Forms & Fictions

Psychic fragments from Charles-Henry Bédué

Photography and words by Charles-Henry Bédué
Edited by Elizabeth Breiner

My speech is imperfect. Not because I want to shine with words, but out of the impossibility of finding those words, I speak in images. With nothing else can I express the words from the depths.


My work is an exploration of my own psyche as it connects to the world’s. It cures it, clears it, helps me to evolve.

Through the pure and diligent observation of my daily life, composed of travels in France and abroad, my vision is made manifest in autonomous aesthetic experiences that attempt to highlight a bridge for communication between inner and outer worlds.

In the obscurity of something exterior, I discover without recognizing it, my own psychic life.


Three major threads of study have emerged over the years, from a point always teetering on the precipice between figuration and abstraction:

La Famille (family), L’Errance (wandering), L’Habit (habit).

These three complimentary themes originate from the same source and are destined to converge – like three rivers in the same river bed – in a book entitled The Cult of the Self.

In the shadows of my pictures – my hieroglyphic language – words are always hiding. I wander in the outer world for signs and the inner world for words.

A quote, to me, is like a picture—when I wander in the universe of a book and see a quote to underline, it is like wandering in real life with my camera and capturing something that make intuitive sense; in both situations, a psychic fragment is captured.

The art of writing books is not yet invented. But it is at the point of being invented. Fragments of this nature are literary seeds. There may be many an infertile grain among them: nevertheless, if only some come up!


My journey started ten years ago while I left my country and family (a primal subject to whom I always return in Domaine de La Marguerette) to live for seven years abroad in China. It was the beginning of my individualization process. I was searching for familiar feelings in the unknown depth underlying the surface of ordinary events—all in pursuit of The Self.

The labyrinth is thoroughly known. We have only to follow the thread of the hero’s path, and where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god. And where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outward, we will come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone, we will be with all the world.


Charles Henry Bedue Agripee L'Habit Fait Le Moine
Charles-Henry_Bedues-Jambes croisees

A picture is an encounter between the absolute and the relative. This notion cannot be understood in each individual picture, but that is why it is the road travelled that matters more than the particular subject.

An image itself is not enough — it must find a place somewhere, like a word within a sentence. And sentence by sentence, I write a book: an imprint of my soul.

When I first made my move to China, I initially had to cover events in order to make a living – this is how the series L’Habit Fait Le Moine began. It was a horrible job at the beginning: I suppressed my instincts because of pre-existing prejudices I had about what was useful, meaningful, beautiful, correct… But over the course of my experience I felt step by step that there was no difference between walking alone in a forest, observing nature; in a suburb observing factories; or in the crowd, observing humans. By taking distance from my emotions in any situation, I face abstract patterns, outward representations of my psyche.

To paraphrase Byron—with humor—I would ask:

Are not the mountains, waves, and skies – cities, trash and fashionable people – a part of me and of my soul, as I of them?

Nature is a temple where the living pillars
Sometimes emit confused speech;
Man passes through the forests of symbols
Which watch him with familiar gazes.


One of the reasons I always situate my photographs on the boundary between figuration and abstraction is so that as an observer looking at my work, you can project yourself into the images: without faces, these peoples could be anybody; without any information revealing time and space, they could be anywhere, anytime.

Still, I am often looking for an exposed face or look in the crowd, like Diogen with his lantern searching Greece for an honest man. I find it’s very rare in society to see a real face, even mine… An adult’s face is almost always just a mask.

La dame noir et l'enfant bleu CHARLES-HENRY BÉDUÉ

Archaic Torso of Apollo

We cannot know his legendary head
with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso
is still suffused with brilliance from inside,
like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low,
gleams in all its power. Otherwise
the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could
a smile run through the placid hips and thighs
to that dark center where procreation flared.
Otherwise this stone would seem defaced
beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders
and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur:
would not, from all the borders of itself,
burst like a star: for here there is no place
that does not see you. You must change your life.


I feel le vide—empty, negative space—everywhere, behind everything. But it does not evoke a negative feeling in me, au contraire, because once le vide is there, it is filled with a sense of mystery, out of which anything might emerge. It is often central when I am photographing a crowd, in the gaps I see between people. Meanwhile, the colors and abstract forms take over the identity of the subjects, the beings whom they cover like wallpaper.

Charles Henry Bedue La main pale L'Habit Fait Le Moine
Charles Henry Bedue Le Velour Orange

Now the torsos and their ilk have their turn: the hour of those forms that do not remind us of anything has come. Fragments, cripples and hybrids formulate something that cannot be conveyed by the common whole forms and happy integrities; intensity beats standard perfection.


When I am in society observing shapes in motion, colors, patterns on bodies, I search for a sign saying: Don’t worry, everything is in order. So I strive for that feeling of being completely outside (or completely immersed in) what is happening around me. Avoiding faces keeps me in a world of abstraction, of symbols. I place humans at the same level as objects, space, animals… I choose to take a distance from people on purpose; maybe it is to protect myself, but what is certain is that detachment makes my vision seem more clear. And just as it distances me from the surrounding world, the act of creation through shooting reunites me with myself.

And we: onlookers, always, everywhere,
always looking into, never out of, everything.
It fills us. We arrange it. It collapses.
We arrange it again, and collapse ourselves.


Charles Bedue Un Jour de Noel
Charles Henry Bedue Genoux La Marguerette

Charles-Henry Bédué is a French photographer, born in 1980 and currently based in Paris. He studied at ESAG Penninghen, and completed a Master’s Degree in 2003, living and working in China from 2007 to 2013. His work forms both a personal and existential study of the world around him, perpetually toeing the line between figuration and abstraction. He has had his work selected for Fotobookfestival Kassel, Foam Talent 2014 Exhibition, Rencontres d’Arles, and Unseen Photo Fair Amsterdam, and has produced work on behalf of Paris Photo, M.E.P., Polka Magazine, and been featured in GUP Magazine, It’s Nice That, Paper Magazine, Foam Magazine, Feature Shoot, Fisheye Magazine, and Boum!Bang!, among others.

nineteensixtyeight presents a selection of 30 images from the series L’Habit Fait Le Moine and La Marguerette, available to buy in our shop.

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