Wonderful photography.

Like the image reflected by a mirror, there is something unbearable in an image that shows the world in its natural, unadorned state. The ancients knew this: in times of mourning, they covered the mirrors in the house of the deceased with a veil. The living thus protected themselves from the reflection of their appearance and from their own death, hiding behind it.
In our society, where images are seen in a constant loop on our screens, some people are trying to disengage themselves from the pervading fascination in order to work with what is concealed. Eric Marais is one such person.
At a time when the memory cards in digital cameras allow you to take hundreds of photos in the space of minutes, he practices photography for real.

The Mysteries of the Darkroom

Has this idea come to him through pinhole photography, which he has made his own technique?
Was it waiting to express itself through the simplest of photographic processes?
The modesty of this technique, in any case, is in keeping with the humility of the photographer, who observes with each pinhole photograph, that the image is formed in the black box independently of him and that, ultimately, he is merely the operator behind a wonderful process.
For Eric Marais continues to be amazed by photography. The miracle of the image that appears! Nowadays we smile to see ectoplasm captured by early photographers at occult séances; we no longer understand the angst of the Indians who believed that the white man's darkrooms were stealing their souls; we are still surprised however, when we realise that 'image' is an anagram of 'magic' ...

There is a strangeness in Eric Marais' photographs, a certain quality of the unfathomable that characterises the genres and subjects he treats. Which are portraits, blurred figures emerging from deep darkness, evanescent presences bearing an almost psychic charm. And neo-Gothic inspired views of tombstones and crosses from unknown graveyards (Vita Mors).
Then a face, the face of the Christ painted by Jan Van Eyck, whose look of infinite gentleness is subtly depicted across a series entitled Ecce homo, a new meditation on the human condition.

Dare we suggest that Eric Marais practices photography as a moralist and that his photographs lend themselves well to spiritual exercises?
Don't be deceived by the devilment he has shown in portraying extracts from Concert in the Egg, long attributed to Hieronymus Bosch, in egg shells used as darkrooms.
The characters that you see represent the fools described by Erasmus, and which formed the painter's inspiration; beings who were insensitive to the mysteries of life.
Photography, however, like painting, is an exercise in raising awareness of the reality of our existence and in reflecting on appearances.

When Image becomes Act

If photography is all about time, and if Eric Marais' translation of it often resembles a memento mori, he does nonetheless draw other lessons from it.

The way in which he practices his pinhole photography is like a performance that he delivers through devices. These may take the form of masks, the vision of which is not as important as the action needed to reveal them. Similarly, with the Sténopés domestiques, hung for a year in different places, the images of those places turn out to be less significant than the experience itself of being watched.

Eric Marais' installations thus teach us that the other major concern in photography is the body, the one we need to engage for the act of photography to become one of art.

And if traces of all this should remain, he makes sure that these take the form of unique works. Not relics, but beautiful objects, beautiful prints, designed to fill the viewer with marvel.  

Sébastien Gazeau - journalist et art critic.