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Renée Lorie captures an enigmatic world full of sharp contrasts, lights and shadows, permeated by an undefined feeling of disorientation and displacement. Even if not all the images are taken at night, she chose Noctuary as the title for her first book : a term that well describes the atmosphere of her photographs, the mystery and obscurity pervading her visual imagery. She collects evocative fragments of accidental encounters, from the uncanny details of everyday life to the landscapes and folklore of Shetland islands, welcoming the hazards of analog film and darkroom processing. The surface of her flat images seems to have an almost haptic quality, as if spectators wre able to feel with the tip of their fingers the real textures, feathers, hair, skins, dresses, plants, water. This element of touch acquires further relevance in her second work, where her research around the subject of Shelter, harborage, protection, becomes strictly intertwined with human contact, whether it is a personal relationship or being part of a community in a remote island. If in Noctuary individuals are always alone, cropped, seen from the back or their faces hidden by blinding light, this isolation leaves its place in Shelter to embraces, tenderness and human connection.


Renée Lorie, Noctuary, courtesy the artist

Burnt by lighting nevertheless she'll walk this terra infinita

lashes singed on her third eye
searching definite shadows for an indefinite future

Old shed-boards beaten silvery hang askew as sheltering
some delicate indefensible existence

Long grasses shiver in a vanished doorway's draft a place of origins as yet unclosured and unclaimed

This is the incipit of the poem What would it mean to no possess a permeable skin by Adrienne Rich. It made me think about your work and your imagery: being blinded by light, the wandering in open lands, shadows and shelters for indefensible existences. It brings me to your current project, Shelter. Can you tell me what is, for you, a shelter? And why are you investigating this subject?

A shelter is a hiding place, a place where we feel safe, a haven, a harborage. Shelter is about finding ways to take shelter in this overwhelming world, going to an island to find silence and resilience, to disconnect and reconnect. In a broader sense it is about how we, as humans, experience opposite feelings such as connectedness and loneliness. We need to be connected to some groups or people (‘je est un autre’, Rimbaud) but, at the same time, we need to recover on our own, we see everything from our own point of view. For me, sheltering also means returning to our basics, living with less, without fear of absence. Why I’m investigating in this subject...I just comes naturally and intuitively, while reading, writing, regarding.

Part of the images in Shelter where taken in the Shetland Islands – did this project begin there? What inspired you in this specific place? And why a focus on islands?

No, it didn’t started in the Shetlands. Shetland was on island ‘on my way’. I wanted to go to an island because these are places where feelings of displacement, loneless and connectedness, as well as magic and the uncanny, are present. There are not so many impulses on islands, people are often ‘alone’; however, there is also a strong sense of community. People connect through shared rited, habits and folklore. In Shetland, for example, the community comes together during winter at the Viking Fire festivals. A lot of mysterious stories are told, for example the stories of mermaid, witches, selkies (seals living in the sea, humans when they come to land). 

I went  to Shetland with two friends, because the sister of one of them (Erien Withouck) was doing her Phd there. We did some kind of residence over there, organized by ourselves. With Erien we created puzzles using images from this trip, in collaboration with De Blinkerd editions, and started to sell them during the Christmas holidays. Part of the proceeds of this project, and slowly, an image started to appear, will go to DoucheFLUX, a Brussels charity which aims to prevent the isolation and exclusion of people in poverty.


Renée Lorie, Shelter, courtesy the artist

Even if it is possible to recognize stylistic similarities between Noctuary and Shelter, I perceive a shift in the general atmosphere and in particular in the representation of people. The solitude, the detachment that defined the individuals represented in Noctuary, is replaced in Shelter by relationships, cuddles, dances, human connection. Can you tell us more about the origin of Noctuary, about the beginning of this enigmatic tale in black and white?

Noctuary is a nocturnal diary. It consists of visual impressions registering the end of a period of loss. Close loved ones that passed away. The images were made in the process of leaving behind what I cherished ; they show mourning, vulnerability.

A photograph freezes moments in a life that is in perpetual motion. Photography is a melancholic medium. It offers the opportunity to look back at what's inevitably passed away. It serves as a memory, a space to recall a lived past. It is physical evidence of what has gone away. When you go through this intense process of letting go, looking back, trying to hold on, forever is a strong compulsion. You want to latch onto these past certainties, in order to avoid the confrontation of constant change and dissociation, processes unique to life. Photography serves as a consolation to (impossibly) embrace what once was.

The photographs arose whilst travelling and moving. Based on these existing images, I created different visual associations and sought to capture them. I love when images evoke an atmospheric universe and trigger other associations in their viewers. These images reveal a day-to-day familiarity that I experienced as alienating and disruptive. Recognizable reference points are intentionally absent and regularly fall outside the frame. I show the darkened, the yearning, the uncomfortable reality. My master thesis researched The Uncanny in the work of Luis Buñuel (2012-2013). This has influenced the development of my book. Both the concepts of the Uncanny (Sigmund Freud, Ernest Jentsch) and Abjection (Kristeva), as well as the surrealist ideology present in Buñuel's work have influenced my subjects, narrative tone and observations. A concrete example of this are the repetition of motive and a play of doubles (looking away, cut off hands, wild trees, dunes...).


Renée Lorie, Shelter, courtesy the artist

You seem to have a very special relationship with light, the essence of the photographic medium. You work with analog, developing your images in the darkroom, and light (an intense light, sometimes even an aggressive glare) has a strong presence in the composition of your photos.

Strong light shows disruption, it’s a translation of general feelings of loss, disconnection ; it gives an uncanny feeling, showing distance, yet in close framing.

I work with analog, using a Minolta SRT303B, 50 mm and Trix 400 film. I like to work slowly. developing, working on my images in the darkroom. The looking around, the awareness of time, the environment with its details, the exact framework, the best moment to capture. I like photographic errors, I like to be aware of the analog process.

You mentioned the process of automatic writing for describing your creative process, which functions very much by associations and contrasts. Can you tell us more about the process of taking the images and then their montage and sequencing?

It’s intuitive. I look around, capturing an image and imagining immediately another image. Translocation. I see new images all the time. A light spot on film is like a night flash by the sea, that sea comes back in a bottle of water, lost on the railing in an elevator. The bottle looks like a sculpture, so I am looking for a sculpture, find one, a statue on a pillar. That pillar. When I walk I see another large white pillar. It’s a walking écriture automatique, a photo novel of the same story. Combining images is story-telling. Making a photobook is making an atmospheric montage, that’s why I do like showing pictures in photo books. I also find the spatial presentation of my work in exhibitions very important. I always take time to think about it properly ; I like to use the space in a particular way. I first see a specific space and then draw a plan showing how my images would fit in it. I explore how images could work in a tridimentional context, not only as a 'flat' representation. So, for example, an image of the sea can presented in the shape of a « shelter ». 


Lynn Alleva Lilly, Deep Time, courtesy the artist / Eriskay Connection

Lynn Alleva Lilly, Deep Time, courtesy the artist / Eriskay Connection

Renée Lorie, Noctuary, courtesy the artist


Renée Lorie lives and works in Brussels. She studied art history (UGent, BE), Film studies and Visual Culture (University of Antwerp, BE) and Photography (Sint Lukas Brussels, BE).She works as a visual artist and image maker. She is also working part time in the social sector, in the field of language and integration. She made a first book Noctuary with Posture Editions (Ghent, BE). She exhibited in Recyclart (Brussels, BE), Netwerk (Aalst, BE), Fotomuseum Antwerpen (Antwerp, BE), Tibilisi Photo Festival (Tiblisi, Georgia), gave lectures in Centrale for Contemporary Art (Brussels, BE) and curated the exhibition Many a moon in Recyclart (Brussels, Belgium). She was selected for .TIFF in 2020 (Fotomuseum Antwerpen, BE), which encourages emerging talents with network exchanges and talks. She is part of the European Photography Platform Futures. She also won an online tutoring with the Capa Centre of Hungary. She's currently working on Shelter. Parts of it will be shown in a new book Shelter with Edition du Caïd (Liège, BE), with graphic design of Matthieu Litt (Liège, BE). The idea is to launch the book at Arles Photo 2021.

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