Stories we tell, stories we show : photo-textual strategies in the renewal of narrative formats

For the fifth 2023 edition of the Institut’s Grant in the frame of its programme to support research and creation, the Institut pour la photographie des Hauts-de-France is opening a call for applications on narrative and photographic practices, or, more precisely, on the way in which text-image systems have managed to renew or continue to renew narrative formats today.

Although writing the narrative requires a poetic dimension, it is above all a means of depicting, relating, recounting, telling – terms that also refer to what is done in photography. However, beyond this initial analogy, the meeting point between photography and text often has something of a visual and narrative strategy: in the different narrative genres, autobiography, investigation, fiction, history, the specific qualities of the image and the written word complement each other, giving rise to new original formats arising from the encounter between photo and text. 
We think of the Surrealists, with the famous Nadja, the photographic contribution of which upset literary conventions, as well as photo-text series favouring the narrative format, including the famous Suite vénitienne by Sophie Calle (1980), as well as certain series by Carie Mae Weems in which short accounts of the photographs restore the humanity that has been stolen, not to mention the very powerful present-day revival in all narrative formats that are developing alongside images.

Learn more about the theme Stories we tell, stories we show : photo-textual strategies in the renewal of narrative formats.

The laureates


Sylvain Couzinet-Jacques © Florentine Tourmante Studio

Retcon Black Mountain 

A speculative fiction project, Retcon Black Mountain revisits the existence of the well-known American school Black Mountain College (1933-1957), combining a documentary approach and archival research with contemporary re-enactment techniques.

The photographic archives and text documents serve as the matrix for research using “deep learning” tools, and will then be re-enacted by the inhabitants of the town of Black Mountain, North Carolina (USA). 

Well-known among the artists and intellectuals of the time, and well beyond, Black Mountain College attracted and created non-conformist thinkers, some of whom went on to become famous and extremely influential in the second half of the 20th century. They included Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, Josef and Anni Albers (who ran the institution), Buckminster Fuller, Jacob Lawrence, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Cy Twombly, Susan Weil, Vera B. Williams, Franz Kline, Alma Stone Williams, Philip Guston, and many others who had a major impact on art and its teaching in the 20th century. 

By revisiting the photo and text archives, Retcon Black Mountain primarily aims to reflect upon the present day through group reenchantment efforts: would it be possible to reproduce the experience of the school in a modern-day space? What would be the contemporary challenges, the structure and the ideology of such a place? The research project will explore the reenchantment of reality, and how virtual reality can impact individual and collective identity. 

Sylvain Couzinet-Jacques is a graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts de Marseille and of the École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie d’Arles. His work has been presented in the form of personal exhibits at Le Bal in Paris in 2013, at the Aperture Foundation in New York in 2016, and at C/O Berlin in 2019. For many years, he has reflected on the notion of reenchantment, using an approach that combines the documentary genre and the visual arts. His first book, Eden (1,000 pages of handscans of a house purchased for $1,000 in Eden, North Carolina) was published by Aperture (New York) in 2016, and Sub Rosa was published by Spector Books in 2019. 

Find the work of Sylvain Couzinet-Jacques on is website and this Instagram profile

Vanessa Desclaux and Agnès Geoffray

From left to right : Agnes Geoffray © Agnes Geoffray et Vanessa Desclaux © Yannick Labrousse

Written bodies

Vanessa Desclaux and Agnès Geoffray wish to cast a new light on visual and textual depictions of young women involved in the youth justice system, between the late 19th century and the present day.  Basing their work on archives, particularly those of the Youth Legal Protection Department in Roubaix, they will explore the notions of delinquency, sexual morality, behaviours considered to be marginal and feminine bodies considered to be immoral. Wishing to draw attention to forms of rebellion and disobedience to authority, they will explore images and stories created by women affected by these “protection” policies, offering other ways to tell the stories of their bodies and of the institutions that assess and confine them.

Their aim is to use poetic and political means to make this long history resonate in our present time. Their process is guided by an ethical question: the necessity of attempting to express another’s reality, and of reading into absences and silences. Although history plays an important role for both researchers, they wished to immerse themselves in the archives in order to express their fabulatory potential, through their plastic, narrative and curatorial productions. Accompanied by a series of textual photographs by A. Geoffray that focus on bodies that are marked, measured and filed away, they consider the possibility of creating a new, predetermined form that creates a dialogue between texts and images, and experiment with its deployment in the exhibit space. 

Art critic, curator (Tate Modern, Centre d’art de Noisy-le-Sec), teacher (ENSA Dijon), and researcher, Vanessa Desclaux wrote a thesis on the impact of neoliberalism on the curatorial practice in the contemporary art field, proposing forms of resistance based on the notions of passivity and fabulation.

Artist Agnès Geoffray was artist-in-residence at the Riksakademie and the Villa Médicis. Her work has been exhibited at the Centre Pompidou, Rencontres d’Arles, Jeu de Paume, Kunsthaus Zurich, Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne, etc. She is represented by the Galerie Maubert and publishes at the La Lettre volée publishing house in Brussels. At the crossroads between writing and photography, her work explores the survival of gestures and postures. 


 Nina Ferrer-Gleize © Lise Dua

Writing, pleading, recounting

This research project will take the form of a two-part documentary survey based in the Department of the Somme. The first part involves research on Cahiers de doléances (lists of grievances): first those drawn up in 1789, in the context of the French revolution, and then those prepared 230 years later, in early 2019, in response to the Gilets Jaunes movement. Only eight French departments have made their doléances public, including the Somme. What collective story is written and told through their pages? What role do these documents play today, if they have been rendered inaccessible? What does this say about the invisibilization and silencing of citizens?

In parallel to this first part, artistic and documentary work will be carried out in the field, with associations and organisations that work to improve the accessibility of written expression for the general public: whether via public letter-writers, or through the fight against illiteracy. 

The project aims to use practice and research to reflect on writing’s role in our everyday life: “writing that, whether in relation to important shared or private moments, or to the routine of our daily activities, appears to serve a single function […]: to leave a trace” (Daniel Fabre, Écritures ordinaires, 1993). 

Language plays a role in domination and struggle, and written expression can be used as a tool for emancipation. The ability to write the narrative of one’s own existence, to expose one’s material living conditions, makes it possible to voice one’s grievances and thereby leave a trace in a shared narrative. 

Nina Ferrer-Gleize est artiste photographe, autrice, enseignante et éditrice, elle a fondé la maison d’édition Pétrole éditions en 2013. Sa première exposition personnelle s’est tenue en 2021 au Bleu du Ciel à Lyon ; une exposition de son travail est à venir au centre d’art GwinZegal (Guingamp) au printemps 2023.

Find the work of Nina Ferrer-Gleize son his Instagram profile

Doriane Molay

© Doriane Molay

Between seeing and saying – the Stephen sisters’ photo albums as narrative change

This research project aims to examine the impact of ordinary aesthetics on the transformation of narrative through the photo albums of the Stephen sisters. Influenced by the work of their great-aunt, photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell produced several photo albums. Are they different in any way from anonymous productions? Are they connected to the sisters’ respective aesthetic practices – writing, for one, and painting, for the other – or are they merely the product of an era characterized by the appearance of new techniques that made it possible for photography to become a popular, more democratic practice? Do they simply bear an aesthetic resemblance that reflects the special bond between the sisters?

The project primarily aims to measure the impact of photographic practice on literature, that of text on the snapshot, as well as how painting affects and influences the photographic field, thereby exploring the very notion of the image through the vibrant lens of the Bloomsbury Group. It also serves as an opportunity to examine the album as a visual grammar composed of photographs, texts, collages and drawings, bordering on fictions and documents at the source of a fruitful disturbance in the identity formation process. If images speak louder than words, does the story told by the Stephen sisters’ albums offer a glimpse of a different way of constructing the self ? 

A graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts de Paris, Doriane Molay is currently completing her thesis at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, where she is a member of CESPRA. Her research concerns the photo album as a practice and examines the narrative presentation of the self and its impact on the constitution of the subject. She has also taught (EHESS, INHA), taken part in international conferences, published, studied abroad (Warburg Institute, Harvard University’s Houghton Library), and is one of the initiators of the project “La fiction et le tournant éthique” (Fiction and the ethical movement), in which she studies the work of Leonard Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

Dinf the work of Doriane Molay on his Facebook page and his Instagram profile