Précis de décomposition
Photographic prints on aluminium taken from cinematographic photograms, various dimensions.
Image above: Eric Rondepierre, W1727A, Précis de décomposition (Cartons), 1993–1995, silver print on aluminium, 80 x 120 cm.
Since cinematography’s decisive turn to a photographic base around 1890, its photograms, or frames, have consistently been reproduced in print. When this was done in chronophotography, we can recognize a split between specific details of objects in motion and demonstration of the technology used. The latter function continued into the era of cinema “entertainment” as a clear means to explain the workings of the Cinématographe, while the “scientific” interest of the images largely gave way to “aesthetics.” Early in the 20th century, the film industry soon perceived limitations in using photograms for major promotion purposes and began to employ stills photographers to provide such material (Pierre Ulmann 2016; Jacobs 2014). Until the 1970s, the conception of cinematographic photograms when extracted and reproduced in print was essentially one of illustrative functionality; they were hardly recognized as distinctive objects. This changed when Roland Barthes, followed by Sylvie Pierre Ulmann, ruminated on the specific qualities of extracted photograms. More significantly, Barthes and Pierre Ulmann recognized their subversive potential as objects belonging to neither cinematography or photography that are frequently characterized by semantic ambiguity, if not a varying degree of illegibility.
Eric Rondepierre has made exploring the subversive potential of the photogram his central concern. Selecting choice photograms to enlarge as photographic prints, he presents viewers with points of entry into “cinema” that only emerge when isolated from the medium’s on-screen flow of photograms. In making this seemingly straightforward shift from cinematographic to photographic apparatus, Rondepierre exposes those conventional qualities that cannot be translated in this move; principal among them, cinematographic compositions and modes of address, the implicit/explicit relationship with other images; that is, a photogram’s identity as rooted in an image series. Above all, for Rondepierre, cinema endlessly plays out libidinal tensions, anxieties and compulsions.
In bodies of work such as Précis de décomposition and Moires (1996–1998), Rondepierre isolates decaying cinematographic photograms that offer overt interactions between medium and depiction and tighten the relationships between compositional elements. Précis de décomposition is divided into three sections—Scènes, Masques and Cartons, comprising, as their titles suggest, scenes, close-ups and inter-titles—effectively dismantling the narrative conventions of silent cinema. (Barnaby Dicker)
Eric Rondepierre, born 1950 in Orléans, lives and works in Paris.
1. Eric Rondepierre, R413A, Précis de décomposition (Scènes), 1993–1995, silver print on aluminium, 75 x 105 cm.
2. Eric Rondepierre, W1930A, Précis de décomposition (Scènes), 1993–1995, silver print on aluminium, 75 x 105 cm.
3. Eric Rondepierre, Iris, Précis de décomposition (Scènes), 1993–2015, silver print on aluminium, 60 x 84 cm.
4. Eric Rondepierre, W197A, Précis de décomposition (Masques), 1993–1995, silver print on aluminium, 47 x 70 cm.
5. Eric Rondepierre, W1932A, Précis de décomposition (Masques), 1993–1995, silver print on aluminium, 47 x 70 cm.
6. Eric Rondepierre, W1729A, Précis de décomposition (Cartons), 1993–1995, silver print on aluminium, 80 x 120 cm.
7. Eric Rondepierre, Le Voyeur, Moires, 1996–1998, Ilfochrome print on aluminium, 90 x 120 cm.
8. Eric Rondepierre, Confidence, Moires, 1996–1998, Ilfochrome print on aluminium, 80 x 120 cm.
9. Eric Rondepierre, Conversation, Moires, 1996–2015, Ilfochrome print on aluminium, 80 x 115 cm.
10. Eric Rondepierre, Convulsion, Moires, 1996–1998, Ilfochrome print on aluminium, 70 x 105 cm.
11. Eric Rondepierre, Couple, passant, Moires, 1996–1998, Ilfochrome print on aluminium, 150 x 100 cm.
12. Eric Rondepierre, Miroir 2, Moires, 1996–2015, Ilfochrome print on aluminium, 69 x 92 cm.
Précis de décomposition was realized in the USA, and Moires in Canada.
Roland Barthes, “The Third Meaning,” in Image, Music, Text (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977), pp. 52–68.
Steven Jacobs, Framing Pictures: Film and the Visual Arts (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2014).
Sylvie Pierre Ulmann, "Elements for a Theory of the Photogramme," in Art in Translation 8:1 (2016), pp. 108–127.
Eric Rondepierre, et al., Précis de décomposition (Paris: Galerie Michèle Chomette, 1995).