Words of Light

2020 (artist residency projetct in the agricultural high school of La Saussaye in Chartres, France)

Words of Light (after W.H.F. Talbot’s P notebook, 3 drafts about nature and photography) is a project of three fragments created during a three-month residency on the theme of the relationship between Human, Nature, and Culture from October to December 2020, at the Agricultural High School of La Saussaye in Chartres, France.

Initially, the project began with the idea of making Japanese paper using the plants that grow around the school, but it gradually developed, and three different projects emerged. I think this is largely because the isolated environment provided a lot of time to rethink my previous art projects, and the quarantine provided the opportunity to think more than ever about what Time means for us. These three fragments are drafts of a project that is still ongoing in various forms and will eventually be collected into a chapter series exploring the relationship between nature and photography in the early history of photography.


At its origins, and as illustrated by the drawings of animals with black outlines in the Lascaux Caves, Man tried to possess a reality that could only be kept in the form of a substitute. The mimicry of reality, which began with simple outlines, was transformed into a mirror image closer to reality through the invention of various painting techniques. Then, with the introduction of photographic techniques in the early 19th century, mimicry was transformed into a form that could be fixed in less time than a painting and shared with a wider audience.

The pioneers of photographic technique, such as Nicéphore Niépce, Louis Daguerre and William Henry Fox Talbot, constantly mentioned the desire to permanently preserve natural phenomena as the reason for their immersion in photographic research and were aware of a close link between photography and nature. This may be explained by the alchemical nature of early photography, which used sunlight as the light source and chemical reactions to fix the image (shadow) by direct contact with the photosensitive material (photogram), leaving the phenomenon to “nature”. In addition to this, Talbot’s photographic research took place at a time when natural philosophy was gradually being replaced by disciplines and forms of investigation that marked the beginnings of modern science, and where our subjectivity, nature and science were inextricably linked. In this context, photography was the new visual evidence for the representation and study of natural phenomena. With the emergence of new disciplines, photography provided new methods of scientific observation and analysis, as well as the need to elucidate abstract principles. This is perhaps the reason why, while explaining scientifically the transformation of nature caused by the camera and chemicals, they took up a vision of natural philosophy, finding “fairy images”, “natural magic” and “words of light” in nature “made visible” by photography.

The invention of the photographic technique also implies the creation of the concept of photography.

Is Nature painted by photography or being induced to paint herself? Is she produced by or a producer of photography? In order to answer these philosophical questions, Niépce, Daguerre and Talbot wondered day and night about the names they would give to the techniques they had discovered, but in the end, no one was able to give a clear answer as to the role played by nature in their photographic art.

Today, when digital images have become the norm, their questions and techniques can be seen as a nostalgia of the past. However, I feel that by revisiting their questions and techniques in our time, we can begin to see some of the chimerical nature of photography. And rather than seeing photography as a means of influencing the emotions of the public, perhaps we need a perspective that categorizes photography in terms of culture and similarity, as well as the imaginations that accompany them?


Production supports :

DRAC Centre-Val de Loire

Conseil Régional du Centre-Val de Loire

DRAAF Centre-Val de Loire

Lycée agricole de Chartres – La Saussaye