Text by Francesca Fontanesi

In Exteriors (Journal du dehors), Annie Ernaux immerses herself in the interactions at the margins of daily life. Her words become the focal point of a visual reflection unfolding through a selection of images from the MEP collection in Paris. These photographs merge with Ernaux’s text, creating a social and political narrative.

Exteriors. Annie Ernaux and Photography
MEP-Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris
From February 28th until May 26th, 2024



Exteriors: Annie Ernaux and Photography celebrates the close relationship between photography and the writing of Annie Ernaux, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2022, through texts from her book “Exteriors (Journal du dehors)” published in 1993, and photographs from the collection of MEP, the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris. The exhibition is the result of a residency conducted by curator and writer Lou Stoppard in April 2022, which focused on using the collection as a catalyst for new research and new intersections between photography and other expressive mediums. Born in Lillebonne on September 1, 1940, Ernaux is primarily known for her social and feminist activism, and for a career dedicated to exploring universal themes such as memory, identity, and the human condition through precise style and strong emotional analysis.

In her novel, written in the form of daily annotations spread over seven years, Annie Ernaux focuses on the fleeting encounters that occur on the fringes of a person’s daily life. Published in 1993, it recounts a journey into the details of daily life in Cergy-Pontoise between 1985 and 1992. Ernaux masterfully captures the essence of contemporary life on the outskirts of a major city: tortuous, chaotic, lyrical, and intensely alive. In many ways, it represents the culmination of Ernaux’s work – it is the first book in which she seems to break free from the intense and obsessive personal relationships she has written about elsewhere, and the first in which she is able to turn the page, leaving the past behind. For this reason, Exteriors (Journal du dehors), a blend of narrative and documentary, becomes the starting point for a visual reflection that unfolds through more than one hundred and fifty images from the MEP collection. The exhibition is a journey through the second half of the twentieth century thanks to the photographs of artists such as Harry Callahan, Claude Dityvon, Dolorès Marat, Daidō Moriyama, Janine Niépce, Issei Suda, Henry Wessel, and Bernard Pierre Wolff.

Jean-Christophe Béchet, Istanbul, Turquie (Turkey), 1986, from the portfolio 'European WE 2015'. MEP Collection, Paris. Acquired in 2017. © Jean-Christophe Béchet.

“Describing reality as seen through the eyes of a photographer and preserving the mystery and opacity of the lives I have encountered”.

– Annie Ernaux

Daido Moriyama, Untitled, 1969. MEP Collection, Paris. Gift of Dai Nippon Printing Co., Ltd. in 1995.
© Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation, courtesy of Akio Nagasawa Gallery.
Bernard Pierre Wolff, Shinjuku, Tokyo, 1981. MEP Collection, Paris. Bequest from the artist in 1985.
© MEP, Paris.
Claude Dityvon, 18 heures, Pont de Bercy, Paris (18 hours, Bridge of Bercy, Paris), 1979. MEP Collection, Paris.
Acquired in 1979. © Claude Dityvon.
Marie-Paule Nègre, Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris (Luxembourg Garden, Paris), 1979. MEP Collection, Paris.
Gift of the artist in 2014. © Marie-Paule Nègre.

“Words and gestures of unknown people, who are never to be seen again, graffiti scribbled on walls, no sooner dry than hastily erased; sentences overheard on the radio and news items read in the papers. Anything that, in some way or another, moved me, upset me or angered me”.

– Annie Ernaux

Like Ernaux’s book, the images of Exteriors suggest a comparison of ourselves through how we view others. The texts seem to actually become photographs; objects within a frame that the reader – or viewer – can observe and enter. One is simultaneously distant and involved, seeing and imagining, present and recalling. These images, captured in various countries including France, England, Japan, and the United States, become a social and political visual narrative: the aim is to explore everyday life through the lens of a photographer, transforming words into images. The exhibition is organized around several central themes, including the rituals of travel and consumption, the performances of class and gender underlying social hierarchies, and feelings of fear and loneliness in the modern city. The nuance between what is public and private, shared and separate, emerges both in Ernaux’s words and in the images of the exhibited photographers. Exteriors – Annie Ernaux and Photography is a celebration of the interconnectedness between written and visual language, a narrative unfolding through the writer’s discerning eye and the lens of world-renowned photographers: a tribute to the powerful convergence of words and images, offering the audience a unique perspective on the complexity of modern life.

Mohamed Bourouissa, L’impasse, 2007, from the series 'Périphérique', (The impasse). MEP Collection, Paris. Acquired in 2008 thanks to the support of the Neuflize Vie Fondation. © Mohamed Bourouissa. Courtesy of the artist and Mennour, Paris.
Dolorès Marat, La femme aux gants (Woman with gloves), 1987. MEP Collection, Paris. Acquired in 2001. © Dolorès Marat.

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