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"Jersey has an indefinable charm"

Saturday 06 April 2019

"Jersey has an indefinable charm"


The quirky works of a French photographer, who became enamoured with the Channel Islands, which he describes as "three or four flower pots in an expanse of water", are being exhibited on Jersey shores.

The Channel Islands have been inspiring Olivier Mériel, a photographer specialised in black and white photographs snapped on film, for over 20 years - and islanders will be able to enjoy the fruit of that love in an exhibition being held at the Arts Centre until the end of the month.

Born in Saint-Aubin-sur-Mer in Normandy, Mr Mériel first set foot in Guernsey in the 1990s when he was commissioned to photograph Victor Hugo’s house, Hauteville. Over the years, he has visited Jersey, as well as Guernsey, Sark and Aurigny, many times, capturing portraits and landscapes. 

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Pictured: Olivier Mériel photographed some of Jersey's well-known faces, including Occupation survivor Bob Le Sueur.

Describing his work, Mr Mériel says he is not a reporter. "I like taking the time to photograph the people, talk to them, and dream the landscape. My imaginary is projected onto the real world."

Since the beginning of his career, the Frenchman has always worked on film because he feels its render surpasses everything else, especially in black and white. "There’s like an aristocratic aspect to it, it’s like driving a Rolls!," he mused.

"Black and white translates the atmosphere better, it adds something poetic. When photographing Jersey, it felt stronger than colour."

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Pictured: Mr Mériel prefers the render of black and white photographs.

Over the years, he has visited Jersey many times, snapping pictures of the coastline, but also of islanders, in the market or pubs. "I like the fact Jersey is at human scale," Mr Mériel confided.

"The landscapes are very varied for a small space. I’ve taken some portraits, with the oyster farmers and other people who live in osmosis with the nature, as well as landscapes. The pictures are very varied as I tried to take advantage of all the possibilities the island offered."

Some of Mr Mériel's photographies have been featured in a book, published in French and English. This month's exhibition at the Arts Centre is the second one in a trilogy that will culminate with a presentation of 80 photos in Caen, in Spring 2020.

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Pictured: The more Mr Mériel discovers about the Channel Islands, the more he loves them.

Mr Mériel says he has always been attracted by islands in general in his work. Whether it be Iceland, Ireland, Scotland, Norway or Sicily, the photographer likes the symbolism of islands, but the Channel Islands hold a special place in his heart.

"I have a real love for the Channel Islands and for Jersey, which is the closest to me," he explained. "The more I discover them, the more I love them. Jersey has an indefinable charm. It’s British without being British but also French without being French; it’s indefinite. There’s a way of life that has been preserved, a different relation to time, it’s a mix of modernity and tradition."

This article first appeared in Connect magazine, which you can read by clicking here.

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