Hallucinatory Compositions

Three series of Karine Laval’s (b. 1971) celebrated photographs are on show at Crane Kalman, London, this summer, forming a reflective retrospective that covers 15 years. Originally from France, but now based in New York, Laval has acquired an international reputation through multiple exhibitions at, for example, Les Rencontres d’Arles and Palais de Tokyo, and editorial publications that include The New York Times Magazine, The Sunday Telegraph, Dazed & Confused and The New Yorker.

The first group of images, The Pool (taken between 2002 and 2005), are blissful and evocative – so bleached-out, in fact, that sensory stimulation is evoked through the frames, providing a hazy meta-memory of personalised holidays and adopted ideals. In European spaces, the focus is on public, shared pools: some are urban lidos, others are from more natural environments. Those taken in cities, however, produce abstract patterns from municipal architecture, where the angle distorts figures against huge white structures. In the great outdoors, manmade constructions, where they exist at all, are very different: a French diver is shown in motion on a ramshackle board, closely following a friend – whose presence is just visible below a splash – into a choppy lake.

Taking a darker turn, Poolscapes (2009-2012), are blurred and sometimes claustrophobic, directly contrasting the dreamy documentations of summer days through a sharp and clear composition. Swimmers are submerged, distorted silhouettes beneath painterly ripples. At times, their bodies appear to be trapped rather than moving. Familiarity is lost; going into the water, though it is still undeniably beautiful, is suddenly a rather more frightening prospect. Bathing is presented as being visible from the ground, but somehow significantly removed in practice, a route elsewhere.

A final collection, Heterotopia, brings us up to the present day. This takes Laval back to green land, where, in this case, her interest lies in more solid forms than previously. She builds up images of overtly designed, immaculate gardens using a mixture of analogue and digital techniques. The result is an almost surrealist mixture of colour and form resembling – but far surpassing – an intensely talented version of multi-layered Lomography shots. This highly deliberate and constructed combination of shapes allows her to question what “natural” really means. Overall, the viewer is left with a sensation of being in and out of the world all at once.

Karine Laval: Reflections, Crane Kalman Gallery, London, 20 July – 19 August. Find out more: www.cranekalmanbrighton.com

1. Karine Laval, Untitled #01, from Heterotopia (2014). Courtesy of Crane Kalman Gallery, London.