Raymond Depardon’s France at the BnF

Raymond Depardon, from La France series, © Raymond Depardon/Magnum Photos/CNAP

Raymond Depardon, from La France series, © Raymond Depardon/Magnum Photos/CNAP

“La Belle France” is well documented, especially in the tourist imagination. Poster shops in central Paris tell you all you need to know: bohemian Paris, lavendar fields, a year in Provence, vineyards, baguettes… From this point of view Raymond Depardon’s exhibition of photos, from his series La France, is a breath of fresh air. Depardon has spent many years investigating France’s deprived regions as a photographer and documentary filmmaker and has been working on La France since 2004. The resulting series may include stunning mountain scenes and lovely beaches but they are not your stereotypical postcard views, and they are in amongst mediocre-looking shop fronts, road side cafés and grey suburban developments. Largely unpopulated, the photos pick out details of the mundane: an empty souless-looking road with a traditional cemetery in the background, a sign promoting meat outside a closed supermarket, a man cleaning a beachside pool. Depardon also rejects the digital age with this project, choosing instead to travel around the country with a 7 x 9 photographic chamber.

The second part of the exhibition shows some of Depardon’s influences (Walker Evans, Paul Strand) but is less impressive than the main room of Depardon’s photos. I felt a little hard done by in the bookshop afterwards as the exhibition catalogue has at least twice as many photos as the exhibition itself. This seems a shame – perhaps budgets were stretched – but I could gladly have forgone the second part of the show for another room of large prints from the Depardon series.

La France de Raymond Depardon is on at the BnF (Mitterand site) until 09/01/11