From the Pyrenees Mountains to the Heart of Manhattan
Thomas Bouquin followed in the footsteps of his ancestors, exploring the history of immigration between New York and Ercé, France since the late nineteenth century.
“My family comes from Ercé. I spent many summers as a child in the family farm there. Up until a few years ago my uncle was still running around in the fields between cows and tractors”, photographer Thomas Bouquin recalls. This farm, Bouquin learned from his great-aunt, was purchased by his great-great-grandmother, who left her family for a few years to work as a maid in New York and gather enough money to pay back for the farm.
At that time, New York attracted a lot of people from Ercé, a small village set in a valley of the Pyrenees mountain chain that had a long tradition of bear taming. In the city, they made fortunes as bear leaders or chefs in restaurants, and often exchanged news from their village in the shade of a big rock in the middle of Central Park.
An expatriate himself, Thomas Bouquin began tracing his ancestors history, looking for parallels between New York and Ercé, between the 19th century and the 20th, and between his own experience and everyone’s path in life. “Why did they choose a rock as a meeting point? My opinion is that it reminded them of the rocks that are all around the mountain where they came from”, Bouquin explains.
His approach borrows from ambiguity and metaphor, based on motives that repeat themselves in different forms. He plays on scale and a very neat framing to change perspective and mix temporalities and geographies, transforming the Manhattan skyline into a mountain range or the walking stick of his grandfather into what could have been that of a bear tamer. In a French restaurant in New York, he found the same stuffed chamois-head and copper plates as those ornamenting his grandparent’s living room: he captured both places with no caption.
“I am interested in the paths each of us choose to follow”, Bouquin says. At the back of his cousin's house, a tree deploys its many branches and roots, just as a barren tree turns naked under New York’s winter. “The tree illustrates the many possible life paths; it’s a single place from where everything is possible, as well as a single place where everybody goes, such as Ellis Island in the 19th century”.
In this sense, Bouquin’s series is a quest for the motivations behind leaving or staying. “The mistletoe bouquets hanging in a tree represent the fact that we all need a suitable place to exist and evolve. For me, parasitic plants symbolise that necessity.” The same applies to his photo of a ivy-covered tree, or of a bird-house balanced on a dead branch.
Thomas Bouquin lives and works in Montreal, Canada. His photography delves into the relationship between man and the landscape, especially how elements such as memory, space and light can influence and modify our perception of our everyday life.
Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.