Exotic means that which comes from far away. In exploring his personal image of the desert, Thierry Urbain resolutely turns his back on this definition. Far off as defined by such a simple cliche does not apply in his case. In spite of the orientalism sometimes found in certain of his images, it's exactly the contrary of exotic that is meant. Nothing trivial, no display of the headiness of the unknown, no orgy of new sensations (odors, flowers, perfumes). In opposition to the highly-colored descriptions usually accompanying the Western World's discovery of the Orient, the work here has the soberness of black and white, of tight framing and of small size: the tools of silence and of a personal presence. Here that which is far off does not submerge the spectator but instead places him before his own personal questioning.

The exotic looks for the bizarre, the strange, in a word for the sensational and plays upon the chock of geographic distance. Thierry Urbain, on the contrary, seeks the intimacy of an interior vision: the desert which is at once an alibi and a liberator, a privileged place to know oneself. The 19th century saw a profusion of people who plunged with delight into exotism: writers, scientists, explorers of all sorts. The desert, on the other hand, reveals rapidly to the voyager a unique and obsessive requirement: not to loose oneself.

Does the artist persue an illusion of happiness or does he seek a certain remoteness in the revelation of these lands? The emptiness of the innermost being appears here as tranquility and sereneity; not as vertigo. If the desert is the materialization of an intimate image, this approach is in obvious harmony with the project of introspection proposed via the photography which becomes the privileged form of this interior voyage.

What is absent or present in these landscapes? What does the photography reveal to us other than the image of successive crests or a star spangled sky? A unitary dream freed from the force of reason alone? Undoubtedly. A hieratic space - the desert - where the slightest tremor becomes a sign of life? Where anthropomorphic presence is concealed so as to reveal the essence of being?

One must be worthy of the desert the touareg tell us: during the voyage each is supposed to discern that which he has brought with him. Our innermost visions are tenacious and accompany us often in spite of ourselves. "The nostalgic and torturing backdrop" [1] made up of our forced choices no longer has reason to exist: the desert is present here and now; no crossroads.

In spite of the sensual and tactile side of the dunes, there is something secret, untouchable, almost sacred in these surfaces which attracts and captures us. There is no doubt that Thierry Urbain has completely unveiled his own personal unknown lands, but toward which our identities and memories converge marvelously.

1 - Yves BONNEFOY, L'Arrière-Pays, Champs Flammarion 1972.
Nicole Vitré, Archéologies du désert, excerpts. Pons gallery, Paris 1990.