The Violet hour.
That impatient moment, brief and delectable, when light reveals itself in the final moments before it dims. The sky is ablaze with a last light, poetic and delicate, heightening our senses as day finally yields to night.
This suspended moment was carefully chosen by Anne-Sophie Costenoble to explore her photographic experimentation. Her most recent book, L’heure bleue, pays tribute to this crucial moment when day draws to a close, allowing night to come. Two worlds come face to face during this precious and furtive instant, with is restless light charged with mystery. From the very first pages, the reader is immersed in media res within a captivating universe, one that is by turns worrying and reassuring.
It's impossible to determine the temporality of these images: the photographer strove to leave no trace of time, no point of reference to guide the reader in his stroll through the first glow of night. Worse yet, he’s left there alone to observe and wonder, left there to find his own answers.
This fleeting hour opens a new dimension, like a secret that must be kept. The photographer dives in body and soul, and the intrigued reader follows, like an indiscreet shadow: together they venture through a timeless world, silently pushing aside the delicate leaves of this explored forest with their fingertips. Black paper, almost as thick as cardboard, fix these images steeped in melancholy and daydreaming.
The overwhelming presence of black and white seems to have erased all color, yet it is indeed present, marking the passage of time within this timeless moment. Anne-Sophie Costenoble's poetic photographs survey a precious instant full of possibility, the awaited hour when day draws to an end, making way for night. These delicate and sparse images reveal the photographer's passion for this special moment. The texts by Xavier Canonne, David Courier, and Jean-François Spricigo provide added gentleness, enveloping the work in a voluptuous aura.
Claire Mayer, Camera issue 20, January 2018
The book of the Belgian photographer Anne-Sophie Costenoble can be considered as a simulator for those wishing to feel the effect of synaesthesia - a neurological phenomenon, in which the irritation of one sensory system involuntarily causes a response of another’s. This is the very case when smells can be painted, shades – breathed in, and sounds – felt on one’s skin. Unlikely to be true? Just dive into “L'heure bleue". The invitation to set up several senses at once is immediately proposed in the photobook name, where, as we immediately learn it, even the time has its own color.
The edition "L'heure bleue" can be put in one line with French Impressionists’ canvases or Walt Whitman’s poems. Regardless of the diversity of presentation means, they are all about the same thing: the impression of the living of the moment, the emotions caused by the present, the astonishment of beauty. But the paradox of any beauty is in its fragility, and the Belgian artist, who in one of the reviews was described as "a photographer of silence", finds her way of careful handling of the things that charmed her. She approaches them as if on tiptoe, letting the clouds of black emptiness enter her photoframe, wrapping her "dear and beautiful" ones, like cotton wool wraps up Soviet Christmas toys. This black emptiness brings to the fore the fragile beauty of a purple fern, dragonflies covered by dewdrops and luminous jellyfish.
"Rather than a music, we hear a few scattered notes, a fluttering of wings, whispered photographs like like night time secrets shared with a confidant whose face remains hidden in the shadows: these are photographs spoken in hushed voices, for the eye and for the ear, a whole alphabet of secrets whose lexicon the photographer withholds, furtive and sublime moments that would remain invisible if she has not known how to catch them,” the director of the Museum of Photography in Charleroi, Xavier Canonne, describes Anne-Sophie’s book. And, going through his inspired lines, you come to understand: there is imagery which can only be spoken about in verses.
Olga Bubich, Bird in flight, december 2017
You could say that Anne-Sophie Costenoble is a portraitist. In her hands, the creepers take shape, the creatures free themselves, the ferns smile, the blondes challenge, the owls are invited.
Neither intention, nor message. Her poetry is full of joy. Because it is so delicate, it brings the hope of an enchanted world’s omnipresent gentleness and transforms our dark side, covering it with infectious beauty.The photographer embraces the accidental with an abandon, which want to be reciprocated, and randomly, her beloved delicate lighting links the strangeness of monochromatic colours with the intimacy of colourised black-and-whites. “It mustn’t be easy, I love the turmoil, the opaque and the vulnerable.”
She keeps a photographic journal that is intuitive, sensory and poetic, evidence of what she feels. “I take photographs for myself, it’s a sort of parallel life. To unlearn, to give myself permission, to wake up”. It’s all of life’s fragility that she talks about, with her child-like view. She goes out into the world and resists withdrawing from it. “Never leave the body, its pleasure, its deaf anguish, its silence and sometimes its intimacy.” Confident, she goes into the intimacy of these vegetable, animal, human or pictorial personalities. The gaze is caressing and invites a feeling of just being present in front of such beauty.
Anne-Sophie Costenoble constantly re-invents her work and impregnates it with what she sees, feels, reads, listens to. And if some authors, mainly Japanese, have taught her to feel the world, like haikus her images punctuate the fleeting beauty of a moment of life. “I glean fragile moments, poetic accidents. I don’t know what I’m looking for, but I have a feeling that something’s going to reveal itself. There will be this moment of hesitation, complicity.”
The world of her inspiration is vast and infuses into her imagination, sometimes symbolic, sometimes theatrical. “The discovery of the pictorial symbolist current changed my perceptions”, she added.”Painting regularly makes me feel like taking up my camera. Some music invites me to internalise, the theatre, particularly contemporary theatre, distorts time for me, the cinema brings me into a parallel daydream, dance awakens a sensuality.”
Her photographs become words, the words feelings. They come from afar and settle in. “Words have been with me for a long time. They are necessary for me, they nourish me and ‘broaden’ me. They are part of me and my work”. Guided by the sensitive, the travelling has been good for her. “It’s much easier for me to make pictures when I’m travelling. You are more fragile, ready for the unexpected when you meet someone, the senses are on the alert. But images are rare, it has to be something full of expectation. I love the ‘open’ images, not too obvious. On the other hand, a period of inactivity is necessary, to allow for some separation. A photograph sometimes stands out, meets another by accident and poetry is born” .L’heure bleu, a book, an exhibition and two completely different sensations that echo each other.
Cilou de Bruyn, The eyes of Photography, november 2017
AN ALPHABET OF SECRETS
Without doubt, we must go back to childhood, ‘the living sources of childhood,’ as it was beautifully put by André Breton, to be able to find comparable powers of observation.
The dreamy child, the morose child, the punished child know better than anyone who to immerse themselves in detail that will see time gliding over them without distracting them, fully surrendering to this haunting image that will forever remain with them, a long time after still reminded of it by a scent, a phrase, the persistent memory of a dream upon waking.
The adult, when it is Anne-Sophie Costenoble, knew how to maintain this concentration that sees time stand still because of one detail, a lasting meanwhile. In these photographs there is the rustling of the forest at dawn, crumpled bedsheets, the palm caressing the memory of a loved one’s body, the folds in a curtain or the underarm skin; there is hair, seaweed, feathers, scales, the tired reflection of a mirror like eternal wrinkles. There is the beauty of women, their barely concealed sex, a pulled back shoulder, half-open lips. Perhaps there is also the memory of old engravings, Brocéliande’s forest or the one by Gustave Doré, where a lost child plants little white stones.
Each of Anne-Sophie Costenoble’s images is a poem, lukewarm water to let oneself slide into, without fear or anguish about endangering what is flowering on the surface, a meditative photograph which has made a pact of silence, a ‘primitive’ photograph –inverted commas added by me – each one seeming to contait part of the world order since all its elements are contained therein and there is a place for all the senses.
Not so much music, but some scattered notes, a fluttering of wings, whispered photographs like night time secrets we once shared with one whose face is hidden in the shadows : photographs spoken in low voices, for the eyes and for the ears, a whole alphabet of secret which the photographer will hold onto to half-open the lexis, furtive and sublime moments that would remain invisible if she had not known how to catch them.
So much modesty and conciseness that trying to put a few words beside these images would be like betraying them yet I am, however, trying to do it.
In vain, moreover, since they are so beautiful and disturbing, they will conceal the secret which now binds us to them.
Xavier Canonne, May 2016
PHOTOGRAPHER OF SILENCE
Thanks to Anne-Sophie Costenoble, the viewer learns to see images differently, The promise of a new horizon beckons, an adventure both in the sense of photography but also existence. The photographs create openings and offer time for reflection. That is why the image here is never void of its substance and that allows it to revive a presence.
There is ‘feeling at one with it’ when the photograph become a way of transmitting what is felt. According to the creator, it must never leave the body, its joy, its muted anxieties, its silence and sometimes its intimacy.
Jean-Paul Gavard-Perret, November 2015
The photographer says to pull open the strip on her latest work with an excerpt from the book Secret Crystallization by Japanese writer Yoko Ogawa: ‘My memories are never permanently deleted as if they had been uprooted. Even though they seem to have disappeared, there are still traces of memory somewhere. Like tiny seeds. If rain falls on them, they sprout forth again. And besides, even if the memories are no longer there, sometimes the heart keeps some traces of them. An earth tremor.’
This is surely the same tremor that pulsates through Anne-Sophie Costenoble’s images. The series ‘The Silence of the Bird’ emerges from emotion and returns there, rising, concentrated. Ordinary and fragile moments, snippets of a story without words (or simply whispered) without noise (or simply muffled, distant), freed from intimacy, a necklace of trinkets that scratch the heart and carry with them a unique poetry, seemingly beyond time.
Where does the impression of literary density in this project emerge from? . . . Proustian madeleines, childhood memories, loved ones barely touched, objects carrying mute messages, alternating familiarity with strangeness. Faces, grace. No words though, not exactly, but rather the quivering of a confession which completely takes in the entire layering of images. They are addressed to the eye, but speak just as much to the touch, to hearing, to smell. . . . They call out to be tasted rather than understood.
After studying physiotherapy and art history, Anne-Sophie Costenoble discovered photographic practice slowly, gradually expanding her understanding of the world. Attendance at workshops, crucial encounters (with Françoise Huguier, Jean-François Spricigo, Nicolas Van Brande) led her work along new paths: a member of the Caravan collective and an eager follower of a documentary approach, one has the feeling that the photographer has followed the call of a small and more personal inner voice, one made up of undertones, puzzles brushed by fingertips, introspection, sensuality.
She also came to offer images in the form of installation: shots taken by her or old photographs, preserved but at the same time put at a distance under globes of glass. Two sound projects by Valérie Callewaert (a radio producer) complete the proposal supporting the overall purpose of the exhibition. A fable of muffled sound emanating from one of the seven wedded globes, and in an isolated room, a film made up of images she selected from the series ‘The Silence of the Bird’. Evocation of the imprint of time on the pictures meditation on their emotional impact – whether mental or physical.
The photographs of Anne-Sophie Costenoble reveal then even more than they actually are: the listening rooms, directly in tune with the stirrings of the heart, in collusion with bits of light lurking in the darkness – dustings of fire on the nocturnal icing of memory.
Emmanuel d’Autreppe, February 2014
A mere murmur comes along with me, silence hovers over these photographs.
Silence such as the silence that follows love, storms, silence that takes your breath away because it has always been with us. A timeless silence that demands nothing more than its own echo. No comment is required, contrary to explicitating art cherished by speculators. Here things are obvious, a breath, a blowing wind that goes along with the wanderer's landscape. I barely utter a few words intended to prolong a while the apnoea necessary to fully receive these visions, as they are unveiled to me. A moment caught between the heights of its clearsightedness, as between inspiration and expiration, a moment such as the obturator clap that creates at once that which has been seen and that already brought to being.
Anne-Sophie Costenoble's nascent work of art is embodied in a rare way, unlike so many of its kind, moved by the subtle will to open to Life up to its borders, rather than by the will to comply with moral territories presuming they can understand Life.
These photographs are endowed with a talent to see the beauty of shadows, of ever-changing Life. Indifferent to fashion, they will prove faithful when our absence melodies march along. No doubt they will cause many to worry when they refuse to recognise themselves in them, but they give us, at everything turn, the rare priviledge of never having stopped loving.
Jean-François Spricigo, January 2014