Death of photographer Gilbert Garcin

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His existentialist productions were the delight of photo festivals, galleries and publications in the press. Gilbert Garcin, the “Grandpa of photography” where the “Papi de Marseille”, as he was nicknamed, died Saturday April 17 at the age of 90. His signature, recognizable at first glance, is synonymous with black and white images where a character – most often lonely – crosses philosophical skits. Also called “Monsieur G.”, this anonymous figure is an avatar of the photographer. White hair, sometimes wearing a bob and most often dressed in a thick overcoat, this kind of gentleman evolves in a miniature theater where the horrors of the human condition and the life of artist. With more than 300 images to his credit, Gilbert Garcin leaves behind an allegorical work inspired by the deadpan of Jacques Tati, the humor of Charlie Chaplin and the darkness of Alfred Hitchcock. In Void Attraction, for example, one of his famous photographs, Mr. G., from behind, looks at a window represented by the frame of a painting: art, a suicide mission?

For Gilbert Garcin, art is rather a cushy adventure. Let him start with the wisdom and experience of his advanced age. Born in La Ciotat in 1929, Gilbert Garcin embarks on a second life at the age of 65 after forty years spent running a lighting boutique in Marseille. The trigger? An amateur photography competition which he won in Aubagne and which opened the doors to an internship as part of the Rencontres d’Arles. Before that, Gilbert Garcin practiced very little photography, at most he bought an old Nikon, made a few pictures here and there and kept some family slides that he never looks at. It was under the guidance of photographer Pascal Dolémieux that he undertook to photograph figurines cut out and installed in the streets of Arles. During his internship, Gilbert Garcin is the oldest but his work is quickly noticed. And the mini studio’s ploy appeals to him so much that he adopts it so that he never lets go.

Consequently, it is in his small workshop in La Ciotat bathed in the song of the cicadas that Gilbert Garcin invents a world: that, miniature, of Monsieur G., therefore. He does not need much to make his images: his own character photographed and cut out, a projector, a cinema screen in the back and a decor of little things: sand, stones, pieces of string or pieces of wood. Sometimes he invites his wife Monique to appear on the photo board. Importantly, the titles he gives to his images open up multiple perspectives for the viewer: Gilbert Garcin seeks to make his Hollywood of the poor a “Spanish inn”, with tracks wide enough to speak to everyone. His home-made cinema is above all on a table corner, in a small room. “We have to find a happy medium between reality and fiction ”, he explains to Patrick Le Bescont of Filigranes editions in a short video on his site. It has to be believable, but not to be believed to be the reality either. “ His razor-sharp skits put him on the road to success. At the rate of 15 photos per year, the former lamp dealer was able to exhibit internationally. His prints are now featured in prestigious collections, such as the European House of Photography, among others. Never had he planned to handle the camera so well. When asked how he imagined his retirement, he always replied that he rather saw himself with a fishing rod.

So goes the world, by Gilbert Garcin. Courtesy Camera Obscura gallery

The right diagnosis, by Gilbert Garcin. Courtesy Camera Obscura gallery

Clementine Mercier

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