Irrational Contemplation, 2003 (detail). Photograph: Philippe Ramett
The French artist Philippe Ramette believes nothing should ever be faked. His improbable, gravity-defying poses might look like classic Photoshop, until you notice they are peppered with little incongruities. "You see a tension in my hands, my red face is far from serene as the blood rushes to it, my suit is ruffled."
A sculptor, Ramette rose to fame in the 90s as part of the French contemporary art scene, creating strange wooden and metal instruments and objects. Photography was the logical next step, and through it he has created an odd, neo-romantic universe, using a carefully planned, rational approach to create totally irrational situations. In France, his bizarre images have been compared to the work of Buster Keaton and the world of silent cinema. For him, they are a statement about gravity, weightlessness and man's relationship to the landscape.
Ramette, who still sees himself a sculptor rather than photographer, goes to extraordinary lengths to create his implausible set-ups, building hidden metal supports that he calls "sculpture-structures". Metal rings tether him by the ankles as he hangs motionless from the Grimaldi Forum building in Monaco, his trousers and tie strapped down and his hair gelled flat to give the impression of being upright. Above a winding road in southern France, a metal seat hidden by his suit juts out from a slab of rock, holding him up. Both photos are then turned on their heads. Every image is the exact reproduction of one of his drawings; sketches that he considers to be film storyboards, reconstructed by his faithful team while he directs the image. "I never question whether it's going to be complicated," he says.
In Balcony 2, he is standing on a balcony in the middle of Hong Kong harbour, contemplating the sky while seemingly managing to levitate above the water. He says the image first came to him in a dream in the mid-90s. For the shoot, a watertight tank served as an underwater float for the balcony, put in place by a barge and crane. Ramette then secured his feet on supports, leaned back and clung to the wood. During the initial attempts, he was soaked by waves and had to swim to safety.
He craves an effect of absolute, implausible serenity. For the series Rational Exploration Of The Undersea, he wore lead weights under his suit and around his ankles, having convinced a team of divers to work with him in a minutely rehearsed underwater escapade off Corsica. When Ramette needed air, a diver would swim over with an oxygen tank, but before shooting his team had to wait for the whipped up sand and bubbles to clear in order to achieve the effect of stillness. "There I was in a suit on the seabed, weighed down and able to walk underwater as if on land, unaffected by the currents. For me, that was a real pleasure," he smiles.
Balcony 2 (Hong Kong), 2001. Photograph: Philippe Ramette
Reversal Of Gravity, 2003. Photograph: Philippe Ramette
Rational Exploration Of The Undersea: The Contact, 2006. Photograph: Philippe Ramette
Rational Exploration Of The Undersea: The Wait, 2006. Photograph: Philippe Ramette
Rational Explanation Of The Undersea: Irrational Walk. Photograph: Philippe Ramette
by Angelique Chrisafis
Saturday 12 September 2009