Jean-Vincent Simonet, In Bloom

JTF (just the facts): Published in September 2018 by SPBH Editions (here). Softcover with flaps, 132 pages, with 103 color photographs. There are no essays or texts. In an edition of 1000 copies. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Jean-Vincent Simonet, a young Swiss photographer, graduated from the Lausanne University of Art and Design in 2014, and two years later, was featured in the British Journal of Photography as one of the magazine’s Ones to Watch. His “practice fuses analogue images, digital techniques, collage and montage,” his experimentations often combining digital manipulations, physical interventions, and alternative printing techniques. He has said that “chaos, psychedelia, memories and a huge attraction for getting away from reality” are the key drivers and inspirations in his work.

Simonet made his first trip to Japan in 2016, and the images from his visits to Tokyo and Osaka became the raw material for the photobook In Bloom. The book atmospherically chronicles Simonet’s nightlife experiences in Japan, his nocturnal jaunts full of rave parties, edgy private clubs, karaoke bars, and night walks, far beyond the regular places visited by tourists. The title of the book refers to Simonet’s observation that cities are living organisms like blooming flowers; it’s also a sly reference to the Nirvana song that he would often sing during karaoke stops.

In Bloom is a softcover book of medium size. The cover photo captures a close up face with eyes closed – the predominantly yellow color gives the image a gentle touch, while flares of mottled light and other distortions add some sensual mystery. A related image of a woman looking right back at us has been placed on the back cover. The title and artist’s name appear in yellow on the spine, while cover flaps hide artist’s name and the details about the publications. All of the photographs are printed in full bleed, creating a continuous and intermingled visual flow, like a stream of consciousness.

Many of the photographs in the book are blurred and grainy, as expressiveness and movement lie at the center of Simonet’s photographic aesthetic. The book opens with vibrant night shots of Tokyo – we are thrown into the middle of the street, surrounded by fast moving cars, bustling traffic, and the overwhelming brightness of the billboards. He encourages us to peer down alleyways, where shadows and colored lights tint the scenes, and to join the dancing, as anonymous crowded bodies writhe to the beat. One spread pairs a photo of an exuberant bouquet of flowers with a portrait of a young man in a boldly striped jacket standing in the middle of a crowd, both using their outward appearance to attract attention. Flash-lit shots of plants and flowers appear throughout the book, making lurid parallels and adding contrast to the dynamism of the city.

Simonet’s photographic practice is rooted in experimentation, and the tactile physicality of his images is an essential part of that process. All of photographs in the book were shot using analog 35mm and medium format cameras, but the negatives are just the starting point of his fiercely creative (and often unorthodox) printing methods. Some of the photographs are printed on plastic, which makes them wet and drippy as the ink never completely dries. They are left to rest before washing them with a mixture of water and chemicals. Through multiple layers and iterations, he works his way toward his desired results. His post production processes recall the work of the Japanese photographer Daisuke Yokota, whose distinct visual language employs a wide range of physical manipulations and destructions.

The sequencing of Simonet’s seething images turns the streets of Tokyo and Osaka into a melting, almost liquid landscape, filled with urges and emotions. Most of the details are dissolved and distorted, but the aggregate result is a surreal slice of the city, like a painting or a fever dream hallucination. Fleeting portraits of strangers and random encounters add a human element to Simonet’s journey through the neon lit streets. The close up portraits in the middle section of the photobook were made using epoxy resin, creating a glitter effect, and the last series of images of intertwined human bodies were created with transparent prints and flashlights, making the figures glow in the shifting darkness. Even Simonet’s self-portrait includes a reflected reversal: he is naked in a bed with a woman as points his camera at the mirror above them.

The distinct visual language of In Bloom makes it stand out, creating an immersive, almost psychedelic experience. It seems to thump and contort with the rhythms of the night, with lights, flowers, bodies, and open mouths converging into a sensual thrill ride. With each watery warp and sparkle, Simonet pulls us along on his personal journey, letting us look through his eyes at the kaleidoscope of stimuli before him.

Collector’s POV: Jean-Vincent Simonet does not appear to have gallery representation at this time. Collectors interested in following up should likely connect directly with the artist via his website (linked in the sidebar).

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