Photographer Profile: Charles Fréger

Posted in Adorama Rentals by Nathan Lee Bush on December 8, 2010

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Home for the Thanksgiving holidays, on Friday my parents and I stumbled out of the house at 10AM and headed to the nearby mall to witness the madness that is Black Friday unfold (and perhaps partake in the shopping hysteria). We went into Target, which was teeming with people with that particularly American consumerist zeal. I observed the customers, wondering what everyone did for a living (New York is rubbing off on me, I guess). Thing is, there was no way of telling. Of course there was minor variation of material quality and style according to class, ethnicity and age. But for the most part, everyone was dressed pretty much the same. One guy could have been a plumber or a lawyer, for all anyone knew. Even in the modern business world, the range of overt outward roles is significantly reduced. A bank teller could just as easily be a teacher or secretary if you saw them on the street.

It’s easy to forget that it wasn’t always this way. For as long as social heirarchies have existed, humans have used dress to define roles within them. Just a century ago, one could surmise a person’s occupation and status directly through their outward appearance. A plumber wore a plumber’s uniform, and a lawyer dressed like a lawyer. One’s identity was firmly entrenched, even subsumed in their societal role.

Still, segments of society, especially those involving tradition and collaborative action, don uniforms. Football players, policemen and nurses, for example. It’s this association of dress with personhood with their societal role, and the tension between one’s individual identity and one’s collective guise, which seems to interest Charles Fréger.

To this end, he has meticulously documented various social groups in their assigned garb and native habitats. At some level the work is anthropological, but each image can stand on it’s on as a subtle but beautifully-seen object.

What Atget did for Fin de siècle Paris, exhaustively photographing the city in transition from quirky medieval town to modern metropolis, Fréger is doing for the various diasporas he catalogues. These portraits, taken as a whole, comprise a fascinating and consistent thesis that has carried him through over a decade of sub-projects: that individuals within the outward structures they identify with are not just variations on a theme, but have their own unique dignity and personhood.

What do you think about his work?


Nathan Lee Bush is a photo and video artist in New York City. His pictures are on his blog and site, and his videos are on Vimeo.


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