Marie Quéau, Odds and Ends

JTF (just the facts): Published in 2021 by Area Books (here). Hardcover with dust jacket (22 × 28 cm), 180 pages, with 83 color and black and white photographs. Includes a poem by Amélie Lucas-Gary and text by the artist. In edition of 500 copies. Design by Bureau Kayser with Antoine Begon. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Odds and Ends is also available in a special edition (here). This version includes a signed book, an original print, numbered and signed by the artist (choice of 2 images) and a booklet displaying archival clippings from the project’s genesis (images cut out and collected by the artist), housed together in a slipcase. In an edition of 25.

Comments/Context: In her photobook Odds and Ends, the French photographer Marie Quéau wrestles with her anxiety about the future of the Earth. She describes her series as “an obituary for our planet, shedding light on its accidents and its slow collapse.” It offers a grim picture of the future, as she imagines an abandoned Earth, marked by fires and decay, without humans. The photobook was recently released by a new Paris-based publishing house Area Books.

Odds and Ends sets a bleak tone right from the start. The dust jacket is printed in silver and features a photograph of what looks like thin dry trees in the forest; it is hard to tell if there is fire burning or water running in the background. The artist’s name and the book title appear discreetly on the spine, in a rather small silver font. The book is printed on uncoated paper, and the visual narrative moves between striking full bleed spreads and smaller images (usually one per spread) that run across the page horizontally but always have a line of white space at the top.

A poem by Amélie Lucas-Gary, printed on black paper, begins the book, introducing Lucie, a character who shares the artist’s sensitivity and takes us on a walk around a desolate and surreal planet. Most of the photographs for this series were taken between early 2013 and late 2018, and were mainly shot in France and Guiana. Wind, earth, and fire are the guiding forces that link the visual fragments into an integrated narrative. 

Quéau opens her story with a horizontal image of a blazing fire. It is not immediately clear what’s happening here, perhaps a fire in the forest, an industrial disaster, or the burning debris during a street protest. This ambiguity is quite intentional and present throughout the book. This is followed by an image of an egg-shaped cockpit with piles of debris around it, and then a shot of a yellow flat landscape (maybe a chemical spill or decaying nature). Completely removed from their original context, these photographs create a post-apocalyptic feeling, and a sense of hollow alienation and desolation. 

The planet in the book is being destroyed, trashed, and abused – it is not dead yet but the process of destruction is undeniably progressing. As we flip through the pages, there are images of nature, organic matter, and human made materials, carcasses of technology, all now in the process of decaying. Together they suggest that human activities are the cause of this collapse, our presence turning into ruins. A sequence of three memorable images documents a destroyed roof of a small building, parts of decommissioned airplanes piled together, and the interior of a burnt down car. Quéau’s images are stripped of most signs of life; in one photo, we do see two people in white protective suits lifting a box, their heads cropped out, but their presence only reinforces the feeling of isolation and emptiness. 

A number of images document artifacts, adding an element of scientific investigation – a prehistoric crystal, an old human skull glued together from a number of pieces, an egg shaped object with a small drawing of an arrow. Perhaps these are a reference to the disappearing human race. One the last images in the book shows a rocket in the darkness of a launch pad, followed by a photograph of a landscape covered in heavy fog. 

A fold out page at the end of the book contains all images as thumbnails, now placed in chronological order, with brief indications of location and function. For instance, the opening image is marked as “Châteauroux, Aircraft dismantling platform”. A number of spots have a crossout rectangle with a caption – “Saint-Laurent, Driving Simulator of Nuclear Power Plant” reads one of them, and perhaps this is a way to include places where the artist wasn’t able to get access. This last section suddenly brings us back to the present, indicating that all these places do exist now. 

In the past few years, there have been a number of notable photobooks looking at the urgent environmental issues of our times. Lucy Helton’s book Transmission (reviewed here) infuses post-apocalyptic imagery with a feeling of hollow emptiness and desolation as she expresses concern about the future of the planet. In her book Cry of an Echo (reviewed here), Małgorzata Stankiewicz takes a stand against the logging of an ancient forest by thoughtfully interleaving images of its hidden riches. And in FloodZone (reviewed here), Anastasia Samoylova focuses her attention on Miami, where the dangers of climate change are hidden in plain sight. Odds and Ends is another valuable contribution to this conversation, thoughtfully merging environmental issues and the future of the planet, and asking us to consider further the artist’s role in voicing urgent concerns.

Collector’s POV: Marie Quéau does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. As a result, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist via her website (linked in the sidebar).

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