Valérie Belin’s reflections of the real and imaginary

Known for exploring ideas of surface, identity and artificiality, Valérie Belin is one of the most celebrated French photographers working today. Internationally renowned and critically respected, Belin employs the human form as a vessel to project or subvert meaning in her work. Questioning reality is also a common thread that runs throughout the artist’s oeuvre, and is an important theme in her most recent body of work commissioned by the V&A, Reflection.

The series, which found its inspiration in the V&A’s collection, is now on show at the museum’s Photography Centre, and is the second in its series of commissions since it opened a year ago, following Thomas Ruff’s Tripe/Ruff series.

Left: Lights on Lexington. Right: Fresh Cuts, Atlanta. Bottom: Downtown Dresses, Manhattan © Valérie Belin

While exploring the collection, Belin was particularly drawn to the street photography of Eugène Atget, Walker Evans and Lee Friedlander, as well as commercial photographs of window displays by  the Worsinger Window Service, a New York firm that specialised in documenting shop windows and interiors in the 1930s. Through the resulting series, Belin combines the visual language of the street with illusionary effects created through layered reflections, continuing her 0ngoing enquiry into the tension between the real and the imaginary.

Crosby Display, Manhattan © Valérie Belin

“The motif of the window recurs throughout my work; as a place of representation, fantasy and glamour, it speaks to the line between artifice and reality,” said Belin in a statement released by the V&A. “We live in a world where superimposition is part of our basic human condition… These photographs are like a broken mirror — perhaps they reflect that it’s easy to lose ourselves in the atmosphere generated by mass consumption. When encountering my work, I want viewers to question what it is they are looking at, and maybe challenge their way of seeing the world too.”

Uptown Vision, Manhattan © Valérie Belin

Martin Banes, Senior Curator of Photographs at the V&A said, “By applying her creative vision to the V&A’s photographs collection, Belin interrogates ideas of seeing and being seen, past and present, light and dark, and transparency and opacity… Through her experiments in digital post-production she injects her photographs with a sense of fantasy and eerie surrealism, which challenges viewers to question their perspectives on the world.”

Valérie Belin / Reflection is on show at the V&A Photography Centre until 31 August 2020

Broadway Luxury Plus © Valérie Belin
Philly’s Liberties Lunch © Valérie Belin
Marigold Warner

Deputy Editor

Marigold Warner worked as an editor at BJP between 2018 and 2023. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Elephant, Gal-dem, The Face, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.