JEAN-LOUIS GARNELL’S  Photographic Plenitude

from Chatenay-Malabry (Paris) FRANCE




A Sparkling Goodbye   by Rosanna Albertini

A mental distortion, perhaps caused by my American life, shows me at a small scale the photographic representation of a big historical ending: European good manners’ last sparkle, humble objects in a splendid farewell.

Goodbye to the Age of Empire and to flaking off dreams of primacy that European countries had thrown like blankets over distant, different civilizations. It doesn’t matter that a new globalization has replaced the first one, built at the end of the nineteenth century. Each European country, the people in them, grow the arts and self awareness out of a specific state mind: a silk thread still holding the civilized road, despite the absence, today, of Eurocentric illusions. The notion of style, maybe, is stronger than political or intellectual empires. Bossuet and Pascal, longer lasting presences than Foucault and Derrida.

“The qualities of the spirit are not something we acquire by habit, we can only perfect them; from which we will easily see that delicacy is a natural gift, not at all acquired by art.”

“To be attached to one thought that doesn’t change, tires and ruins our spirit.”

Pascal, Discours sur les passions de l’amour

Delicacy, maybe, is Jean-Louis Garnell’s secret style.



Objects are dumb by nature, they have no speech. Not so their images, changed in spirit by human senses. Viewers indeed won’t stop wondering about their fantastic transfiguration, spreading thoughts like dead leaves on the ordinary life they come from.

George Steiner* wrote that poems, statues, sonatas, and we might add visual poems, “are not so much read, viewed or heard as they are lived.”* Did he open the magic gate? An invisible grid of feelings and intuitions, a crowd of unsettled thoughts produce in human lives a space for the arts. It is so boring that words must be precise trying to pin down such an uncertain matter.



Intimacy, through this changeable texture, is a molecular cohesion of humans searching for aesthetic forms they can love, maybe understand, if they accept that their thoughts are exhausted by life, and discolored by light. Only in embracing death as a fact can an artist bring the most mundane, fragile glass to an instantaneous, elusive smell of infinity. Words won’t catch it.

Shaped by daylight, stories we tell to ourselves are temporary and movable, like the dance of reflections the artist has captured, expanded life already flat and colorless. But among the lines and flat bodies around the edge of the table and the images of glasses and leaves on the table, of more leaves printed on the tablecloth, spreads the beauty of freedom. Visual joy as it might come from meeting a new, glorious day.


Jean Louis Garnell lights a candle, puts up an electric lamp. “An apple after Cézanne? more than one. Repetition isn’t only time, it’s also a new feeling of light that plays with human thoughts and contemplates them.”


The foreground, a devalued surface that seems to be the land of nobody because there is nothing beyond le bout de la table, is his secret planet. There, Garnell is a petit prince, inevitably grown up.                


*GEORGE STEINER, Real presences, Chicago – London, 1989

(A different version of A Sparkling Goodbye is published in the volume JEAN-LOUIS GARNELL, Centre photographique de Marseille, 2016)

Not Things, but Minds


(order is not for humans – dates are flags on the surface of time, they don’t stop it)

by Rosanna Albertini

This is a completely European story and Californian by accident: “Not Things, but Minds” is John Cage speaking, and I live in Los Angeles. Space and light have changed my mind. Yet here I am, forever European. The story is about Garnell, the French artist who has given his soul to photography for decades, and now paints and thinks and sometimes carves delightful little spoons from pieces of wood.

The forest isn’t far from the artist’s house. Paris is surrounded by a wilderness which is now largely tamed and embroidered by gardens and buildings, often empty shells that look as if they are waiting for the next exceptional person anointing their doors with fame. The forest floor is crowded, it sends back echoes of painter Jean Fautrier, of Karl Marx’s grandchild, as well as Jean Paulhan, Voltaire’s family, horses, Chateaubriand, and contemporary steps by Paul Ricoeur. Past heroes are all there, hung up among the branches. Good manners, chandeliers. Trunks are wounded by bullets from the last world war, and from hunters. Space has become the body of time like every square meter of Europe, soaked with history.

Sans Titre #7   2010   2 x (120 x 150) cm JEAN LOUIS GARNELL

Sans Titre #7      2010      100 X 67 cm   

But Garnell is a hunter of elusive images, trying to discover the musical score that light writes in each of them. When, where, are missing. Literally, we have abstractions, or moments cut out from life, old verbal definitions maybe worked for modern art, now they sound awkward. And history, a human-made divinity in the universe of written pages, is silenced by his art, although it’s always there, covered by the image, a hidden giant that breaths. The double portrait of the same garden — a garden designed like an open book of eighteenth century geometry —  speaks of human imperfection: a minor displacement breaks the visual continuity as if the scene were observed by two different eyes of the same person. The central figure of a woman turns her face away from the view. She seems lost in her thoughts, maybe despondent, or perhaps indifferent. We  live a time which often gets lost, and we idly move our feet, with no direction, in a stream of sensations. Thanks to them we love everything we can perceive, images become unexpected moments of discovery, they are not things, they are our working mind. Perfectly rational decisions have become dangerous. With Keats we could say, “I didn’t read any book, the morning told me I was right.”

En de rares endroits, quelque chose échappe à cette main mise des hommes. En ces quelques phénomènes.” (J.-L. Garnell)
( Something, in some rare places, escapes from manmade interventions, in these few phenomena. )

Diptyque #3     1998     2 x (120 x 150) cm JEAN-LOUIS GARNELL

Diptyque #3 1998 2 x (120 x 150) cm

Phénomènes #10     1998      2 x (84 x 104) cm JEAN-LOUIS GARNELL

Phénomènes #10 1998 2 x (84 x 104) cm

Phénomènes    #6       1998    2 x (84 x 104) cm JEAN-LOUIS GARNELL

Phénomènes #6 1998 2 x (84 x 104) cm

Le cheval du vent – The horse of the wind

JEAN – LOUIS GARNELL  from Chatenây-Malabry (France)


…Ayant fait surgir le cheval du vent (traduction du tibétain lungta.”Lung” signifie vent et “ta” cheval), nous pouvons nous accommoder de tout ce qui se présente dans notre état d’esprit, sans problème ni hésitation. Ainsi, en appelant le cheval du vent, nous accédons au fruit de l’invocation du drala secret, qui nous est l’expérience d’un état d’esprit exempt du bavardage mental, dénué d’hésitation et d’incrédulité. Nous faisons à l’instant même l’expérience de notre propre état d’esprit. Cet instant est frais, jeune et virginal. Il est innocent et authentique et ne contient ni doute ni défiance. Il est naïf, au sens positif, et complètement frais...

Chögyam Trungpa Shambhala, La voie sacrée du guerrier.  Editions: Points Seuil 1990 Pages 116-117.  Shambhala, The sacred path of the warrior, Shambhala Publications Inc. 1984

 Langage un peu ésotérique, mais une belle résonnance avec le Thinking fresh, n’est ce pas?  J-L G  Exoteric language, and yet a it resonates nicely with ‘Thinking fresh,’ doesn’t it?

…Windhorse is a translation of the Tibetan lungta. Lung means “wind” and ta means “horse.” Invoking secret drala is the experience of raising wind horse, raising a wind of delight and power and riding on… Having raised your wind horse, you can accomodate whatever arises in your state of mind. There is no problem or hesitation of any kind. So the fruition of invoking secret drala is that you experience a state of mind that is free from unconscious gossip, free from hesitation and disbelief. You experience the very moment of your state of mind. It is fresh and youthful and virginal.

(Translation discrepancies are the way ideas take a ride in different minds, and they are interesting.) RA