Rayon Vert explores portraiture, the sometimes intimate interaction between photographer and sitter, the little moments in between, as the model twists, uncomfortable from sitting so long, or moving into a different pose, or staring blankly into space in a mixture of boredom and impatience. With it, Senta Simond has given us a glimpse of what a nonpatriarchal gaze might look like.
The first thing I noticed in Rayon Vert is the extravagant use of paper. The book is made up of 100 pages (50 fronts and 50 backs) and contains just 31 pictures (22 black & white, 9 color). Other than the publishing information and a list of 14 first names (presumably the sitters, spread over 7 pages), there is no text, no page numbers, no introduction, no title page. The spine has the name of the photographer, title, and publisher; the title appears alone, in green, on a white field on the back, and the evocative photo on the cover doesn’t reappear in the book.
In some sense, Rayon Vert subverts most expectations for the photobook genre, just as Simond’s photographs essentially throw out most portraiture conventions, instead opting for Man Ray-type shadow play, oblique angles, off-kilter framing, and other techniques to sort of lay claim the space of the photograph. The scene doesn’t belong to the viewer, it’s something shared between the photographer and the sitter. We just happen upon it after the fact, and either wonder what the heck it’s all about or slow down and appreciate what Simond is trying to share.
The photographs are intimate, but not prurient, the movements awkwardly graceful, the expressions grimacing, at times almost menacing. It’s a tender, obviously caring look at portraiture unlike many I’ve seen before. No wonder that Rayon Vert was listed as one of the Photobooks of the Year (so far) in the BJP, which also named Simond as one of its Ones to Watch.
Overall, I give it 4.2 stars.
Rayon Vert appears to be sold out everywhere, and there’s not much of it to be seen on Simond’s website. The publisher has some of the pictures on its page for the book, and others can be seen in reviews in GUP, BJP, Collector Daily, Another Mag, and elsewhere, and they’re worth checking out, and I hope the time I’ve spent with this book influences some of my photography.