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A Timeless Portrait of the Many-Splendored Faces of New York

Man with the Black Hat, 2016
Archival print mounted between dibond aluminum and anti-reflective acrylic glass
59 x 59 inches (150 x 150 cm)

Etienne Rougery-Herbaut Harlem Twins, 2018
Archival print mounted between dibond aluminum and anti-reflective acrylic glass
31.5 x 31.5 inches (80 x 80 cm)

French photographer Etienne Rougery-Herbaut marks his U.S. debut with Cornerstone, a selection of photographs made on the streets of New York that present a timeless portrait of the people who embody the spirit and soul of the city.

As the country’s most epic point of immigration with no less than the Statue of Liberty to welcome new arrivals to these shores, New York has long been the point of entry for people from all around the globe. As ethnic enclaves generations deep have nestled throughout the five boroughs for centuries, a new scourge presents itself in the form of gentrification.

The systemic whitewashing of New York has had a devastating effect but as Rougery-Herbaut’s portraits attest, they preserve perhaps simply because they are New York. In Cornerstone, the inaugural exhibition at Brannan Mason Gallery in Los Angeles, Rougery-Herbaut paid tribute to the people who represent the heart and soul of the city, despite all efforts to eradicate their presence.

Here, Rougery-Herbaut shares his journey with us.

Etienne Rougery-Herbaut Onwards and Upwards, 2016
Archival print mounted between dibond aluminum and anti-reflective acrylic glass
47 x 47 inches (120 x 120 cm)

Could you take us back to the day in 2000 when you were documenting a student demonstration in Paris, and how that events of that day became an integral part of how you approach photography?

“I started photography at the age of sixteen. I was taking portraits of a student demonstration in Paris. As I was observing the crowd, I witnessed a very violent scene between a protester and the police. I got thrown violently on the ground. When I got up, I couldn’t remember what had happened to me.

“It’s only later, when I developed the pictures of that scene that I remembered everything and realized I had caught a unique moment. That day was important for me. Through photography I had found a way to remember. Today, I believe this event draws my projects as an artist.“

Could you speak about the artists who inspire and guide your vision?

“A couple of years ago, I was working with Agnes Varda and JR on the movie Faces Places. I was in charge of the production and I did most of the scouting with Agnes.

“During the shooting, her poetry, her determination for work, the way she used the camera as a pretext to meet people meant a lot to me. We were shooting this documentary for a year and I discovered by her side a deep consideration for people’s confidences. She was a dear friend, the sweetest and the greatest artist I know.”

Could you speak about how working with JR has informed your approach to photography?

“I worked for JR as a line producer for seven years. I was in charge of the production for the pasting actions. We pasted with the team in many different cities all around the world. JR is an impressive artist. His works involves communities and create powerful images. Working with him inspired me to write my own story and developed my own vision through art and photography.”

Etienne Rougery-Herbaut Wheeling and Dealing, 2018
Archival print mounted between dibond aluminum and anti-reflective acrylic glass
59 x 59 inches (150 x 150 cm)

Could you speak about the work you made in New York that is on view in this show, and the themes you are exploring in this series of portraits?

“The New York City series presents portraits of people I met randomly in the streets of New York between August 2016 and August 2018. By bringing these portraits together, I try to show the beauty and the diversity of the city.

“The people I photographed are from Puerto Rico, China, Chicago, Tennessee. Whether they were born here or not, whether their family arrived several generations ago, or not — they are all New Yorkers wandering among the stones of their city, in Harlem, Brooklyn, Soho or Manhattan. The exhibition Cornerstone is about immigration and solidarity to me. My approach was close the spirit of the original motto of the United States: ‘E pluribus unum,’ Out of many, one.

“I met man with the black hat on Pacific Avenue in Brooklyn while I was on a bike with my camera. I had to stop and cross the street to meet him. I asked if I could make a quick portrait of him — an image that I could send him back later by email. He told me he didn’t have an email and that I could take my time. He had such a natural elegance and I wanted to pay homage to his dignity and generosity.

“He told me that he was a preacher in Brooklyn. Later when I developed the photo I remembered his confidence by noticing that he was standing in the middle of the picture with a bright and a dark side over his shoulders! I always like to keep in mind that life has much more imagination than us.”

Could you speak about the process you developed in conjunction with JR to create these prints?

“I developed that mounting with ‘Le Colleur’ (that means ‘the paster’ in English) from the Atelier Image Collée in Paris because I wanted to have a frameless picture.

“Through photography, I try to share the experience of an encounter. I would love to share exactly the memories of my encounter. That’s also the reason why my pictures are often linked to a story or a confidence. When I take pictures, I try to find the right balance between what I see, the geometry, and what I feel, the inspiration.

“Finding the right frame was a beautiful nightmare to me but le colleur is an expert and he understood my purpose since the beginning. The framing is the reflection of my vision as an artist because its connected to my three important words for me: the inspiration, the creation and the sharing.“

Etienne Rougery-Herbaut Downtown Chinatown, 2017
Archival print mounted between dibond aluminum and anti-reflective acrylic glass
31.5 x 31.5 inches (80 x 80 cm)

Etienne Rougery-Herbaut Security!, 2018
Archival print mounted between dibond aluminum and anti-reflective acrylic glass
31.5 x 31.5 inches (80 x 80 cm)

Etienne Rougery-Herbaut The Iceman, 2016
Archival print mounted between dibond aluminum and anti-reflective acrylic glass
47 x 47 inches (120 x 120 cm)

Etienne Rougery-Herbaut American Garage, 2016
Archival print mounted between dibond aluminum and anti-reflective acrylic glass
47 x 47 inches (120 x 120 cm)

Etienne Rougery-Herbaut The Road from Puerto Rico, 2017
Archival print mounted between dibond aluminum and anti-reflective acrylic glass
31.5 x 31.5 inches (80 x 80 cm)

All images: © Etienne Rougery-Herbaut

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