L’exposition Juke Joint Blues was to open on 1is February to House of associations and showed a series of pictures of the French photojournalist Alain Keler. Unfortunately, the place did not welcome a public that day and the works are now waiting in the shadows for an indefinite period … While waiting for the reopening of cultural places, it seems our duty to give some visibility to these projects. So that culture remains alive and accessible. The exhibition is part of the festival Travelling, organized by theClair-Obscur association and themed New Orleans. Juke Joint Blues is extended until May 29, 2021

Let it be said, despite their closure, cultural institutions and associations provide insane work that nevertheless goes unnoticed. Behind the scenes, the teams must continue their missions, constantly adapt their projects to the liking of government announcements in the expectation and hope of a reopening, continually postponed. They have to come to terms with this uncertainty, this constant doubt that their efforts may be in vain, yet again.

Considered as non-essential, the cultural environment is not the priority of the political chain, designated in certain respects as a potential factor for an acceleration of the pandemic. But, let’s face it, culture is omnipresent around us: in every movie we watch, in every book read, in every song hummed, etc. Recall that this same culture and its actors have fueled and punctuated the gloomy daily life of the world locked up at home, leaving the majority of the lethargy and anxiety of the confinement of the first confinement, from March 16 to May 11, 2020.

The House of associations, like so many others, are striving to project themselves towards a sunnier future where the exhibition rooms would be wide open welcoming visitors again. The exhibition Juke Joint Blues honors the photographic work of the French Alain keler by setting out to discover a series in particular, produced in the Mississippi Delta in 1986. Series that the photographer considers today as the trigger for a photograph ” more personal ».

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The photographer, photojournalist and photo documentary Alain Keler.

It was in the Parisian effervescence of the 1970s and 1980s, then the world capital of photojournalism, that Alain keler, born in 1945 (Clermont-Ferrand). The photography ofAlain keler is told like a story, of which the photojournalist will of course interpret the main character. His photos are chapters in this story, little stories that tell the big one. Hers.

To understand it well, it suffices only to tell it in the same way as the principal concerned did: with simplicity and sincerity.

This story begins with a first photograph captured at the age of 16 (1961), before continuing years later in the conflicts thatAlain keler has covered, for various agencies, all over the world since the end of the 70s. In 1975, he first joined theagence Sygma – one of the most highly rated international agencies of this period with Gamma and Sipa Press – to work there twelve years before becoming a photographer for the Gamma agency in 1989. ” I have loved travel since I was young. Once I was supposed to go cover the election campaign in Italy in the late 1970s, but I finally found out that I was taking off for Japan three hours later. I didn’t sleep for 24 or 48 hours, it was so extraordinary. “

The anecdote sums up the frantic way of life of the photojournalist and his world, which he compares to the adventures of Tintin. Sanitary conditions certainly force us to adapt our interactions, but a telephone discussion is enough to understand thatAlain keler that’s it: this mixture of simplicity and humor in the words. It is also about sincerity. He loved this job for the diversity and adventure, but “ to be tossed from right to left », Political news in world conflicts, proved frustrating. What about photography in all of this? “JI realized that I was forgetting what had led me to take photography – he confides. We only stayed a few days there. We returned to France when the news had passed, but, in my opinion, this is precisely the moment when we had to stay in order to be able to carry out substantive work. That’s what I liked about photography, but I couldn’t do it during this period. »

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Despite his status as a photojournalist, Alain keeps a Leica with him and takes more personal photographs that reflect what he appreciated in the photo before entering an agency. Capturing a moment is not enough, the photo ofAlain keler tells a story with gentleness and humanity. ” I operate by feeling. A photo must be good, it must tell something chose. »

An event then gives a new turn to the story, the trigger rather than the disturbing element of a story. The fruit of a happy coincidence which will comfort him and guide him on the path of his photographic desires.

In 1986, the photographer found himself across the Atlantic, in the United States, to participate in the project of the book A day in the life of America which brings together 200 of the greatest international photographers for several series of photos (100 Americans and 100 foreigners). During a conversation, he hears about the delta du Mississippi, cradle of blues between Memphis and Vicksburg, in the north of the Mississippi, on the border of Tennessee. ” This American photographer worked for a local Mississippi newspaper and had discussed the subject with a journalist friend. »We can easily imagine Alain’s eyes start to sparkle, the subject interests him. ” It was in line with my photographic desires, namely to spend time and work on a deeper, less superficial theme.. »

« Showing how people live is the most interesting thing about photoGRAPHY »

« We dive into another America, deep America »

Back in France, he keeps in touch and plans to return to the United States for a festival of Blues, « awith the agreement of the agency “. Arrived in New York, things did not go as planned. He was sent to Alaska where a glacier landslide blocked the entrance to a fjord. Dolphins are trapped there and ecological associations want to hoist the animals. “The agency had to come first, but by wanting to deal with a different subject, like that of the Mississippi Delta, I was deviating from the rule a bit. »He finally arrives in the delta du Mississippi a week late, ” sorry for not being able to participate in the festival “, Event friendly certainly conducive to meetings.

For three weeks, the photographer captures the daily life of these strangers, living in one of the most disadvantaged regions, where segregation is still very present as in the majority of southern states. At the end of the 1980s, black Americans suffered the consequences. ” I started my story by going to meet musicians, by going to Juke Joints, smoky bistros where music was played. »

Alain keler gives visibility to a minority, enthusiasts that we do not talk about. He rubs shoulders with families, meets musicians of all ages, attends weddings, funerals, lodges in a penitentiary center and follows inmates to the nearby cotton fields, one of the few remaining after the automation of harvesting by machines. This echo resonates with the history of slavery, segregation and Blues, this musical genre born from the songs of the slaves in the cotton fields and appeared for the first time at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century.

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Alain Keler, Parchman Penitentiary. Detainees were shackled for the day for refusing to harvest cotton, 1986, Mississippi.

Due to the space, only eleven photographs are exhibited at the house of associations, but the choice is well considered, ” a reflection of deep America. Other photos reveal the poverty of people, but I favored those that I liked where we see the atmosphere, the music, the people in their environment. They allow you to feel what the Mississippi Delta was like. » And there is no doubt that it is successful. Beyond the subject, the symbolic value of this series in the photojournalist’s journey gives it a singular strength. The trigger for a new adventure, this immersion “ where the music gives rhythm to the dances accompanied by laughter and a freedom that no one will be able to contest Is like the photography ofAlain keler, human and deep.

On his return, traveling around the world is no longer enough for him. Alain keler resigns fromagence Sygma a year and a half later, for a “more personal” photographic work. He enters the Gamma agency, ” which allowed more freedom as a photographer “, In 1989 and founded” Odyssey Images ” the same year. ” With fellow photographers, we were the pioneers in creating small agencies in which photographers were more free to choose their subject. We were in direct contact with the magazines while the agencies played the role of intermediary. It was also during this period that he began to work on minorities in the former communist world. In view of its background, this work seems to be a logical continuation of the series ” Juke Joint Blues And his aspirations. ” While doing this work, I realized that I was actually working on my story. The grandson of a Polish Jew, his grandparents came to France before being deported.

« We don’t do things by chance. We sometimes ignore the reason, but we discover it ONE DAY. That’s what’s interesting about these professions – photography, film, journalism or writing. There comes a time when you manage to trigger something that goes beyond what you did before. »

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Alain Keler in front of a “tin house” in the vicinity of Greenville, 1986, Mississippi

« I had promised myself to go back, but I never could »

« In this kind of subject, you don’t necessarily have to stay for a long time just once, but you have to go back. Links have been made so people are happy to see you coming back. This gives access to new, more personal exchanges. »The photographic history ofAlain keler is made up of a series of accumulating events, of ” things that pile up “. It is certainly made of a little frustration, but also great discoveries. That same journey took him to the Mississippi Delta in 1986. ” My condition as a photographer for large agencies is a subject of frustration, which is moreover extraordinary, but which allowed me less freedom […] I would have liked to stay longer, hang out, go see, take a walk … it’s unfinished business.»

However, looking at his work, we can say that Alain managed to capture the essence of this small, remote place in the world, as with this photograph showing a group of young people in cars. ” This photo is symbolic of deep America: the car, the young people inside, the cigarettes,… it’s almost a scene from a movie. They seem carefree, but we don’t know their story. It may be more complex than you think. »

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Exposition Juke Joint Blues, from February 1 to May 26, 2021, House of associations.

6 Allied Courts, 35,000 Rennes

Visits to the exhibition (subject to reservation): February 17 and March 10 at 3:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. (reservation recommended)

While waiting for the reopening, the house of associations offers online tours, here is the link to book: HERE
The gauges are 8 people per online presentation.

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