Hervé Guibert, unpublished stories and unknown photographs in “Phantom Image”
Writer and photographer, Hervé Guibert He knew how to be one of the great figures of contemporary French literature. Born on December 14, 1955 in Saint-Cloud, France, Guibert demonstrated his passion for writing and artistic expression from an early age. He studied Literature at the University of Nanterre, where he began to shape his literary voice and delve into personal explorations in his writings.
His big leap came in the 1980s with the publication of his most influential work, To a friend who didn't save my life (1982), an autobiographical novel in which he narrated his personal experiences with HIV/AIDS and his relationship with the philosopher Michel Foucault, who also fought against the disease. Guibert became a vital witness to the HIV/AIDS crisis, challenging literary norms and sharing his struggle incisively.
Throughout his career, Guibert explored a wide range of genres. From his first book, published in 1977, to his novels, diaries, short stories, and stage adaptations, his work spanned a diverse and challenging spectrum. His first-person writing style made him a precursor of so-called “autofiction.”
In addition to his contribution to literature, Hervé Guibert also dabbled in photography, exploring themes of sexuality, identity, and the human body. This convergence of word and image allowed him to expand his artistic expression and challenge established norms in both fields. His images were often provocative and raw, providing a unique perspective on the themes he addressed in his literary work.
From the moment Guibert was diagnosed with HIV infection, he focused on documenting his experience with the disease. The result of this was the departure of his AIDS Trilogyof which titles such as the aforementioned are part The friend who didn't save my life and The compassionate protocol (1991).
Despite his battle with illness, Guibert continued to write, and was able to not only be a vital witness of his time, but also a literary and artistic innovator who challenged established norms. His bravery in exploring personal themes and confronting illness and death left a lasting impression on contemporary literature.
On December 27, 1991, Hervé Guibert lost his life due to HIV/AIDS, becoming another victim of the epidemic that he himself had documented with such passion and vigor. Despite this, his legacy lives on in his literary and photographic work, as he continues to illuminate issues of health and sexuality in contemporary literature and art.
In 2023, with the translation by Magalí Sequera, the three publishers label has published in Spain the most recent title in this language by the good French author. Ghosting It is a work that delves into the essence of photography and memory. The author immerses us in an exploration of photography, where ghost images, those that never materialized, come to life. The book is an attempt at biography through photographs, revealing the intimacy of what cannot be seen with the naked eye.
The publisher notes: “In a show of modesty, the author of this book defines it as a “text about photography.” It is not. Or, at least, not exclusively. Autobiography made of fragments, Ghosting It is an attempt to capture the intimacy and emotion that disappear after the camera is released; also, especially, for capturing in words what was never there.”
With good sense, Hervé Guibert searches through the archive of family photographs and comes across elusive faces that evoke the young beauty of his mother and self-portraits in which he no longer recognizes himself. In the midst of these images, he remembers unspeakable desires and the hidden violence of his father, as well as the penetrating gaze of a sick lover. The photographs are stripped of their documentary or communicative intention, becoming a simple whim of memory.
The American writer Maggie Nelson He has said of this work that the only thing readers should do with it is celebrate it, give way to “the ironic and unwavering devotion with which he records the body; for its commitment to formal experimentation, to the point of exploding genres; and for a curiosity and audacity in the face of which others might expect – or feel – modesty.”
Photography is also an act of love. Once, when my parents still lived in La Rochelle, in that large apartment, surrounded by a balcony that overlooked the trees of the park and a little further away to the sea, I decided to take photos of my mother. I was eighteen years old at the time and had returned for a weekend. I guess it was May or June, a sunny but cool day, with a nice breeze.
I had already taken, without thinking about it, photos of her on vacation with my father, inevitably banal photos that said nothing about the relationship we could have, about my attachment to her, photos that were limited to obtusely offering a face, a physiognomy. In fact, my mother generally refused to have photos taken of her; She claimed that she was not photogenic and that her situation made her tense right away.
If I was eighteen years old, it must have been in 1973 and my mother, born in 1928, would then have been forty-five years old, an age for which she was still very beautiful, but a desperate age, at which I felt her to be at her extreme limit. of aging, of sadness. It must be said that until then I refused to photograph her because I didn't like her hairstyle, artificially wavy and full of hairspray, with those horrible markings that they gave her, alternating with perms, and that embarrassed her face, unfortunately framed it, hid it and they altered. My mother was one of those women who boast that they look like an actress, Michèle Morgan in this case, and go to the hairdresser with a photo of that actress, found in some magazine, so that the hairdresser, with the photo as a reference, can reproduce in them the hairstyle. My mother then had more or less the same hairstyle as Michèle Morgan, whom I obviously began to hate.
My father forbade my mother to wear makeup or dye her hair, and when he took photos of her he ordered her to smile, or he took them without her realizing it, pretending to adjust the camera so that she couldn't control her image.
The first thing I did was remove my father from the stage where I was going to take the photo, expel him so that her gaze would no longer pass through his, due to his demands, and free her for a moment from any pressure accumulated for more than twenty years. , and that there was only our complicity, a new complicity, freed from the husband, from the father: only a mother and her son (wouldn't it be my father's death that I wanted to put on stage?).
The second stage was to free his face from that chaotic hairstyle: sitting in the bathroom, I myself wet his head under the tap to straighten his hair and put a towel to cover his shoulders. He was wearing a white slip. I had tried on several old dresses, like that blue dress with ruffles and white polka dots that I associate with a memory of Sunday, of partying, of summer, of pleasure. But the dress no longer "fits" my mother or it seemed too much to me: it demanded too much importance, it was too flashy and ended up hiding my mother once again, but in a sense opposite to how my father did, although, in retrospect, , all our attempts were to undress her. She had blonde hair, not so long, and I combed it for a long time to completely straighten it on each side of her face so that it remained without volume, without inaccuracies, letting the purity of her features emerge: the long, straight nose, the sharp jaw, high cheekbones and, why not, although the photo would be in black and white, blue eyes. I put a little talcum powder on it, a pale, almost white talcum powder.
Then I took her to the living room, which was completely illuminated with that soft and warm light, invasive and calming at the beginning of summer. I arranged one of the white armchairs among the green plants, the fig tree, the rubber tree; I placed it on its side so that the light would fall more softly and I lowered the blinds a little to attenuate the intensity, which threatened to erase, to flatten the face. I also removed from the possible visual frame of the photo all those things that could be distracting, such as the plexiglass table where some copies of the television guide rested. My mother was sitting in that chair, with the slip and the towel on her shoulders, and she was waiting, upright but without any rigidity, for me to finish the preparation. I noticed that her features had relaxed, I saw how those small wrinkles that threatened to pucker her mouth had completely disappeared. (For a moment I stopped time and aging; I went back through the love of my mother). There she was, sitting, majestic, like a queen before being executed. (Now I wonder if what he was waiting for was not his own execution, because, once the photo had been taken, once the image had been fixed, the aging process could begin again, and with dizzying speed at that age, between forty-five and fifty, when it so brutally surprises women. I knew that when I stopped pressing the button, she would let everything pass with detachment, serenity, absolute resignation, and that she would continue living with that degraded image without trying to recover it in front of the mirror with creams and masks).
I took photos of it. At that moment she was at the zenith of her beauty, with her face completely relaxed and soft, she did not speak while I moved around her; She had an imperceptible, indefinable smile on her lips, of peace, of happiness, as if she were bathed in light, as if that slow whirlwind around her, from a distance, was her softest caress.
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