By KAREN CORINNE HERCEG, July 2023
On New Year's Eve 2018, our family watched the illuminated Manhattan night skyline slowly diminish as our plane rose and took us to our new life in France. We rented several homes before settling on the ancient town of Tournus in Burgundy. As we adjusted to a new culture and neighborhood, we quickly became aware of the rich artistic influence and ongoing importance placed on the arts in the Saône-et-Loire region, which is truly rooted in the history of France. We became interested in the art of our neighbor, Patrick Marceau, a local painter who spoke of his collaboration with a well-known photographer, Richard Greneron, who has been living in the nearby larger city of Chalon-sur-Saône since October 2021. Coincidentally, Chalon is the birthplace of Nicéphore Niépce (1765-1833), an early pioneer of photography, and is known as le berceau de la photographie (the cradle of photography). Chalon is home to the Nicéphone Niépce Museum which opened in 1972 and highlights the history of the photographic image up to the present day.
Greneron carries on the tradition in his work which continues to explore the many possibilities of photography as an ever-evolving art form. Photography and art in general have always been of primary importance in Greneron's life. Over time, his creations have become the imprint of his visual universe, a universe that constantly oscillates between the paths of reality and the imagination.
Greneron's works are exhibited every year around the region, one of the latest being a solo exhibition entitled Réveil Printanier (Spring Awakening) at the Chapelle du Carmel in Chalon in the spring of 2022. Since the 2000's, Greneron has felt a strong desire to work on the theme of "the imaginary" in natural light to create a dreamlike universe through his photographs. This gave birth to Songes Coloré (Colored Dreams), the more organic process I witnessed during a visit to his exhibition Réveil Printanier in April. I had the pleasure of meeting Greneron and seeing his work firsthand in this charming venue, a former convent of Carmelite nuns that is now a showroom for contemporary artists. Gracious and humble, Greneron took the time to show me and my companions around the exhibit, explaining both his work and his process. His passion and creative dedication were quite evident. The photos are enchanting and mysterious, each giving voice to a unique and multifaceted perspective. He presented images of plants photographed in natural light behind cathedral glass. Through these recomposed elements, the abstract and figurative blended together to create a unique statement. This approach does not involve computers or photoshopped programs but is a natural process. He described his approach as a desire to "sublimate the plant and transpose it into dreamlike worlds." He took these photographs in a horticulturist's nursery in Tournus and in the Parc de la Tête d'Or in Lyon and often seeks out natural locations to create his images. In one photograph of this series, we see the ethereal reflection of Greneron's hands on the cathedral glass.
Greneron often quotes the Belgian photographer Leonard Misonne (1870-1943) whose words have become prophetic advice for the direction and growth of his own work: "Observe the light, you do not know it, you do not suspect it! You photograph things for what they are, when you should only photograph them for what they appear to be, that is, for what the light, the atmosphere, makes of them. Light makes everything shine, it transfigures and ennobles the humblest, most vulgar subjects. The subject is nothing; the light is everything! Learn to discover this favorable light; it is what makes the work."
There is an impressive mix of artistic currents in Greneron's imagery, including Impressionism, Symbolism, and Fauvism. His work puts into new perspective the typical clichés that can identify photography and painting. His moods and circumstances create the inspiration and dictate the direction of his approach to each project. When he feels he has sufficient images to accurately represent his singular vision, he presents an exhibition to collectively share his private perception that brought his creations to life. He has high standards that require a keen eye and an open heart, two qualities that are easy to recognize when you meet Greneron. His interest in incorporating multiple art forms into his work stems from a love of heritage or legacy, a cultural appreciation he shares with his fellow citizens.
Writing, drawing and sculpture as creative expressions go back thousands of years, while the advent of photography and its progression as an art form is relatively young compared to other genres. But it has taken its rightful place as an evolving art form that is the foundation of Greneron's creative drive. It is interesting to note that in ancient times, the principle of projecting images by camera obscura revealed that certain objects could be visibly altered by exposure to light, an early recognition of this essential element that is so critical to the eye of any visual artist. However, the technology that enabled the birth of photography did not make its debut until about 1717. Johann Heinrich Schulze made the first attempts to capture images in permanent form but had trouble transposing them. The process was refined in 1826 when Niépce captured an image with a camera, but exposure times took hours or even days. An associate of Niépce's, Louis Daguerre, developed what became known as the daguerreotype, which used metal plates. This process allowed the first commercial photographs to be taken. A paper medium was introduced by William Henry Fox Talbot in 1839. The exposure time was reduced to a few seconds or less over time. The overall process was further refined with roll film and cameras becoming available to the general public in the mid-twentieth century. Eventually, color became an available option in addition to black and white. Of course, the introduction of computers and image editing software took photography to a whole new level. Today, the average person can take pictures of quite exceptional quality with a cell phone. The question is: what elevates a photograph to the level of fine art?
Greneron began his apprenticeship around 1985 taking black and white photographs and acquiring the equipment and expertise to develop them. In the 1990's, he devoted himself to aerial photography and from this period was born a series he calls En Chute Libre (Free Fall) mixing both symbolism and graphics. He began his first public exhibitions in 1999 and in 2001. He moved to Cuisery, a small, picturesque village in Burgundy, and opened his own studio to the public. Cuisery is also known as the village of books and has many bookstores and festivals celebrating literature throughout the year. Greneron's propensity to incorporate various artistic genres into his work is a testament to his innovative spirit, as illustrated in an observation by William S. Burroughs (1914-1997), a writer he likes to quote: "We are all time travelers, whether we know it or not. Art connects us with what we don't know. Art represents what is really going on in the human nervous system." Occasionally, some of his works have been accompanied by poetic texts from abstract painter Patrick Marceau or by Jean Philippe Gonot, writer, musician, and singer. Gonot writes that Greneron's photographs are of an "incomparable quality... full of magic, a magic where the veil, the mist, the mysterious evanescence rests like a caressing and untouchable hand on each of his achievements." In 2003, Greneron moved to a new studio he called Certains Regards (Certain Views) in the neighborhood of the famous St. Philibert Abbey in Tournus, a marvelous Romanesque structure that housed Benedictine monks and dates to the 11th century. Its ancient stone walls with vaulted ceilings provide a stunning atmosphere and complement any art exhibit. During the years 2014 and 2015, he was artist in residence at La Galerie du 2 à Essoyes (Village Renoir [1841-1919]) in the Champagne-Ardennes region where he developed his artistic approach and organized various exhibitions.
Jean Claude Mazuir of the Chintreuil Art Museum in Pont-de-Vaux where Greneron has exhibited his work wrote a comparison of Greneron's work to that of author Lewis Carroll who, "…offered us with Alice, to go to the other side of the mirror." He added with poetic insight, "To penetrate into an equally astonishing universe, all Richard Greneron needs is a hammered, soiled, wet or fogged window; to offer us the image of an unsuspected, phantasmagorical plant world, where each person finds through the recomposed elements the spectrum of references that mark out his own history." Mazuir concluded that André Breton would have been pleased with Greneron’s artistry. A French writer and poet, Breton (1896-1966) is credited with introducing the theory of surrealism that emphasizes the unconscious as the driving force of creative expression that merges both dream and reality. This is an appropriate reference given the intersection of artistic influences that include both the visual arts and fine literature that are integral to Greneron's vision.
Patrice Blein, also of the Chintreuil Museum, observed of Greneron's work, "Through the quality of the artist's gaze, photography has become painting and painting a photographic snapshot. The latter is adorned with a wide expressive palette." He concluded, "Looking at Richard Greneron's work, we understand that photography, which has long since acquired its letters of nobility, knows how to capture our sensibility, to the same degree as painting, to reveal to us an ever-richer vision of the world and to lead us on the infinite paths of beauty." Magic infuses Greneron's photographs as if he were crossing a mystical veil between two worlds with a sensitivity to detail that enriches our own vision of the cosmos. His images take us into another world, an ethereal but substantial blend between the real and the imaginary. In fact, his interpretations make us wonder where we might even draw a line between the two. Such perceptions have led him to further explore these boundaries.
Since 2013, Greneron has continued to move away from realism. Among other things, he experiments with image editing and retouching software to create fractal figures according to the Mandelbrot set, originally developed as a mathematical theory of complex numbers that gradually reveal fine points in increasing magnification. His latest photographs in 2022 represent work on human anatomy. Many of them seem appropriate for medical or anatomical material but with great artistic interpretation. He calls these photographs "an encounter between art and medicine." An exhibition will be on display in July and August 2023 at the Museum of Anatomy in Le Neubourg, Normandy. The museum honors Dr. Louis Auzoux (1797-1880), a French physician internationally known as a creator of anatomical models. In June 2023, Greneron will be the guest of honor at the exhibition of Photographic Art of the Photo Club of Creusot at the beautiful venue L'ARC scene nationale in Burgundy.
In addition, Greneron has integrated two new themes on his website (https://richard-greneron.odexpo.com/). These are À Corps Perdu and Regard Céleste. The future of Greneron's innovative and visionary work is certainly expansive with exciting revelations to come. We are all beneficiaries of his talent and art, not only in the aesthetic sense but also in the enrichment of the spirit.
Note: Some phrases have been translated from French. WM
Karen Corinne Herceg writes poetry, prose, essays, and reviews. Her second book of poetry, Out From Calaboose, was released in 2017. A graduate of Columbia University, she has studied and read with notable poets Philip Schultz, John Ashbery and William Packard - she lives in France.
Her website is www.karencorinneherceg.com.view all articles from this author