Axel Morin’s ‘Observations’

a state of active and intentional witnessing
a careful and deliberate watching of someone or something.
an assumption of looking to see
an implication of being watched
a world building act
ebbing into our inner eye’s workings

Axel Morin is a photographer and filmmaker based in Paris, France. The visual cultural worker and artist has been described as possessing unique storytelling abilities and a powerful vision with the capability of constructing deeply aesthetically moving photographs. Therefore, captivating with his photographs, those who come or happen upon his images, with his signature aesthetic touch of boldly constructed compositions guided by a clean contemporary sensibility and vision.

Black contorted and contorting limbs exploding and reaching out into all directions against a bone white backdrop. Pinching, stretching, twisting and leaning into oblivion. Something about how the form of the subject spontaneously combusts in the composition — an equation of limbed geometry — reminds me of Dumile Mgxaji Feni’s The Scream; 1966. A head thrown back in what could be read as an emotive expulsion of anguish, wide-open-wide-mouth silently shrieking, distorted and protruding limbs bending in angles that expand beyond physics; a figure of bronze assembled by disembodied parts that converged in a crash from various directions. Much like Feni’s sculpture but still to a lesser extent, the photographs that make up Morin’s Observations, read like three dimensional cubist paintings, perhaps distant cousins of Pablo Picasso’s Girl with Mandolin; 1910?

As I engage with the photographic series, I can’t help but fixate on the absence of the subject’s head and thus of their face. Of any element that would imbue them with distinct and singular features. That would give insight into their story. Therefore, my relationship with observance in this instance becomes unsettled and unsettling. This is a relation of an act in action, yet flowing in a single direction. Whose observations are these that I am making, is Morin’s gaze guiding me as the omnipresent narrator of the subjects life? I think of the nameless fictional character and narrator of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and his lament that is rooted in being pathologically observed yet simultaneously problematises the very act of observing, how sometimes even while looking there is an incapability to see, an obstruction of vision:

I am an invisible man….I am a man of substance, of flesh and bone, fibre and liquids — and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me. Like the bodiless heads you see sometimes in circus sideshows, it is as though I have been surrounded by mirrors of hard, distorting glass. When they approach me they see only my surroundings, themselves, or figments of their imagination — indeed, everything and anything except [for] me… That invisibility to which I refer occurs because of a peculiar disposition of the eyes of those with whom I come in contact. A matter of the construction of their inner eyes.

(Ellison, 1952: 3).

While the photographs themselves are undeniably interesting and captivating, even on a technical level as displayed by how Morin is able to so beautifully capture movement and the potential of it; kinetic energy forming, erupting and moving through anguished limbs — I think there was an assumption made along the way — perhaps by Morin, perhaps it became a character in the composition of the images, that observance and the observations thereof are neutral and thus inherently innocent. However, as History has taught us, as ethnographic anthropology has displayed, as Ellison’s invisible man has lamented- there is an exchange that takes place in the space between observance and observations. In that space- there are worlds being built, there are ways of knowing and of being known being forged, there are stories being fabulated and there are power dynamics either being crystallised, subverted or disturbed.

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