Talking Pictures (26) – Genre: Conceptual Art and the Power of Text [Sophie Calle, (1953 – to date, French)]


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Sophie Calle, Chambre avec vue / Room with a view, Date Unstated

The appeal of SC’s images is the manner in which she combines photos, texts  and conceptual installations to weave a narrative of private experiences, her own and that of others.

SC’s work amounts to a systematic laying bare of reality, whether it be her own or other people’s, with a limited portion left to chance. Absence of others is a central theme in her work. The documentary manner in which she presents her work suggests a high degree of factualness.

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Sophie Calle,  “The Last Image Blind with revolver” 2010, Location Unstated

The images are a collection of varied lists of information about people who are absent and focuses on questions of absence and desire in others and her own personal relationships.

“A lot of my work is about absence, I realise. About things being taken away, …” 

Sophie Calle

That which is extremely interesting is the way in which SC offers her own emotional and psychological life as a subject of art inviting viewers to meditate on that which is presented within the image.

Her works are distinguished by the directness of her formal approach, her narrative skill, the conceptual enrichment they undergo over the course of their creation, and their power to draw in the observer with their varied abilities and experiences. The uncertainty expressed in her works is what makes them so compelling.

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Sophie Calle, “BOB” 2017
Digital photograph, diasec, light box
31 1/2 x 23 5/8 in \ 80 x 60 cm
Edition of 2, location Unstated

SC’s work frequently depicts human vulnerability, and examines identity and intimacy. That includes panels of text of her own writing. This concept appeals considerable to me as I try to find a way of presenting my own poetry, photography and art practice. I find that the three interests are gradually coalescing into a format that I wish to explore further. This is what I am hoping to achieve, at least in part, through the project.

“[SC] uses photography in unique ways – no one else works with photography / text in this outstanding original way …”

Hasselblad Foundation (2011)

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Sophie Calle
L’Hôtel, Chambre 47 (The Hotel, Room 47)
Venice, 1981
2 works on paper, photographs and ink
2140 x 1420 mm
Room 47 (22 February) is the first in the English edition. 

The image, part of a project titled The Hotel, is a two-part framed work comprising photographs and text. In the upper part, the title Room 47 is printed below a colour photograph of elegantly carved wooden twin head-boards behind a bed covered in rich brown satin.

Below it, three columns of italic text are diary entries describing SC’s findings, as a temporary chambermaid, in the hotel room between Sunday 22 February 1981 and Tuesday 24.

In the lower frame a grid of nine black and white photographs show things listed in the text above.

“The works examined the personal belongings of the hotel guests and observed through details lives which remained unknown to me. On Friday, March 6, the job came to an end.

(Quoted in Calle, pp.140-1.) 

SC’s descriptions of the hotel rooms and their contents combine factual documentation along with her personal response to the people whose lives she glimpsed by examining their belongings.

Each text begins with the chambermaid/artist’s first entry into the room and a notation of which bed or beds have been slept in, with a description of the nightwear the guests have left. A list of objects usually follows, as the artist transcribes her activities in the room.

CS’s body of work is both latently aggressive in surveillance and unashamedly voyeuristic -reading diaries, letters, postcards and notes written or kept by the unknown guests, rummaging in suitcases, looking into wardrobes and drawers, listening at and peering through doors, recording the occupants’ conversations or any other sounds she may overhear and peering into a rooms when any opportunity arose to catch a glimpse of the unknown guests. 

“These are not souvenir snapshots of a presence, but rather shots of an absence, the absence of the followed, that of the follower, and that of their reciprocal absence.”

Jean Baudrillard 

(Suite Vénitienne. Please Follow Me, trans. Dany Barash and Danny Hatfield (Seattle: Bay Press, 1998), p. 84.)

SC’ photographs contrast the intimacy of a photographs with the intrinsic banal nature of textual descriptions written with detachment. It is the combination of portraiture, objects, conceptual art and the relationship with the viewer that attracts my interest.

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Sophie Calle, L’Hôtel, Chambre 29
Room 29 (28 February) is the second in the English edition.
2 works on paper, photographs and ink
2140 x 1420 mm

I particularly like both the manner in which the images and texts are combined to create a diptych and the telling of the particular narrative and how the works are finally presented in installation format for the viewer. This format has influenced considerably the manner the direction of my personal thoughts and ideas with regard to the development of this particular project.

Reference List

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© Sophie Calle



Photography, Image and Message (1) – an article by Goff James


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Goff James, Flux, 2017, (FL 50.00mm, Exp. 1/1000sec, f/6.3, ISO 3200)

My latest venture has taken me into a new dimension – DSLR Manual Mode use of. Now there’s another great leap, literally, into the dark – pardon the pun. Experimenting in the studio with Still Life and creating a narrative.


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Low Key lighting was adopted. This was a variable factor which was dependent upon the requirements of others in their photoshoots and consequently over which I had no control.


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This was, on my part, a conscious decision to work within this parameter. For me this added increased tension knowing that I did not have full control over the final outcome. However it permitted me to experiment with the required adjustments needed whilst in Manual Mode.

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Goff James, Tryst, 2017 – FL 50.00mm, Exp.1/13sec, f/13, ISO 3200

I have developed an interest in working with objects and Still Life that allows me to create narratives with specific overt or covert meanings. I am drawn to the juxtaposition of organic and man made objects within an image and how they relate to one another.

Have a great day.