At first glance ‘Déesses Fragiles’ (‘Fragile Godesses’) portrays 120 lean naked women in black and white pictures. To photographer Lieven Herreman, however, it is, if nothing else, a self-portrait: a physical rendition of his search for a fragile and ambiguous self-image.
Herreman did not ‘find’ these images, nor did he stage them. He rather provoked them in to being. This is a clear indication that to him, the process of searching in itself was more important than the finding. With his pictures he takes the onlooker with him on his search – or quest – to find the ultimate moment where elements coincide and collide. In other words, ‘Déesses Fragiles’ is a path leading to a confrontation, more than it is a collection of images. The confrontation in question takes place between the photographer, ready to launch his camera ‘attack’ on the woman in front of him, and the woman’s discomfort within her defencelessness against the assault and within her nudity.
The basic idea of the photographer’s method is abstracting styling and self-image from his subjects. He almost forces them into surrendering unconditionally to his camera and into becoming his vehicle for the ultimate image. On the one hand, the woman wants to resist the attack – she is a goddess, she strong and imposing – , but on the other hand she also wants to surrender – she’s also fragile and vulnerable.
This duality of resisting and surrendering, of being goddess as well as being fragile, is the essence of Herreman’s work. It is the immaterialized stuff he is obsessively trying to grasp and to put into one picture. In order to accomplish that, he uses expressive elements while at the same time ignoring aesthetics. By doing so, he was able to create his own aesthetic for ‘Déesses Fragiles’. Achieving that was the absolute condition for a successful photo shoot, because it is only by creating his own aesthetic, that ‘the picture forgets to be a picture,’ as Herreman puts it.
Herreman creates this aesthetic by standing extremely close to the women, invading their (naked) personal space during an entire hour, distracting their minds from their bodies by giving a set of difficult directions and by rapidly making one shot after the other. At a certain point in this mode of operation, le moment décisif occurs, the moment when the woman in front of him is no longer conscious of her nakedness. She forgets her nudity and the rigid pose she was directed in and is completely mesmerized by the objective. According to Lieven Herreman, that is the precise moment when body and mind separate. That brief instant of separation is what he has captured in 120 pictures, expressing the duality he so obsessively tried to put on film.