Lucien Clergue & Edward Weston

Photograph by Lucien ClerguePhotograph by Lucien Clergue

Tom Beck, in Lucien Clergue, reports Clergue to be convinced that "his images have their roots in the 4600 years of human history and experience centered around Arles." Clergue draws his artistic practice from a place steeped in the mythology of the Mediterranean; something he views not as fable or fiction but symbolic truth. This concern with mythology is seen most vividly in Clergue's photographs of natural formations of the earth.

Growing out of Clergue's earlier landscape work in France, Clergue's 1988 study Footprints of the Gods: The Point Lobos Saga finds some of its inspiration in the work of Edward Weston. A region of California that was made known by Weston's photography, Clergue argues that it was here Weston went about "opening our eyes." Regardless of Weston's protests to the contrary, Clergue sees in Weston's work the symbolic transformation of "the idea of the vegetable forms to the rocks and trees of Point Lobos." Where Weston actively denied in his famous Daybooks any sexual symbolism in his photography of natural forms, Clergue's photography of Point Lobos self-consciously seeks resemblance between the shapes of human form, sexuality and fecundity in the earth itself.

UCR/CMP director Jonathan Green has observed that Weston's photography "consistently values lucidity over chaos, clarity and simplicity over disorder." Green explains, "It is a gesture that postulates [that] the 'essential' and 'the thing itself' -- terms Weston used with great respect -- were not the natural, the perfected, or the beautiful, but rather the aesthetic act of organization and description that signaled human potential and cultural construction."

While it would be wrong to deny that Weston's artistic technique has influenced Clergue's, Weston's denial of transcendent categories such as the "natural, the perfected or the beautiful" may be identified as the point where Weston and Clergue come into disagreement. For as Clergue explains his work at Point Lobos was precisely "to get back to origins ... those signs left by gods and goddesses." Clergue writes of what he found at Point Lobos:

And the questions remain for all eternity: why, why, why? Why are there two sexes, man and woman? Why is there a bestiary, making you think of Hieronymus Bosch? Why this dream of nature? Why death, suddenly all around you? Why? Why? Why?


Next: Clergue's Recent Work