Daguerrotypes

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Last week, I randomly came across a French movie by Agnes Varda, from 1975. I found some aesthetic and conceptual qualities close to my interests in choreography, which is why I wish to share it on our blog.

Daguerreotypes is a series of intimate portraits of the shopkeepers from the Rue Daguerre in Paris, where Agnes Varda used to live in the 70s. The pun in the title emphasises the unicity and at the same time typicality of each person introduced in the movie.

We first get acquainted with Mrs and Mr “Chardon Bleu”, so called after the name of their haberdashery and perfume shop, open since 1933. The contemplative attitude of Mrs Chardon Bleu conjugates with the quietness of the place, lost in repeated and desperately resembling days. We then meet the hairdressers, the butcher and his wife and daughter, the grocer and his son, the plumber, the baker, the concierge,…

 

 

Rue Daguerre. Paris

 

 

The daguerreotype process was invented in France and was the first practicable method of obtaining permanent images. Using a silver-plated copper sheet primarily polished and fumed to make it light sensitive, the surface would be exposed in a camera and chemically treated, rinsed and dried. The resulting image would be sealed behind glass in a protective enclosure, appearing either positive or negative, depending on the viewing angle and on the light. Daguerreotypes were very delicate and fragile objects, but also unique, due to their irreproducibility.

 

Ms Chardon Bleu

 

 

Likewise, each portrait in Varda’s movie is intrinsically individualised. The composure and focus of each craft as well as the consideration of the light and the decisive camera angles mirror the daguerreotypes’ characteristics.

In the first phrase, the artisans are filmed during the opening and closing of their shops, choreographed by their duties, in their casual conversations and regular activities. Soon the movie offers a repertoire of gestures. These appear as if natural and inherent to the bodies, through reiteration and practice. Each person then speaks facing camera about where they come from and when they arrived in Paris, their voices and accents adding another nuance and depth to the portraits.

In the second phrase, we are introduced to the prestidigitator Mystag, having a show in the café down the street. Each trick visually coincides with the recorded motions of the hands and tools of the shopkeepers. In an allegorical way, the dramatic tone of the magician narrating these movements lead to the glorification and highlighting of their expertise and their value for the neighbourhood.

By the end of the movie, Varda slowly unfolds a sequence of fixed traditional portraits, overtly absorbing the quality of daguerreotypes and merging all the layers which repeated actions can bring to expressions, bodies and faces.

Ultimately, this movie felt like a popular tale, based on a resolute attention to simple daily gestures and a musing pace, which triggered my interest the most.

I would be keen to probe these aspects, in the same way as Varda, calling herself a daguerreotypesse