A Kingdom with no King

Dark fiction and poetic portrait all at once, Stéphane Lavoué’s recent book tells the story of a place seemingly frozen in time.

© Stéphane Lavoué, from the book, The Kingdom

Once upon a time in the cold north-eastern forests of Vermont, United States, lied a stretch of land commonly known as the Kingdom. Farmers plowed their land with furry horses; old ladies were restlessly cutting wood with rounded-edge axes; crime was so low that the sheriff didn’t like to wear his weapon; and the local museum was that of everyday life.

It hosted a variety of people, though almost invariably covered with dirt and grease, and hadn’t changed for a period when photographer Stephane Lavoué entered its unclear border in 2013. Inhabitants of the Kingdom hunt and forage, living miles away from the course of time. “I saw disemboweled houses that seemed blown away by time, abandoned by their owners, victims of the industrial decline. I met young Utopian farmers who came to experience a decreasing alternative life, refusing mechanisation, whispering an unknown language in the ears of oxen and horses. I met bear hunters armed with bow and arrows, taxidermists in wolf skin, the princess of the slaughterhouses, an old explorer and the woman with the log”, he writes.

© Stéphane Lavoué, from the book, The Kingdom

He then spent time with these characters who barely seem real, each encounter leading to the next, and made them the focus of his work. In his photographs, they seem tough, raw like the meat they save for the winter, and at times frightening if it were not for a discreet smile, melting with the surrounding nature. The landscape also reveals apocalyptical touches as the ice keeps wooden houses prisoners, the fog tightens the perspective, the sky seems to stay dark days and nights, and letter signs remain undecipherable.

Half-(mock-heroic)fiction half-documentary, the book that Lavoué recently released with Editions 77 includes a novel by writer Judith Perrignon inspired by his photographs. In this short story, the main character discovers the Kingdom with both fantasy and fear, torn between the “secluded farms with no address”, “axe which has lost its edge”, “wrench that looks like a souvenir from Gulliver’s Travels” that he sees all around and the “drunken eyes, broken teeth, long and lonely winter with a gun behind each door” that he imagines. As a matter of fact, the Kingdom’s subjects are devoted hunters.

© Stéphane Lavoué, from the book, The Kingdom

In one photograph, Lavoué depicts a wall filled with bullets of different size and shape, their shine contrasting on the mate wood. Others show surreal scenes of stuffed animals with their owner, such as the portrait of William H. Eddy, to whom the book is dedicated, and who appears under the psychedelic-patterned trophy of an antelope dating back to his time in Africa. Playful and sincere, these portraits tell the story of Lavoué’s ventures into the Kingdom.


The Kingdom by Stéphane Lavoué

96 pages // 40 pictures // Pictures by Stéphane Lavoué // Text by Judith Perrignon

French and English // Embossed hard cover // First edition // €35



Stéphane Lavoué is a portrait photographer currently living and working in Paris.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.

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