Chrystel Mukeba’s Les Instants is a delicate, simple photobook hiding the complex relationship between life and photography. Prompted by the author’s need to fix the ephemerality of time, the book speaks of the quest for eternity intrinsic to the photographic medium itself. Photographs of children and nature intermingle and follow each other, in a fragmented rhythm. Mukeba seems driven to explore the transience of time through the most ephemeral of states: the natural and the young. Indeed, they stand as synecdoches or representative parts of the whole which is life. Like an intimate, nostalgic ballad, Les Instants pictures the universal use of photography as a tool to crystallise time and experience what eternity feels like – even though photography is fleeting itself.
Like an intimate, nostalgic ballad, Les Instants pictures the universal use of photography as a tool to crystallise time and experience what eternity feels like – even though photography is fleeting itself.
To perceive the other’s impermanence is to perceive one’s own fragility and impermanence. Perception is therefore always relational as it assumes the encounter of one consciousness with another. Photography would indeed be nothing if it was not for the relation between the photographer, a subject and the camera. Photography’s history has a lot to do with relation; since its invention, families have used it to stay in touch, mailing pictures to distant relatives. “Touch puts people in contact with photographs”, argues Margaret Olin in her 2012 book Touching Photographs – historically, through the physicality of printed pictures, nowadays through the interactivity of screens. Mukeba’s photography is relational too, in the way it intimately bonds her to the medium and to her photographed subjects.
We are faced with instants of life – or death? – yet touched by the way Mukeba’s images extract something, an intimacy, out of reality, to preserve a trace of bodies that are changing constantly.
“Making images is a form of testimony of the world in which we live,” Mukeba remarks. “To speak about what touches us. It’s true that there are a lot of images, we are invaded all the time, with social networks, media etc… How can we find ourselves in it? I think that for my part I just want to show that there are lots of forms of photography and ways to convey emotions. Intimate photography has its place more than ever. Maybe we need to take refuge in this kind of images. I think we still have this need to be amazed.”
Intertwining contemporary documentary and conceptual visual languages, Mukeba’s narration is an observational one. Nostalgic yet mild, it evokes the beauty of intimacy in monochrome, low-contrast images. Her storytelling carries an almost invisible thread that connects the intimate and the physical world. We are faced with instants of life – or death? – yet touched by the way Mukeba’s images extract something, an intimacy, out of reality, to preserve a trace of bodies that are changing constantly.
Les Instants plays with one of the paradoxes intrinsic in the photographic medium: that of being a direct transcription of reality, and at the same time, a figure for the non-visible, through metaphors and symbols. It is in the span of this paradox that we bear witness to the capacity of images to signify more than they visually represent. As Mukeba argues, we still need intimate images, in order not to lose our innate desire to wonder, to contemplate, to be touched.