LOOK! Watch the birdie

Now that everyone pretends to do photos, Petra Pierrette Berger continues to take photographs. In black and white, without the polychrome retouching of the superlabs, that would be called photo fast foods, if we can still give a name to the mediocre pictures of our hurried times. Long live the black and white! Petra's shots are given the time necessary to be developed. Smell them like a good cigar and you will find the subtle and revealing aroma of chemical reducer and hyposulphite. The darkroom is the "camera obscura" where the artist strangly locks up cars. "Watch the birdie!" And nobody moved, or nearly, in order to be frozen in Sunday best, Dad, Mum, the maid and I in front of our brand new Pontiac, a sign of our social ascendance. The film was an Ace of Spades or Kodak Verichrome Pan 25 ASA "cloudy, recommended for 100th at f8" by a simple illustrated note of the time: sunny and clear, brilliant, veiled, cloudy... any darker and you adventured into the risks of "B" pose... The camera was a Kodak Rétinette, a gift for my first communion: with help of a delayed release bottom and the support of a garden pedestal, I could be present in the shot. Ah! what was photography so beautiful that fixed the instant for eternity. And then, there was the worry of development: the rollfilm , bond tightly by an elastic band was confided to the photographer for development, then for prints, all mysterious operations. Ah the beautiful proofs on shiny paper glazed on the mirror and trimmed by the guillotine. The Pontiac had arrived in the family at the same time as the Rétinette. We discovered the car as a family. And I discovered on my own the impenetrable mysteries of framing and the depht of field. Confronted with the sandy and salty views of Mount Saint Michel I discovered that photography imposed a choice, one or the other. It was the car or the cathedral, but not both. The mysteries of physics and optics were understood later in highschool. But then? But then? Petra the photographer takes modern photos in an old style but without making new with old. These are not old photos; these are new photos where we often find automobiles of another time like so many living memories. There are likenesses between starting a 1927 Bugatti and the paper print in black and white: you need time. Time to warm up the engine slowly on the one hand, and the time to bring up the picture at the bottom of the tray on the other. And always the odour: hyposulphite is to photography what castor oil is to the racing automobile. These photos are you, us, a little of everybody that passed by one day, of aunt Agatha's 2CV near Le Tréport to the Rolls-Roys of an overdressed lady near Chantilly. Oh, how you have to suffer to keep these cars running: you crank sarting handles, you push, you pull and you bend under the open bonnet that seems to want to swallow you. Hey well, the real photograph is just as complicated. The all in black and white, extraordinary pictures of extraordinary motors: "Click! Clac! Thank you Petra!"

JACQUES POTHERAT (MAY 1999)