Desert Spirit

Xavier Barral

Since his beginnings, Philippe Chancel has photographed authoritarian societies. In 1981, he was the first to go to Poland where the state of siege declared by General Jaruzelski took place. There followed a long series of reports until 2005 when he obtained a visa for almost a month for North Korea. This report will result in a publication by Thames & Hudson under the title "DPRK". In 2008, he traveled to the United Arab Emirates. In this gigantic open-air construction site, he discovers points in common with communist dictatorships: utopia, cult of personality giving rise to an invading iconography, concentration of power, control over individuals and above all denial of the human.

Philippe Chancel is interested in the way in which these societies stage their power. In the United Arab Emirates, the race for excess never ends. In this society shaped by the ideology of capitalism, luxury and entertainment replace socialist order and austerity: the monuments are always higher, more flashy, consumption, and its share of advertising placards, is omnipresent and leisure is bordering on the absurd when it comes to skiing in the middle of the desert. There, nothing is too beautiful or too big to build an identity, even if it means sacrificing hundreds of immigrant workers.

Philippe Chancel's photographs seek to break this contemporary lark mirror. The documentary aesthetic, the frontal and distanced framings, the absence of any affect precisely point to the place where the propaganda of ideologies acts, that is to say in appearances and pretense.


Intourist Romania

published by Éditions Photosynthèses

Une jeunesse de France

published by The Jockers Films