Versailles is unique. Built by the Sun King Louis XIV to dazzle the people of his time and emphasize France’s rank as the leading power of the world, it has never been equalled.
What is less known is that behind those gilded rooms life was swarming. The royal family escaped in private apartments from their official duties and the eyes of courtesans. Thousands of people lived in the castle, from the highest ranking aristocrats to chamber maids and water carriers. Noblemen managed to fit in small rooms; servants lived under the roofs in lofts that were freezing in wintertime and awfully hot in the Summer.
Jean-Gabriel Barthelémy’ photographs show the various facets of Versailles.
He has worked in the palace for several months with a 8x10 Sinar view camera (20x25cm). In order to render the atmosphere of the place, he did not use any artificial lighting.
In some cases, exposure time was above two hours. It was hard work. He had to crawl in some places and to carry two heavy suitcases of equipment, one for the photographic chamber (camera lucida), the other one for the accessories, the lenses and the plates.
With a camera lucida, even when using wide-angle lens, perspective parallel lines can be restored. Thus he was able to get centrings impossible to make with a reflex camera.
Artistically, Jean-Gabriel Barthelémy’s work is in the same genre as those of Robert Polidori or Candida Höfer.
La Cité des 4000
La Courneuve, 2002 : les tours des « 4000 » ont les barres les plus hautes et les plus longues. Elles forment un mur d’enceinte oppressant autour d’un centre commercial et d’un parc. Comme d’énormes paquebots, elles déchirent le ciel d’Ile de France.
Cette série a été exposée au Festival Visa pour l'image en 2002 puis à la BNF en 2006.
France , 1952
Jean-Gabriel Barthelemy is primarily a photojournalist. For thirty years, from 1972 to 2002, he was one of the major contributors to the famous Sipa news agency.
Born in Paris in the district of Les Halles, he drew an innate sense of resourcefulness from his childhood which was very handy as a paparazzo. His first scoop was the arrival of Liz Taylor at a very private Ball held for Baron and Baroness de Rothschild. He went to snap images of figures such as Princess Caroline de Monaco, Prince Charles, Lady Di, Maria Callas, and many more.
In 2002, extremely impressed by the Edward Gursky’s large format prints at the Beaubourg Museum in Paris, Barthelemy made a start of a new career, very much inspired by the Düsseldorf School.
Since then, he has worked with a large format Sinar camera and 8 x 10 film. His major series include a contemporary documentary on housing in a violent suburb around Paris, the Seysse prison, the Chateau de Versailles, and an ongoing project examining the growing artificiality of our environment.
Combining his involvment in current affairs with an artistic approach, Jean-Gabriel Barthelemy occupies a significant place in contemporary photography.
-La Cité des 4000. Visa pour l’image, Perpignan, France, 2002.
-La Prison de Seysse. Visa pour l’image, Perpignan, 2003.
-Pour une Photographie Engagée. La Cité des 4000. Bibliothèque Nationale de France (BNF), 2006.
-Les moyens pour Agir (portraits pour l’INCA). Parc de la Vilette, Paris, 2008.
-La Cité des 4000. Galerie Polka, Paris, 2009.
Exhibitions and Fairs