Harry Gruyaert: La part des choses

From June 15 to September 24, LE BAL presents the works of Belgian photographer Harry Gruiyaert, featuring a vast selection of vintage Cibachrome prints. This exhibition traces an unprecedented journey through the works of an iconic figure in contemporary photography
Harry Gruyaert, born in Antwerp in 1941, stands as one of the pioneers of color photography, inspired by the great American photographers he discovered and admired from an early age, such as Joel Meyerowitz, William Eggleston, and Stephen Shore. Departing from the confines of his native Belgium, Gruyaert found himself in New York during the early 1970s, where he encountered pop art and learned to “view the ordinary with a fresh perspective, accepting the inherent beauty in the world, even in its ugliness.” Influenced by his interactions with avant-garde artists like Gordon Matta-Clark and Richard Nanas, Gruyaert’s outlook was further shaped by Antonioni’s film “Red Desert,” a work he had watched countless times, instilling in him a profound desire to explore the world—to immerse himself fully, not merely to describe or inform, but to mold and shape it. His goal was to capture his own perception of things rather than the things themselves—to become a visionary rather than a mere observer.

Gruyaert describes this process as a physical struggle, an intimate battle with objects and individuals: “I throw myself into things, immersing myself in their mystery and alchemy. Things attract me, and I, in turn, attract things.” In the flow of life, where everything seems to slip through our fingers, Gruyaert believes that in order for “everything to fall into place,” one must simultaneously be present and absent—losing oneself to fully grasp the essence, the texture, and every aspect of the here and now. This requires cultivating a sense of foresight and surrendering to an instinctual arrangement of forms, colors, symbols, light, and motifs.
Alain Bergala, in “Correspondance New Yorkaise,” distinguishes between two types of photographers: those who believe in reality and make photography a means of capturing presence, and those who perceive reality as elusive, only able to capture absence. According to this perspective, Harry Gruyaert stands as an anomaly—a photographer whose visceral presence in the world aims above all to capture its fleeting and intangible nature. Through his images, characterized by isolated trajectories, disjointed spaces, and bodies on the fringes, Gruyaert’s patterns contribute to revealing the absurdity of the world, the surreal collage of life and its fragmented moments.

“What if photography could be about communing with a state of solitude and telling a lie that is truer than truth itself.” (Diane Dufour)

This exhibition brings together, for the first time, 80 vintage prints created between 1974 and 1996 using the cibachrome process. Known for its sharpness, vibrant colors, and saturated surfaces, cibachrome was invented by Hungarian chemist Bela Gaspar in 1933 and trademarked in 1963. It involves producing prints from slides through the destruction of dyes incorporated into the exposed and developed paper emulsion—a positive-to-positive process. These rare prints have been generously loaned to Le BAL from various collectors and Gallery FIFTY ONE in Antwerp, allowing this extraordinary gathering of works to take place.
On the occasion of the exhibition, LE BAL Books offers an exclusive limited edition print by the Belgian photographer. Limited edition print of the photograph: “Belgium, Brussels, Brussels-Midi Station, 1981 © Harry Gruyaert / Magnum Photos”.

About the Author

Harry Gruyaert, born into a devout Catholic family in Antwerp in 1941, pursued studies in film and photography in Brussels from 1959 to 1962. Later, he relocated to Paris, where he ventured into fashion photography while working as a director of photography for Flemish television. His transformative breakthrough came during his first visit to the United States in 1968, where he encountered renowned Pop Art artists like Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Rauschenberg. This experience profoundly influenced his artistic approach. Exploring the creative possibilities of “color substance” and the aesthetics of the mundane, Gruyaert became one of the pioneering European photographers to fully embrace color photography—a medium that was often dismissed as “vulgar” and relegated to illustrative or advertising purposes. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, he embarked on journeys to various countries, including the United States, Morocco, India, Egypt, Japan, and Russia. Although his style leaned more towards the pictorial than photojournalistic, Gruyaert joined Magnum Photos in 1981 and became a full member in 1986. Notably, he was one of the few photographers in the cooperative who exclusively focused on color photography. In 2000, Editions Delpire published his book “Made in Belgium,” which showcased his work capturing the essence of Belgium and featured exclusive poems by Hugo Claus. In the 2000s, with the decline of Kodachrome film production, Gruyaert transitioned from analog photography and cibachrome to digital photography and inkjet prints.
His renowned series “TV Shots,” created in London in 1972 through the alteration of television screen images, entered the collections of the Centre Pompidou in 2016. Gruyaert has held numerous solo exhibitions in France and abroad, including notable showcases at the Rencontres d’Arles in 2003 and at FOMU in Antwerp in 2018. Several books have been dedicated to his work, including publications by Éditions Textuel (such as “Harry Gruyaert” in 2015 and “Rivages” in 2018), Atelier EXB (“Roots” in 2012, “India” in 2020, and “Between Worlds” in 2022), and Actes Sud (“Harry Gruyaert, Photo Poche” in 2022).


Harry Gruyaert : La part des choses
From June 15 to September 24, 2023
LE BAL – Paris

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