Sarah Moon @ Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris

The Sarah Moon exhibition at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris received great reviews. However, I have to admit, I came away slightly disappointed by the exhibition. I didn’t think that it explored the depth and complexity of Moon’s photography, preferring to highlight the aesthetic beauty. From the point of view of display, I found that works were too tightly hung. Not only was it not possible to social distance inside the spaces, but the proximity of one image to the next made viewing a challenge. The narrative of the exhibition followed the poetic and ethereal strands of Moon’s photography. Overall, there is a dark melancholy hovering over the photographs as an oeuvre. While, the darkness and bleakness of Moon’s vision made for some unsettling viewing, the exhibition ignored this aspect of the work. 

Sarah Moon, La Mouette, 1998

In addition, perhaps the most interesting aspect of Moon’s fashion photography is an eschewal of the eroticism and objectness of the model’s body. Moon’s photographs reduce the body to a form, sometimes no more than a mould for clothes. In the most extreme examples, the body or figure is a shadow. Moon achieves this through what appears to be a deft handling of light and shadow as well as an instinct for the visuals. The human forms are then placed next to birds in flight, at rest, in reflection. In such series, photographs that began as fashion images become about the shape of clothes, their proximity to nature, imitation of animals, birds and flowers. In this, they are haunting, opening out to the continuities between human and animal as well as between bodies in motion and memory. 

Sarah Moon, En Roue Libre, 2001

The exhibition makes multiple references to Moon’s interest in time, But again, there seems to be much more going on that a bringing of the past into the present. The photographs show an opening out of time. The camera is able to confuse between past and present, creating a timelessness that, as such, insists that time is in constant flow. Moon’s photographs wear the camera’s ability to bring disparate times together on their surface, just at the fashion world manipulates of form into something that is both timeless and ephemeral. I didn’t think this play with time, particularly as it related to the subject matter was explored by the exhibition.

Sarah Moon, For Yohji Yamamoto, 1996

Lastly, there was nothing about the technology used by Moon to create her unique images. Moon uses Polaroid negatives which are not developed immediately, therefore attracting scratches, spots, dirt and other markings that appear like distress to the surface of the image. Presumably, she also uses filters, but this is not mentioned. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the image is the appearance of Moon’s brushing of the photographic print with varnish or a lacquer of some description, heightening the blur and sense of mystery. This also reminds of early glass plate photography and the search to define the new medium in its relationship to painting. Here, in Moon’s photographs with the manipulation of the surface, it is as though she is literally painting on the image, bringing the two media together in the single frame. 

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