Christian Chaize, a French artist born in 1960, lives and works just outside of Lyon, France. An autodidact, he cultivated his talent in this culturally rich city, home of the Lumière Brothers (the inventors of cinema) and a short distance from the rooftop where Nicéphore Niépce made the very first photographic image. In 1992, Chaize was awarded the Prix European Panorama de Kodak for Young European Photographer at Les Rencontres d’Arles. In addition to international recognition for his fine art photography, he has enjoyed a successful career as a commercial photographer for over three decades.
In the early 2000’s, Chaize became captivated by a stretch of coastline in Portugal. Since 2004, using film in his medium and large format cameras, he has honored a personal commitment to photographing one particular beach from a consistent vantage point. Taking its « portrait » at various times of the day or night, over the course of several months, year after year, has culminated in his most renowned series: Praia Piquinia. It is the subject of Chaize’s first monograph, TIME & TIDE, published in 2013 by Chronicle Books. This ongoing body of work has thus far been the subject of two museum shows in Portugal, as well as various international gallery exhibitions and art fairs. It has been featured in publications such as Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal Magazine, Collector Daily, The Morning News, The Collector’s Guide to New Art Photography Vol. 2, BLINK MAGAZINE, Architectural Digest, and Elle Decor.
Other color series by Chaize include To Praia Grande (Portugal) and Paradis (the Seychelles). Both have been the subject of exhibitions in the USA and Europe, as have two black & white series, La Lune (the moon writ XL) and TEN (smaller platinum-palladium still-lifes). Though the latter two manifest significant aesthetic departures from Chaize’s « beachscapes, » they, too, reveal a tireless concentration and exploration of a singular subject matter. Principally influenced by the painter Giorgio Morandi, Chaize also finds wisdom in the words of French author Marcel Proust: « The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. »
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” ― Marcel Proust
In 2004, Portugal presented itself as a new landscape in my life – both literally and metaphorically. Since then, I have photographed exclusively along a very small stretch of its southern coastline. Traveling there from France several times a year, I’ve observed its nuances, noting what changes, what stays constant…the subtle and dramatic shifts in its personality, if you will. Year after year, I not only continue to experience the mystery of its appeal, I find I am more deeply intrigued.
The results of my obsession have developed into two distinct series. This is an image from Praia Piquinia, a body of work focusing on a singular, secluded beachfront in which all of the pictures are taken from what is essentially the same elevated angle. What the still-life was for Morandi, the haystack for Monet…this beach is that for me. From a distance, I observe the variables: light, weather, time of day, the ebb and flow of the ocean and most importantly, the sunbathers, unaware, below my large-format camera. The images are shot vertically, a departure from the traditional, horizontal format in landscape photography. It puts my subject matter in the form of a portrait—an ongoing record of this corner of nature (and human nature), over the minutes, the days, the years. Ultimately, I try to instill an element of time within these captured moment…visceral time, elastic from one image to another.
Praia Piquinia has peeled back layers in how I see and, as a result, in how I experience my journeys there. Together, we are evolving. The place is the same, but as always, I seek to have new eyes.
In contrast to the beaches I frequent in Portugal, as familiar to me now as a family member, the Seychelles were a destination I’d only visited before I considered myself an artist. This is the place, as a child, I’d idealized as paradise.
Despite their difference, I have tried to make pictures for both Praia Piquinia and Paradis with new vision, or « regard » – a word that in French refers to observing. In English, appropriately, it also means attention, consideration, a feeling of affection, and respect.
While rediscovering the islands, I found myself shifting my camera between earth, sky, water, trees… trying with every shot to get away from the so-called conventions of framing. An approach that aligns itself aesthetically with some of the Modernists in photography, I was intent on seeing the Seychelles without the weight of parameters. (Just large cameras!)
Without our normal criteria for recognition, that which we look at can be renewed; new as in the first days of existence, breathing presence, light, and the incarnation of the world. In short, an image of paradise. So here, before these images, I hope for the viewer to feel exposed, like Adam or Eve before God invited them to name the elements of nature around them.
Some subjects are challenging to identify at first, while others play off the glare in our eyes; but even slight disorientation has the potential to disarm, and stretch us. We may suddenly find ourselves more receptive – like a child who discovers the world without predispositions, without judgements that risk to reduce his or her imagination.
Paradis represents a departure, literal and formal, from Praia Piquinia. At the core level, I’ve traded the traditional portrait format for a square; but even the image titles reflect their differences. In the case of Praia Piquinia, they are determined by the precise time and date each photograph was taken, whereas with Paradis, they are all called « Sans Titres »… untitled, unnamed, and open to your interpretation…
Nine years in progress, and the Praia Piquinia series continues to evolve – a result of my compulsion and commitment to observing and photographing there at various times of the year, at different times of the day. Eventually, and logically, I started to look at night. Of course, it was only possible to make those photographs when the moon graced my efforts. And from the very first time I tried it, a new obsession pulled at me. In fact, it became instinctive and imperative that I turn my focus towards the light itself.
We know the moon well, through storybooks, the cinema (Melies’ « A Trip to the Moon » not the least of them), NASA photographs, textbooks, backyard telescopes, planetariums, perhaps even charcoal drawings, croissants, and rounds of cheese – but of course, we know it best looking up. It occupies its familiar place in space, in legends, in our daily lives. Sure, we know the moon, though it may affect us in ways we aren’t aware of, or rather think about, except when its full. In any case, like Praia Piquinia, like so many things taken for granted, I wanted to see it anew. I wanted to see it in detail. And I wanted to see it writ large.
The route was long and filled with hard won introductions, visits to observatories, experiments with various telescopes, lenses and cameras…at one point, I thought this new series should be made up of all my near-misses and flat-out failures. But the subject was far and, after all, I was trying to « shoot the moon ». Over a year later, I finally arrived at the vision I’d hoped for using an assemblage of over 4500 photographs which I faithfully composed and enlarged to arrive at a single image over two meters wide. Technically, I reached the limit of what one can presently shoot photographically from the Earth. The scale, the detail, the cropping…here, the moon is not so much floating in space, but rather, it is the space. Maybe, like me, you will be pulled towards another way of seeing and thinking about it.