Etienne Clément | Toy Stories

21 JANUARY – 5 MARCH 2005

Toy Stories is a new exhibition by the UK-based photographer Etienne Clément. Staged in empty, derelict buildings, the subjects of these unconventional large-scale, colour portraits are tiny, second-hand figurines which would have at one time represented some kind of imaginary ideal to a young owner.

Clément has always been drawn to forbidden, empty places. As a child, these unknown, unsafe territories were his playground offering an endless supply of stories to feed his avid curiosity. Previous series of works have focused on the memory of human habitation within these spaces – the traces of departed dwellers found on wall surfaces and fixtures. By photographing children’s figurines in such environments, and by combining both portraiture and architecture, he is staging untold stories.

Etienne Clément

Reversing the conventional studio portrait format where the real-life subject is placed against an idealised, fake background, in Toy Stories Clément has used all-too-real, troubled environments as the backdrop for these mass-produced figures. Now abandoned and cast off, their physical flaws are revealed close up. Here they look like products of their neglected environment, emerging from dark doorway sets like a travelling troupe of forgotten film characters, each apparently making a new bid for stardom: poorly painted geisha girls, blue cowboys and red Indians, a one-armed astronaut and a selection of mad, staring dolls. The effect is darkly comic and occasionally disturbing.

Etienne Clément

“Unlike many photographers, Clément doesn’t appear to be interested in making his subject matter look beautiful. Instead his shots are honest and for that reason, unexpected.” Grant Gibson, Blueprint, on the exhibition ‘Gutted’ at the Geffrye Museum, London.