“Each of my photos is a declaration of love for my country and its people.” – Pierrot Men
Malagasy photographer Pierrot Men has spent more than four decades capturing profoundly atmospheric monochrome imagery that distills the unique essence of his homeland.
Like many great photographers before him, Men began his artistic life as a painter; he spent two decades capturing images purely to use as ‘models’. That was until a friend declared that they were better than his subsequent representations and thus persuaded him to focus his attention on photography instead.
“She opened my eyes. So I gave up painting while (hopefully) keeping a bit of my painter’s eye when I take a picture. Sometimes we meet people who change everything…”
Like Ernst Haas and Saul Leiter (who also began their journey as painters) he undoubtedly possesses the gaze of a fine artist. Yet, unlike these aforementioned luminaries and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, (although he photographs in color on occasion) he favors the subtle shades of black and white film.
“After a reportage, I gave about twenty films to a photo laboratory in Antananarivo. All my images came back black. Disappointed, I swore to myself that I would not do any more color. I then decided to photograph in black and white because I could develop them and make the prints myself without taking any more risks.”
Perhaps this was ‘Kismet’, for the marriage of subtle monochromatic tones with his unique visual language is a perfect one that, over the years, has engendered a wealth of extraordinary images. Though he occasionally photographs elsewhere, much of his output focuses on the island where he was born and has lived for his entire life. He captured its essence with remarkable acuity, honesty, and artistry reminiscent of some of the medium’s most revered figures.
Simultaneously poetic and ethnographic; dynamic and contemplative, and imbued with temporal atmosphere, his candid imagery evinces Cartier-Bresson’s decisive moment superbly, and allures with subtle intensity.
Underpinned by a deep humanism and a profound affection for his subjects, Men venerates Madagascar in the same manner as Sebastiao Salgado (whom Men greatly admires), in his breathtaking portrayals of his own homeland, Brazil.
Nearly four decades since he held his debut exhibition (in the Madagascan capital, Antananarivo), Men’s reputation on the island has developed into one befitting of his prodigious talent.
Though lesser-known elsewhere, he has nonetheless garnered plaudits from the most discerning international photographic circles, over the years, exhibiting across the globe, including in, Tokyo, Paris, and San Francisco. Furthermore, in 1994, he published his first book, ‘People of Tana’ with French photographer, Bernard Descamps. He still lives and works in Madagascar today, where he runs a studio and photo lab (the largest in the country).
Despite his relative anonymity, Men is, without doubt, a truly extraordinary practitioner; a master chronicler of everyday life, and one of the few remaining exponents of the ‘humanist’ style of the 20th century. His oeuvre stands as an intensely moving visual ode to the island; a love letter to a unique and captivating place that is as much a part of him, as it is his home.
All images © Pierrot Men