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Since the early 1990s, Christophe Agou has been building up a body of intimate and personal documentary-style photographs in both black and white and color which take an allusive approach to the human condition. He has extended his expression into other media, making assemblages and short films.
A self-taught photographer, Agou grew up in a small town in the Forez region. In 1992 he moved to New York City, where he developed a love for the city and for photography. He began taking photographs in the streets, work that evoked a sense of longing and isolation. He first came to prominence with photographs taken in the subway, and published Life Below in 2004 (Quantuck Lane Press / W.W. Norton & Company).
In the winter of 2002, Christophe Agou felt the emotional need to return to his native Forez and roamed around the valleys and the mountains, which has never left his mind. He got to know and quickly became friends with a community of family farmers whose identities are deeply rooted to the land. After eight years, this resulted in, In the Face of Silence, which is far from just a documentary about rural life in early twenty-first century France.
Agou's work is held in the collections of the Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris; Musée d'Art Roger Quilliot, Clermont-Ferrand; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, New York; Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; Akron Art Museum, Akron; Southeast Museum of Photography, Daytona, Florida; The New-York Historical Society; The New York Public Library; and Les Galeries Photo Fnac, France.
In 2006, he was chosen as a finalist for the W. Eugene Smith Award and in 2008 for the Paris Académie des Beaux-Arts Photography Prize. In 2009, he received a special mention in Le Prix Kodak de la Critique Photographique. In 2010, he won the European Publishers Award for Photography for his project Face au Silence.
In his Life Below series, Agou presents a lyrical and surprisingly personal portrait of the New York subway, with many of the images shot at surprisingly close range, revealing people lost in their own thoughts and not having put on a mask.
Face au Silence / In The Face of Silence
In the winter of 2002, Agou began documenting the daily lives of French farming families in his native Forez region, which lies on the eastern side of the Massif Central. He traveled to the lesser-known parts of the region, and over time built a relationship of trust with his subjects so that they allowed him to both photograph and film them at work and at home. The work goes beyond just documenting their labor-intensive lives and presents a deeper, more intimate portrait. For Christophe Agou, Face au Silence is a meditation on life and death as well as the silence and solitude that are ever-present in our lives.
Statements by Christophe Agou about his work
The distance between a photographer and his subject should not be greater than his arm's length
When I use the camera, I often feel like I know part of the person or place I come in contact with.
Looking and seeing are two different notions. One is to observe without being seen, the other, is to create an emotional connection with your subject.
The mysteries of the human soul fascinate me the most and photography allows me to reveal on a deeper level what is under the surface.
Fellowships and Awards
- 2013 CNC Centre National du Cinéma et de l’Image Animée
- 2012 CNC Centre National du Cinéma et de l’Image Animée
- 2010 European Publishers Award for Photography - Winner
- 2009 Prix Kodak de la Critique Photographique - Special Mention
- 2008 Prix de la Photographie de l’Académie des Beaux-Arts de Paris - Finalist
- 2006 W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography - Finalist
- 2002 Ai-AP American Photography Award
- 2002 Magazine Picture of the Year - Honorable Mention
- 2000 Project Competition - Santa Fe Prize for Photography
- 1999 Attention Talent Photo Award Fnac
- La Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris France
- Musée d'Art Roger Quilliot (MARQ), Clermont-Ferrand France
- Museum of Fine Arts, Houston USA
- Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, New York, USA
- Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C. USA
- The Akron Art Museum Akron, Ohio, USA
- Southeast Museum of Photography, Daytona, Florida, USA
- The New York Public Library, New York USA
- The Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Poughkeepsie, New York, USA
- The New-York Historical Society, New York USA
- Galeries Photo-Fnac, Paris France
- The Joy of Giving Something, New York USA
- Les Faits Secondaires - published 2013, ISBN 978-1-4675-7085-5
- Face au Silence, Actes Sud - published 2010, ISBN 2-7427-9542-1
- In the Face of Silence, Dewi Lewis Publishing - published 2011, ISBN 1-907893-04-0
- Di Fronte al Silenzio, Peliti Associati - published 2011, ISBN 88-89412-47-X
- Gesichter der Stille, Edition Braus - published 2011, ISBN 3-86228-003-9
- Ante el Silencio, Lunwerg Editores - published 2011, ISBN 978-84-9785-718-5
- Aπέναντι Στη Σιωπή, Apeiron Photos - published 2011
- Life Below, The New York City Subway, Quantuck Lane Press / W.W. Norton & Company - published 2004, ISBN 1-59372-008-4
- 2012: Musée d'Art Roger Quilliot, Clermont-Ferrand, France
- 2012: Fait & Cause Galerie, Paris, France
- 2011: Rencontres d'Arles Festival, Arles, France
- "John Berger: Understanding a Photograph: A panel with Geoff Dyer, Christophe Agou, Wendy Lesser, and Lawrence Weschler", Arts Initiative, Columbia University, 2013. Accessed 8 May 2014.
- The Official Website of Christophe Agou
- In-Public The Home of Street Photography
- The Home of Street Photography
- Christophe Agou on Artnet
- Joy of Giving Something
- Actes Sud
- ARTE TV
- Musée D'Art Roger Quilliot - MARQ