The Truth in Photography

An exhibition exploring the relationship of photography, literature and activism in the work of Hervé Guibert


Fields of Knowledge
  • Artistic legacies
  • Public culture

Organizing Institutions



Anne-Cecile Guilbard


Agathe Gaillard Gallery, Paris, Christine Guibert and the School of Arts and Sciences and the Department of English at the University of Pennsylvania

Opens to public





4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104


0% Formal - 100% Informal

Slought is pleased to announce "The Truth in Photography," an exhibition featuring sixteen photographs by French artist and novelist Hervé Guibert, on display in the galleries from April 20, 2007-May 23, 2007. The opening reception will take place on Friday, April 20th, 2007 from 8:00-9:00pm, immediately following "The Scandals of H.G.: Photography, Literature, Activism," a public conversation with Emily Apter, Anne-Cécile Guilbard, and Jean-Michel Rabaté about the life and work of Hervé Guibert from 6:30-8:00pm.

"It might be said that photography, a certain kind of photography, has much to do with eroticism: this way of nearly touching the subject, walking around, changing his posture, but above all refraining from thinking that the camera is magical and infernal, that the way the lenses are set and the entire mechanism turns it into an object of supreme power, akin to Bibi Fricotin's look-through glasses or stripping glasses from naughty advertisements. I am with this face, this body right in front of me, for the span of the pose, the time it takes to adjust the focus, and to press the button, as if I were to scan it. It is a second of truth or lies that is about to happen, but something is going to appear, something is going to reveal itself, something is going to show through. I am going to know more of it, I am going to get hold of it, and it will be a piece of evidence. The other's secret will be my secret. And this face that is staring at me may well fall through: it is already dead."

-- Hervé Guibert, Le Mausolée des amants

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Hervé Guibert was a French novelist, photographer, photography critic, and video film maker who was born on December 14th, 1955 in Saint-Cloud nearby Paris, and died from AIDS on December 27th, 1991 in Paris. Guibert inaugurated the photography column in Le Monde in 1977, and remained in charge of it until 1985. As a journalist he wrote about and became acquainted with many artists, writers and philosophers, including Patrice Chéreau, Roland Barthes, Isabelle Adjani, Michel Foucault, Miquel Barceló, and Sophie Calle. As a photographer, Guibert exhibited at the Agathe Gaillard Gallery. His collection of texts in the first person about photography, L'Image fantôme (Ghost image, 1981), appeared around the same time as Roland Barthes's Chambre Claire (Camera lucida, 1980); these two publications were the first in France in which photography was written about in the first person.

After his first book, La Mort propagande, was published in 1977, he went on to write more than twenty-five novels and short narratives in the first person which are notable for their ambiguous relation to autobiography and fiction, many of which were published by Gallimard and Minuit.

Many of his novels are inspired by the theories of his close friend Michel Foucault (Des aveugles, or Blindsight), or by Sade's phantasmagorias (Vous m'avez fait former des fantômes). In 1990, Guibert's novel A l'ami qui ne m'a pas sauvé la vie (To the friend who did not save my life) brought him media acclaim and public notoriety. In the novel, Guibert tells the story of his everyday life as a person suffering from AIDS, and he describes the last months of a close friend's life, named Muzil, in whom one recognizes Michel Foucault. Because of the philosopher Michel Foucault's wish to keep his disease untold, the success of the book had partly to do with a series of polemics, often violent, concerning decency and shamelessness and the limits of literature. Guibert continued to write about his life and his AIDS in a series of other texts such as Le Protocole compassionnel (Compassion protocol), and he filmed himself during the last months of his life (La Pudeur ou l'impudeur), which was posthumously broadcast in 1992 on television.

Since his death in December 1991, a series of novels (L'Homme au chapeau rouge, or The man in the red hat, Le Paradis / Paradise), a hospitalization diary (Cytomégalovirus), a photography album (Photographies), a collection of his articles about photography (La Photo, inéluctablement, 1999), and finally his diary (Le Mausolée des amants, 2001) have been published, as well as a series of exhibitions of his photographic work through Europe (Lausanne, Madrid, Bilbao, Seville, and Brussels).


"As a result of the media sensation around the work of Hervé Guibert (1955-1991) in the early 1990s, his work has been frequently pigeonholed: in relation to his age, his beauty, his homosexuality, his betrayals, or, finally, even in relation to his death from AIDS at age 36. Readers may be looking in his work for the Paris of the eighties, for the nights at the 'Palace,' for the leather trousers and the ephemeral beauty of long-haired young men. His work, after all, is fundamentally in the first person, and includes more than twenty novels, photography, photography reviews, diaries, and a video film. Guibert's work participates in the spirit of an epoch when, in literature as well as in other arts, in life, in photography, but also in video and cinema, the first person was pushed to its limits and the limits of autobiography were explored. His work interrogates and is an experiment in truth, and tests the way that truth can resist and stay still against attempts to approach and invoke it.

Fifteen years after Guibert's death, the problematics of self-writing, of self-fiction, and of self-representation sound very familiar to us, and Sophie Calle and Christine Angot have paid tribute to just that in No Sex Last Night (1992) and L'Inceste (1999). The pictures chosen for this exhibit at Slought foundation diverge from conventional approaches to Guibert in that they stress the staging of the photographs, which is considered here as an amusement more than as a trucage. The particularity of the photograph and the idea of photography at play in Guibert's work may reside in his remarkable skill to play with death, his own death as well as those that were closest to him. And he paradoxically does so in a very lively way.

Guibert had of course been close friends with and had read Barthes and Foucault, and he had written several commentaries about Cartier-Bresson's photography, so he was fully aware of the death of the author in literature, as well as the death of the subject in photography, and the way to keep one's distances with the photography's object. His singular proposition may thus lie in the literality of his reading of these theories, as well as in the obstinate amateurism he defended as his own photographic style. Is it strategy or pure innocence? One couldn't easily say, of course, but Guibert used photography, this art of the calculation of distances, to get closer to people, just as he used language, another medium of reality, to create fictions, fictions he performed and lived."

-- from the curatorial essay by Anne-Cécile Guilbard (Read more)

"Photographs are not innocent. They influence and ... betray what is hidden beneath the skin. They weave not only lines and grids, but plots, and they cast spells.... They are an impressionable material that welcomes spirits."

-- Hervé Guibert, Ghost Image