A Vision of Life’s Energy Revealed
Pierre Carreau’s AquaViva Series:
The physical realm of our existence, of the world around us, can be turned to artistic purposes in an endless variety of ways. In the act of creating a work, the artist’s intent may be to convey a message. It may be to shock the viewer with radical or unexpected idea. An impressionist landscape may evoke memories that remind us of the passing of time. A portrait may offer the viewer hidden clues to the subject’s personality or life. When considered alongside the multitude of motives that artists bring to their work, the AquaViva series by Pierre Carreau achieves a rendering of emotion in its purest form. Though seemingly monomorphic, these images carry inside them the range of human emotion.
Comprising a series of outwardly similar yet wildly varying shots of water in motion, AquaViva is all the more remarkable when we consider that nature presents to us this vibrant energy daily wherever the ocean meets the shore. We are incapable of capturing these fleeting masterpieces with our own eyes, however, for the movement is too swift, and the tumultuous action of the waves too distracting in its kinetic form.
In the infinite iterations and sublimely unpredictable qualities of water, Carreau captures and offers to us an appreciation of the fundamental and essential role it plays on the planet and in our existence. The gentle sweep of a wave’s rising surface in one image may call to mind the rejuvenating and purifying effects of water. The brilliance of light refracted through a single droplet suspended in mid-air at the leading edge of a spilling arch makes us think of the element’s vital function in our lives and in the life of the planet. And the location itself, the border between the vast sea and terra firma, evokes the primal step of life’s earliest migration.
The Artist’s Perspective
For Carreau, the action of waves reveals a unique visual phenomenon conveying a sense of the paradox of power and fragility that exists therein. As Carreau’s describes the goal of his work, it is to « transfer the waves’ energy to those who view them. » The images often evoke a range a emotions depending on the state of mind and perspective of the viewer, from the exhilaration familiar to surfers to the meditative calm we feel in moments of peaceful introspection. What is remarkable about the AquaViva is the interplay between concealment and revelation in each work. An arch of water that appears to be rendered in shades of gray in fact contains a flurry of polychromatic elements, reflections that become apparent on closer inspection. « Water is amazing, » Carreau explains. « Basically it has no color, but through reflection and refraction it can possess all of them, the entire spectrum of light. »
The reality of these moments of exquisite beauty and emotion existing before our eyes, not invisible yet unperceivable to us, lies at the heart of Carreau’s artistic intention. In this relationship, the photographer and camera act as a conduit carrying the emotional impact from the element of water itself to the evolved perception of the viewer, whose very existence is an extension of the subject.
Carreau observes that the photographic images of AquaViva may sometimes be perceived as objects rather than as two-dimensional representations. The play of light off the multitude of facets and curves on the water’s surface gives the image a sculptural quality that enhances the sense of stillness and power. This simultaneous depiction of roiling movement and suspended kinetic energy parallels the dual nature of the oceans and of water itself: life-giving and yet dangerous, inviting and yet fearsome, primordial and yet ever-changing and always renewed. This sculptural effect of dynamism in static suspension is at once conscious and haphazard, a function of the rapid genesis of these images and the evident fact that the artist cannot possibly see the final work at the very moment of its birth.
When asked about specific techniques employed in the creation of his works, Carreau typically responds with the reticence of a magician being asked to reveal his secrets. Yet he does explain some preferences that underlie his method. Certain shots may seem to depict massive, crashing tsunami-sized breakers, yet in reality, the artist’s eye is drawn to the more interesting variation of detail in small waves. Additionally, while water is certainly the most evident subject of the AquaViva series, the photographs are very much about light as well, and Carreau is highly conscious of the nature of sunlight and the way it interacts with the water at different angles and at different times of day.