In classical music, ‘impromptu’ refers to a short improvised piece, performed spontaneously with little or no preparation. Géraldine Lay’s new book, Impromptus, is a visual take on the term, aiming “not to tell a story about the place or the country, but to be out of time”.
Lay first encountered photography during her course in History of Art at the University of Lyon; studying the history of the medium, she was bitten by the photography bug, and went on to study at the National Photography School. She graduated in 1997, and is now based in Arles.
“Initially, my practice was part of my daily life, I had no preconceived ideas or strict subject,” says Lay. “I got into the habit of always having a camera with me, to take advantage of all the little moments of life.”
The majority of the photographs in Impromptus were taken during two residencies in Céret and Nantes in 2015. For Lay, the difficulty in creating a body of work from the project was finding the guiding thread that would make one image resonate with another, “like a melody that tells a story”. Collaborating with Benjamin Diguerher, director of Poursuite, they met repeatedly to refine and organise the selection of images, creating a sequence that was “out of time”.
The result is an instinctive series of everyday encounters, that captures the subtle beauty in situations and objects that might otherwise pass by unnoticed. While she values the immediacy of working digitally, Lay prefers to work with film, because it allows for these “unconscious mechanisms of language to surface”. Poursuite for its part, describes Impromptus as a series of images that are like “notes of light music, with slightly dissonant harmonies”.
Lay recalls the beginning of this “dark side” when she photographed her friends grazed knees at the beach one summer. Since then, abandoned objects and “disturbing stylings”, as she puts it, have become common in her work. One of the more dissonant images in Impromptus is of a clown mask attached to the headrest of a car; Lay recalls being suspicious of the owners. “I was almost afraid when taking this photograph,” she says.
Even so, it is these unnoticed moments that attract her attention. “Photography captures and freezes them, it’s exactly this magic that fascinates me,” she says.
Impromptus by Géraldine Lay is published by Poursuite Editions, priced €20 www.poursuite-editions.org/index.php?/parutions/impromptus