In Fantastical Photographs, Christian Tagliavini Invokes Science Fiction Writer Jules Verne
In the hands of Christian Tagliavini, photography is a way of bringing the past to life. His previous series have recreated Renaissance paintings and swapped out the queens and kings on playing cards for living human beings. For “Voyages Extraordinaires,” his new show at Berlin’s CAMERA WORK, Tagliavini creates imaginative staged photographs inspired by the fantastical writings of 19th-century novelist Jules Verne.
The stories of Jules Verne are some of the most enduring works of science fiction, and have inspired hundreds of film and television adaptations. Verne gained the most fame for his “Voyages Extraordinaires,” a series of 54 novels which focus on adventures to the farthest-flung reaches of the globe—and even, occasionally, the moon. At CAMERA WORK, Tagliavini takes inspiration from three of Verne’s most popular works: Journey to the Center of the Earth, From the Earth to the Moon, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Tagliavini’s photographs invoke, rather than directly recreate, the novels, translating the atmosphere of Verne’s words into moody sets where people pose severely and mysteriously.
Tagliavini’s incredibly detailed art direction is one of the most striking qualities of his photographs. He spent two years producing the works on display, laboring over specially designed costumes, sets, and props. The photos open like windows into alternate realities, much like Verne’s otherworldly texts. Tagliavini’s photos provide snippets of a narrative but allow viewers to wonder what the full story might be. In Place des Rêves (2015), for instance, a young girl lingers in an Art Deco apartment, tightly clutching a doll’s right hand. She stands beside a telescope, not looking through it but peering upward; meanwhile, the object of her gaze (whether it’s the moon, a rocket ship, or aliens) remains out of sight. The work seems to be about the very sense of astonishment that so many people feel when reading Verne’s work.
Other Tagliavini photographs from the show focus more explicitly on realizing the science-fiction elements of Verne’s novels by posing intrepid explorers next to stylized machinery. In Voyages Extraordinaires / Le Départ (2014), a woman resembling a young Amelia Earhart, sporting a leather pilot’s skullcap, stands next to what appears to be the helmet of a primitive space suit—a small picture of a rocket ship immediately behind her suggests that she is headed to outer space. L'Ovomachiniste (2014), meanwhile, focuses on a man in a vest wearing a voluminous hat who has turned away from the camera; he peers out what looks like a porthole on what is almost certainly a submarine. Writing a little over a century ago, Verne’s world was radically different from ours—much of it unexplored. By bringing moments from Verne’s novels to life, Tagliavini conjures the sense of wonder that Verne must have felt as he imagined the marvels our universe might yet contain.
“Voyages Extraordinaires” is on view at CAMERA WORK, Berlin, Dec. 12, 2015–Feb. 27, 2016.