monolithic metal horse head, inhabitants in traditional dress and nomadic horses in endlessly vast landscapes are far removed from what I call home.
Whilst the narrative is anchored somewhat to this distant and unreachable place, it seems at the same time equally unconcerned with it; meandering without an overt purpose, it imposes very little on us and with no given name or context of any kind, it leaves us to rely soley on guesswork and imagination, alongside Litt’s photographs to conjure some rationale to this land. This is perhaps the idea that persistently holds most weight for me when looking through Horsehead Nebula; it’s a book that is far from being shy of content yet even after turning so many pages of alluring photographs, it swiftly ends and we are left with little more true understanding of this wild place than what we started with. So much so that unless I consciously pursued further knowledge, this place would forever remain in a space hung somewhere between the real and the imagined. Far from holding this against it, finishing the book feels subtly cathartic and where some may find it frustrating, for myself, places such as the one photographed should remain in this tentative space. If we had been allowed anything more than what Litt has presented to us, the narrative would move wholly into the realm of the real, and the enticing curiosity that is sustained throughout the book would be diminished. After looking through the book several times, I reassured myself that this was indeed a real place, after all photography’s indexical relationship to what it photographs gives me some confidence that I am right. Yet at the same time there remained, and still does, an inkling of hesitation and if someone was to ask me nearly anything of this place, I would struggle to say anything of concrete value.
It’s a cohesively redacted book; leaving only a selected and beautiful glimpse for us to see, yet perhaps most tantalisingly of all is the notion that this place will most likely only ever exist to me in the pages of Mattheiu Litt’s Horsehead Nebula.
— Kris Kozlowski Moore for the Heavy Collective
CLOSE, BY FAR
Still in progress, the serie “CLOSE BY FAR” is based on a very simple and strong intention: introducing fiction into reality.
In order to realize this, the photographic medium is undoubtly one of the most appropriate while it maintains a link with reality in a much stronger way than any other medium. But it’s also, in an apparent paradox, the most delicate way to achieve this fiction for exactly the same reason. The irony of artist’s fate…By using a lot of sensibility and intelligence of the view, he creates a second reality, imaginary, non definitive, without documentary virtue, in a landscape, a situation, an object representing itself, very simply for the eye.
Nothing is harder than to escape from evidence.
But Matthieu Litt’s photography makes it possible in a brilliant way. His images appear like haunted by an indefinable presence which endows his images with a disconcerting timelessness, a troubling uprooting. Captured in daily life’s most banality and proximity, Matthieu Litt’s pictures take us to far-away horizons, on the borders of ambiguity, exotism, isolation and even of disturbing strangeness.
‘Close,by far’: the title clarifies the distance kept by the photographer with everything he sees and knows, always available to surprise in the perceptible surroundings concealing other distant places or things. Fiction is within reach.
In this way, without ever orienting the eyes, without other effects than those on which relies the essence of photography (framing, colors and light). He draws a force from the neutrality of the medium which makes exist the perceptible in all its ways, those of reality and even those brewing another history to which everyone of us is free to contribute.
Anne-Françoise Lessuisse – BIP Liège.
Toujours en cours, la série ‘CLOSE, BY FAR’ repose sur une intention simple et puissante : introduire de la fiction dans la réalité.
Pour ce faire, le médium photographique est sans doute l’un des plus appropriés, lui qui maintient plus fortement qu’aucun autre un lien avec le reel. Mais c’est aussi, dans un paradoxe qui n’est qu’apparent, le plus délicat pour arriver à cette fin, pour exactement la mëme raison. Ironie du sort de l’artiste… Il faut donc user de beaucoup de sensibilité et d’intelligence du regard pour arriver à faire exister une réalité seconde, imaginaire, non-définitive, sans vertu documentaire, dans un paysage, une situation un objet qui se présentent, simplement pourrait-on dire, à la vue. Rien n’est plus difficile que d’échapper à l’évidence.
Sa photographie y arrive de brillante manière. Ses images aparaissent comme hantées par une présence indéfinissable qui leur confère une déconcertante intemporalité, un déracinement troublant. Capturées dans le quotidien le plus banal et le plus proche, les photos de Matthieu Litt nous emmènent néanmoins dans des endroits plus lointains, aux confins de l’ambiguïté, de l’exotisme, de l’écart, voire de l’inquiétante étrangeté.
‘CLOSE, BY FAR’ signifie ‘proche de loin’ : le titre dit bien la distance que le photographe maintient avec ce qu’il voit et connaît, toujours disponible à surprendre dans le visible environnant ce qu’il récèle d’ailleurs, d’autre, de lointain. La fiction est à portée de main.
Ainsi sans jamais orienter l’oeil, sans effets autres que ceux sur lesquels reposent l’essence même de la photographie (cadrage, couleurs et lumière au premier chef). Matthieu Litt puise dans la neutralité du médium une puissance qui fait exister le visible dans toutes ses lignes de force, tant celles de la réalité que celles qui trament une autre histoire, où chacun est par ailleurs libre d’y mettre la sienna.
Anne-Françoise Lessuisse – BIP Liège.