Balancing on the Gutter’s Edge
The images of the French photographer Antoine d’Agata (Marseille, 1961) are rough and associative. The deliberate blur puts a haze over the images that make them less accessible. D’Agata does not attempt to represent the world as it is; he tries to explain his own position in that world. Rather than a photo documentary, he reports about his own, intimate experiences.
The work of D’Agata revolves around sex, life and death: basic life on earth with all the finery removed. This is intense, unpolished photography that draws the viewer towards a repressed reality, to the dark sides of our society. An apparently idyllic pond with a couple of swans changes before our eyes into the river Styx, marking the border between life and death. Frightening but appealing, it is an image filled with tender threat. A church (New Mexico, 2000) is not a church but a skull, a house of the dead. Even in colour, D’Agata’s photos are more depressing than encouraging. The result is disquieting, disturbing and sweltering, yet at the same time lyrical, with a poetic beauty.
Junkie among junkies
The work of D’Agata is on a par with that of Nan Goldin, Larry Clark and Anders Petersen. These photographers reveal the raw real world with their penetrating observations. He shares with them an obsession for people at the frayed ends of existence. Alcoholics, junks and hookers engaged in a balancing act on the edge of the gutter. D’Agata identifies with them, but shows no compassion, he intrudes with the cold and relentless observation of a predator. Yet this lack of mercy is not all there is, since he is not only an observer, he also participates. A junkie among junkies, a whore-hopper among whores. He strikes mercilessly, and doesn’t spare himself in the process. In one particular self-portrait he captures himself injecting heroin.
“I am the photo”
D’Agata makes himself a part of the events. His life as a junkie taught him to remain cold, to photograph a girl while they are copulating. And often he hands his camera to the prostitutes, so that they can take his picture. What is it like to make a spectacle of yourself, to leave the lamp on where others make sure to turn it off? D’Agata: “I don’t think about it. I empty my mind and create distance. That makes it abstract. Except when I am photographing, then it is as personal as it can get. I am part of the photo, not an observer. It’s about me. It’s one big self-portrait.”
A restless drifter, D’Agata travels non-stop around the world and on the road he photographs continuously. The exposed films are sent unseen to the Musée Nicéphore Nièpce in Chalon sur Saône, where they are developed and archived. It is there that D’Agata, during short visits, selects the images for expositions and books.
Magnum Photos, 19 rue Hégésippe Moreau, F-75018 Paris, France. T: +33 (0)1 53 42 50 07.
©Pim Milo, 2006