Denis Darzacq: Shop till you drop

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Denis Darzacq takes haunting pictures of free-falling figures in french hypermarkets. what does it all mean? John Lichfield finds out

A young man dressed in white floats limply in the wrapping paper department of a supermarket. A young woman in a brown hoodie shirt is flung, as if by a punch or by an explosion, from a supermarket flower stall. A young man in a green shirt and trainers walks on air past shelves loaded with light-shades and plastic dustbins.

None of these images has been "Photoshopped" or tampered with. They are surreal photographs of real moments – or real 1,000ths of a moment. Young, amateur dancers and sports men and women in Rouen, in Normandy, are offering their bodies and their talent to the disturbing, witty and compelling lens of the French photographer Denis Darzacq.

"You could say that this is a meditation on being and having," says Darzacq. "These photographs were taken in aggressive, garish hypermarkets, with names like Attac and King Kong. I was interested in showing bodies of young people, as if imprisoned in the aisles of consumer goods. I asked them to perform the actions that they might perform in their sporting activities or dances. At the peak of the action, I asked them to relax all their muscles at once to give the impression that they were floating or flying through the air.

"The images have a political meaning, if you like. They ask questions about a society in which we are expected to define ourselves by what we have – what house, what car, what clothes, what shampoo – rather than by what we are. But they should also work at another level, as surprising and beautiful images that a child of eight could enjoy as much as a person of 80."

Darzacq, 47, belongs to VU, a photo agency founded and run by photographers, which seeks, among other things, to remove the boundary between "documentary" and "art" photography. Darzacq used to be a news photographer for Le Monde and Libération but has won great acclaim in the past three years for work that is elaborately posed, rather than plucked from raw reportage.

Last year, he won a World Press Photo award for a series of photographs called La Chute (The Fall) shot in the troubled, multi-racial banlieues (suburbs) of Paris. They showed young men in apparent free fall about to come crashing to the ground against mournful backdrops of shuttered buildings. "After the suburban riots of 2005, I wanted to find some way of expressing what was happening to the young people of the banlieues," says Darzacq. "I wanted to make the bodies of young people the centre of the image. It is always through their bodies that young people can best express themselves."

While photographing hip-hop dancers in Algeria, Darzacq found accidental images which suggested the idea for La Chute. He showed them to amateur hip-hop and break dancers in the Paris banlieues and explained to them what he wanted: not pictures of break-dancing but pictures using break-dancing techniques to create images of a society in free-fall.

"My work depends on getting to know the people with whom I work and making use of their talents," says Darzacq. "You can call that posed or faked or whatever you like. But I think the distinction that people once made between documentary photography and art photography is now a thing of the past. A planned photograph can be as much a sincere statement about reality as a piece of raw reportage."

The city of Rouen asked him to do some work in one of its own troubled suburban estates. Rather than simply repeat La Chute, Darzacq asked for permission to photograph in a couple of the hypermarkets that litter the approaches to all large towns in France.

He approached local sports and dance clubs and persuaded a handful of young people to join him in the supermarkets at 5.30am, before the customers arrived. "I wanted two kinds of images," Darzacq says. "First, images of people falling or floating, like in La Chute, but more intimate, closer-up, within the cage of the hypermarket shelves. Second, I wanted to recreate the 'gran maniera' style of the Italian painters of the early 16th century, in which people are often shown in the midst of apparently unnecessary gestures or actions."

The young people added a third category: scenes rather like those in cartoons, in which their bodies are shown reacting to non-existent blows or explosions.

For the suburban pictures in La Chute, Darzacq used a traditional film camera. For the hypermarket images, he switched to a digital camera, which helped him to capture the soap-packet garishness of the surrounding shelves.

His next project will complete a trilogy on the theme of how the human body survives in the environment of the city. The subject will be the plight, and courage, of the handicapped.

"The idea came to me when I was in Trafalgar Square in London," he said. "I saw the statue of the pregnant woman with no arms and legs. I thought, what an extraordinarily beautiful work of art – and what a subject for photography."

Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Shenaz Treasurywala
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
    Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

    Finally, a diet that works

    Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
    Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

    Say it with... lyrics

    The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
    Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

    The joys of 'thinkering'

    Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
    Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

    Monique Roffey interview

    The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

    Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
    DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

    It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
    Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

    How we met

    Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

    Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

    Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
    Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

    Who does your club need in the transfer window?

    Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
    The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015