The Fear of Breakdown in Pierre Barbrel’s Photographic Imagery

Having a broad interest in the art field from literature to fashion design, Pierre Barbrel‘s (b.1991) perspective is now concentrated on photography. Despite his young age, the Paris-based photographer has already received his first two awards of Art Capital at Grand Palais.
Barbrel’s photography interestingly depicts the relationship between religion and art, interpreting intellectual topics such as faith, hybris or fall in the most creative ways; its religious iconography aesthetically characterizes the artist’s recent art projects’ identity in which Barbrel blends techniques such as drawing, collage as well as digital transformation.
Words: Yannis Kostarias
Eros, 30 x 30 cm, image courtesy of the aritst


His recent body of photographs in the Fear of Breakdown or Icare– Flight, Flight, Freeze, Barbrel incites references either from the renowned pediatrician and psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott, as well as the Greek mythology rendering an alternative approach to his work. Yet, spirituality and symbolism have taken on his work and seek for further interpretation. The photographer notes that “through these photographs, the soul is materialized by representations of the body, and environment embodies psyche”. In this series of photographs, the capacity to cope with the contemporary art through a religiously creative prism build up the appropriate foundations for the viewer to question whether these two forms can co-exist. A photograph captures those visual attributes to the viewer to engage variably with these narratives mentioned above.
Today, the controversial debate, whether religious ideology does really meet the visual arts, takes place; on the contrary, their symbiotic relationship seems questionable in the artistic circles. Nevertheless, could we perceive this body of photographs as a religious work of contemporary art? Barbrel’s work offers an interesting dimension as well as a poetically balanced perspective highlighting their interrelation which can bring fresh narratives to his audiences. Considering the Fear of Breakdown, there is a strong reference on the symbolism of the body’s fall from heavens.
Icare, Flight, Flight, Flight, Freeze, 30 x 30 cm, image courtesy of the artist
Speaking spiritually, the fall’s significance is a common concern in many religions which is interpreted respectively as a punishment of the human existence. At another level, being inspired by the Greek myth of Icarus, the artist deals again with the element of the fall; Icarus’s human intention to fly beyond his limits towards the sun is also recognized as hybris, therefore the fall metaphorically or literally is an inevitable fact. Barbrel depicts this myth through “a fragmented figure, which is crisscrossed by pixilated vertical lines. Icarus is represented torn between two parental figures who frame him, back to black”.

In his interview with ArtVerge, Barbrel demonstrates an intellectual attitude towards the way he approaches his art as well his life. With a poetic definition briefly aims to define his work as “the language of the words he misses”. Besides that, every day he wakes up at 6.30 because he also works as a high school guidance counselor, he currently reads the Holy Bible by Broomberg and Chanarin, and he also adds that if he alternatively had the chance to live anywhere else in the world would be Bhutan.
ArtVerge: Can you tell us about the process of making your work ?
1 : to live : feel, experience, discover
2 : to braid : research, read, sketch
3 : to realize : take photos, make digital alterations, print
4 : to share
Pierre Barbrel: From the experience of life, feelings and questions emerge. I sketch them to externalize then do various researches to find connections. The models I use for my art are always my relatives or friends because I believe the link is stronger when there is intimacy between the subject and the artist. Through collages, drawings and digital alterations, I transform my photographs. They are braids made of experiences, dreams and echoes.
How would you define your work in few words?
My work is the language of the words I miss.
Pierre Barbrel
Do you have a favorite book, film or painting, which inspires you?
I have a huge appetite for arts in all mediums and my curiosity keeps pushing me to read, watch and listen more. From the top of my head, I can say The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The City of Lost Children by Jean-Pierre Jeunet or The Souls of Archeron by Adolf Hiremy-Hirschl are some of the works that really inspire me.
When was the latest video you watched on social media and had an impact on your mood? Which one?
A video about kids in Syria who are constrained to live in a country devastated by war. Human Paradox never ceases to touch me : how tense a link there is between Love and Fear, the biggest wonder and the most powerful tool of destruction.
Which exhibition did you visit last?
I visited Paris Photo in Le Grand Palais in Paris searching for inspiration as well as new photographers in order to see how they develop their techniques and therefore their art.

What was the last thing you bought?
An artbook, Holy Bible by Adam Broomberg and Olivier Chanarin which is a Bible with photographs/images selected from the Archive of Modern Conflict. This work explores themes of conflict, violence and the links in between.
What time do you get up in the morning?
At 6.30 am to go to work. I am a high school guidance counselor who has the responsibility to teach teenagers how to behave and live well together respecting the rules and therefore to prepare them to make most of what they have in order to build their future as well as improve the world they live in.
If you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live?
Maybe in Bhutan ? I heard they care about happiness and are very environment-conscious. Finding a community who cares about Earth is quite complicated in today’s capitalist countries. This remains a dream of mine, though.
I would rather like to live where I could concentrate on my art as a full-time job, somewhere where it’s meaningful for people and somewhere where it can live.

Which are your plans for the near future?
To move and to grow… To blossom.
I would like to let go of everything that prevents me from enjoying more art and experiencing more happiness. I would like to find a space where I can work more, create greater things and share them.

Oracle, 30 x 30 cm, image courtesy of the artist


Reminiscene, 30 x 30 cm, image courtesy of the artist


I was just thinking, 30 x 30 cm, image courtesy of the artist


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