Review: Jean-Marc Caracci – Homo Urbanus Europeanus

by Irina Savin

I imagine Jean-Marc Caracci as a stalker haunting the streets of unknown cities in search for glimpses of urban stories. A gawky stalker, with his instrument of subjugation in sight, as it defies by size the small rectangular left pocket of his coat … and he can’t hide it in his sleeves either. A harmless stalker, waiting and hunting for the perfect shot, scouting for the right alignment of the shadows with the lines and curves of the giant glass buildings, for the almost flawless synchronisation of people entering or passing by open doors on the streets, and the symmetry of human silhouettes captured in the middle of an urban architectural breach – between a statue’s legs or hollow walls.
Caracci started his “Homo Urbanus Europeanus” photography project in June 2007, and since then he has been traveling to capital cities across Europe, dedicated to capturing the symbiosis of man and architecture. Dodging the role of the mainstream tourist, the photographer avoids taking pictures of the architectural benchmarks in the places he visits. On the contrary, his buildings are plain and monotonous. The grey tones don’t help either. And the people seem all the same everywhere. You can easily mistake Lisbon for Istanbul (in Caracci’s perception, an European city), and Belgrade for Berlin. But that is the actual idea behind the project – undressing cities and buildings to bare lines, to the essence of the homo-locus liaison, in order to cast light upon the core realities Europeans share, and hide the differences in the black and white tones and wide sceneries. The philosophy of the unitary Europe has mostly become mundane in the context of urban discourses becoming more and more political. Even if it might still offend some groups of devout believers in the uniqueness of nations, contemporary Arians or so, it certainly fails to set in motion that easily the unduly enthusiasm about eurocentrism. And it certainly doesn’t trigger mine.
But, leaving aside the political philosophy, Caracci’s pictures do trigger a different type of enthusiasm. It is the excitement of discovering time frozen in an image – some pictures are amazing solely because the artist managed to capture (after hours of waiting, probably) the exact moment when two men in suits were passing under a wide advertising board exactly when the two workers hanging on the wall above were swinging in line with the semi-eliptical smiles on the two faces pictured on the ad. Complicated to describe it in words, as you could plainly see in my bad choice of phrases, but surprisingly simple the image itself. And powerful by contrasts – the image of the two serious men in suits, walking in tandem, mechanically rushing on the streets, in the same frame with the two workers hanging like two pieces of undigested food between the teeth of two giant female faces. I have the same feeling of subtle, innocent, prosaic ridicule when looking at another of Caracci’s pictures, shot on the shore of a lake in Bratislava. Imagine nothing else but a lake and a strip of grass. A round-figured woman in a bathing suit, sitting in the lake, one meter from the shore, with her back at the camera. And a little duck in the middle of the lake, in perfect line with the woman and the camera. Everything so still and peaceful, almost depicting the perfect synthesis of man and nature, if it weren’t for that glimpse of humour in it.
That is what strikes me most in Caracci’s photography – the simplicity of lines and sceneries, and their ludic play that leaves place for stories and interpretations. I would hate for their meanings to go in one simple direction – the unity of Europe. I refuse to believe that. Instead, I prefer reading my own stories framed by the urban settings designed by Caracci. Some of his characters seem to be part of the cities they live in, always rushing on their way to somewhere else, and in the process becoming walking concrete pillars muffled in the grey urban cobweb. But others are just motionless contemplating bits and pieces of the surroundings. With bafflement or resignation. Rapt curiosity or wistfulness. And this is what the viewer has to discover, imagine, invent. Caracci pictured an old man sitting on a strip of land by the edge of a park, with a chasm opening underneath, his back to the camera, looking at the giant buildings stretching in front of him. I pictured the same old man, on a Sunday afternoon, crossing the dirty noisy city to get to the park where he used to draw house sketches and write love letters on the back of the same piece of paper decades ago, looking at the buildings like they were alien monsters in a H. G. Wells scenario, and confronting time. The photographer may master the composition, the angles of the lines coming across and the display of the stage, but the story is in the eye of the beholder. Thus, the bottom line of my entire elucubration would be looping around the openness of Caraccis’s pictures to continuously reframing their stories through the viewer’s eyes. I’m afraid it has nothing to do with the author’s intentions to travel across Europe and capture the “Homo Urbanus Europeanus” essence. And I am grateful for that.

# versiunea română a acestui text poate fi citită aici.

Review: Jean-Marc Caracci – Homo Urbanus Europeanus

10 thoughts on “Review: Jean-Marc Caracci – Homo Urbanus Europeanus

  1. reading this review made me check the photos, too. they’re beautiful!

  2. this review made me decide checking the project. it is very well written!

  3. from time to time i navigate on strange sites, discovering unknown beauties, like this

  4. this project gave me the idea of trying something of my own, a crazy thing that was never done so far

  5. Thanks for the review to the review… Exciting project, indeed. It definitely worths all the attention.

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