" Gallerist and collector, I was not sensitive to photography as a work of art, I tended to consider it as a particular kind of print, too fragile, ... although I was very attracted by the history of photography in the 19th century and through the research of certain big names of the 20th century and those of contemporary artists, who knew how to create a real world of their own, original, like real creative "artists".
Dahmane’s works, his portraits as well as his breathtaking photomontages, convinced me that I was in the presence of a real artist photographer. Adept of technical perfection and possessed, from his adolescence and his first steps in this art, by the rich and multiple image of young adult women, partially or totally naked, photographed outside or inside, proud women to be celebrated for the plastic beauty of their bodies."
DAHMANE. Insertions, Nudes and Photomontages.
By Jean-Louis Poitevin.
Recollection, confession, provocation
The work of Dahmane has always revolved around the female body in all its splendour in an obsessive way. The presence of legs, hips and busts that partly or entirely reveal their nudity is simultaneously a recollection, confession and provocation.
It is a recollection because the child that each of us once was, is seized by the impossible yet definitively real memory of the belly that conceived him or her. It is a confession because whether it is in its totality or in each of its parts that are all supposedly desirable, this body is in spite of itself the implicit subject of desire. It is a provocation because ahead of any morals, there is a decency that is emphasised rather than breached by nudity. His images incite us to acknowledge the existence of this indiscernible decency.
Dahmane was born in Paris in 1959. Both of his parents were painters. He was exposed to the world’s complexity and beauty at a very young age. As a teenager, he was determined to pursue an artistic career, always turning towards photography.
When he was twenty years old, following a short experience in the world of fashion, he progressively became the great portraitist he is today. This is the dual world in which he has evolved since. An exploration of his œuvre is presented here.
Environment, nude, face
Dahmane is an urban photographer. He explores all the angles of cities and focuses on the geometric shapes of the megalopolis, like the places that Paris conceals or protects, such as opulent apartments, nightclubs, or closed places to which he is given access.
Without its inhabitants, these cities are nothing and representing the world as it is would be pointless. He therefore introduces the female body, which for him appears to be the only way to enchant this world once again. According to him, the female body bears a vast poetic dimension that allows dreams to go beyond the frame, be it mental, pictorial or photographic. The aim is not to get out of the frame but on the contrary to include a presence that is disturbing because provocative, obsessive because feminine, dazzling because beautiful.
There is always a nude body within the frame as that nude is always a person. The outlines of the flesh, the potential for expression and the power of evoking faces captivate him. The women he photographs are not models. He suggests to them to pose because he grasps their individual personality alongside their beauty.
Focusing solely on the nudity in his photographs would be neglecting the essence of each of his photographs, that of the articulation between the gaze and the stature, the decor and the body, the world and the personality. Each image bears witness to a story, that of the body’s setting in a given place, of which the multiple emotions can only be grasped by the expression of the face.
Throughout his career, Dahmane photographed classical nudes in interior scenes, the contours of which indefinitely recall that of the aesthetic canons ruling over the expression of beauty found in women’s curves since the dawn of times. The nude on it own cannot achieve anything as it must interact and confront its surrounding world.
The settings include places of daily life, such as rooms or salons, corridors or staircases. The poses appear to be tender or tense but it quickly becomes obvious that something is missing.
To avoid this trap of interiors, he listens to the exterior’s lure and in the city, this exterior world is the street, the buildings, the monuments… And the women have the power to permanently change a place with their presence. Each woman can give a meaning to the poetic insertion of displaying her intimacy in the common place that the city is. That is what Dahmane succeeds in capturing in his photographs.
These images are taken from the daily stream and these women who haunt the cities make us discover the affective strength of their radical presence in this world. Each image seems to win over the dullness and hard times. All together, they tell us how beauty can be fragile and powerful, demanding and aggressive in its curves and in its discrete revelation of mysteries.
What fascinates here, both the photographer and his models, as well as those who discover his works, is the controlled tension between skin and streets, between body and architecture, between rolled up or abandoned dresses and walls that suddenly appear just as naked. The city becomes alive and the women become in their own rights characters in a theatre, in which the unveiled intimacy challenges anonymity.
A technological turning point
The 21st century opened a new door for Dahmane, making him reflect again on his position as a photographer destined to celebrate female eroticism. He knows that what has always tormented him is simultaneously a technical, physical and spiritual problem, as it relates to our perception of our relation to the world. The question he thus raises is as follows: what photographing entails is to try to understand how a body can be inserted into a given space.
Digital technology helped him bestow a new dimension to the above question. He first used his old graphic investigations on capitals and systematically sought to emphasize their hardness by adding his models’ erotic touch. However, the two photographs were shot in different places and at different times. The presence gives way to a motionless present as yesterday and today are combined to the extent of becoming indistinguishable in the image.
This innovative technology also enabled him to play with other images whilst at the same time, attributing a new force to his rash love for perfection of detail. Previously, the photographic prints caught all his attention as the insertion of the body in the setting was frozen in the image. Today, the insertion itself becomes the catalyzer of the creation. True to himself, Dahmane spends endless hours polishing details so that nothing gives away his trick. By adding a body in the frame, he annihilates the limits of perception and opens a door that is invisible to the heart, even to the visible.
The long hours spent on the bodies and decors allow him to confront more his second passion, that of composition. Each of his photographs are truly and absolutely composed. What does this mean? That the game he plays at, the provocation of love he produces, the shock between longing and desiring that he provokes, are all subject to his absolute taste for a strict balance, the same that has obsessed painters for centuries. For him, taking photographs is therefore being loyal the great classical culture that his parents had exposed him to and that he venerates.
Anonymous magical insertions
A humoristic touch is often added to the erotic dimension of his work. This is most evident in the photomontages he created from anonymous snapshots selected from the Higgins collection. An electric tension permeates through each of these images, provoked by the antagonist polarities of figures coming from the limbo of a memory that is both collective and private, and from nudes shot today in a studio. In these places and staging characters unearthed from an anonymous past, Dahmane achieves a technical and magical operation by juxtaposing two levels of life that would have never been able to meet in reality, yet that truly exist, featuring on the photograph.
The photographs’ intrinsic beauty derive from what they project of yesterday’s world into today’s framework by distorting it with the incongruous presence of a body that arouses desire and awakens the memory of an inaccessible past at the same time.
The power of the evocation of fusion that Dahmane employs comes from the fact that the enigmatic presence of a body with its suggestive semi-nakedness does not seem to affect the beings that look at us from a distance. These bodies that have been stripped bare are visible for us and invisible for them. They bear witness to this imperceptible past with their streaks of polished nails…
It was also expected that he paid tribute and amused himself in confronting the great masters, by integrating his own characters. In his most recent body of work, in which he quotes Old Master paintings, he does not plagiarize as he reveals the part of the unaccomplished dream emerging from these masterpieces. The female body is often celebrated in these works. By introducing young women from today’s world, he voids the passing of time and opens a gateway for us towards an eternal present. Each of these pieces pays homage to beauty. Each of Dahmane’s works is not only a tribute to art and its history, but also a celebration of a new union, that brightens us up every time the threads of time converge in us with a braid of clean lines, forming a complete statue in which our visions and dreams are interwoven.
Translated from French by Valérie Didier Hess
Works in Public Collections:
Donation Claude & France Lemand 2020, Musée, Institut du monde arabe, Paris.