From image to icon (in 1988)

Once again inspired by Emmanuel Taïeb I went back in time because of a documentary – Milli Vanilli : du hit à la honte, directed by Oliver Schwehm – that tells the story of an European boys band that hit the American charts in 1988, rapidly falling into tragedy. The short story is that Milli Vanilli – Robert Pilatus (from Germany) and Fabrice Morvan (from France) – went famous from one day to the other because they had “presence”, “charisma”, “good-looks”, they moved well, were ambitious, but had no voices. Eventually the world discovered that they weren’t the ones singing all they are now known as one of the major frauds of the musical world. Are they less original because of being a fraud? I don’t think so, because what made them famous was never the music. This documentary illustrates how far their contamination went.

The doc is visually inebriating and, as I see it, it’s really about the power of the visual language, not the music. Also, it touches on a very important subject: who legitimates? who authorizes? who authenticates? In Milli Vanilli‘s case it was America. Having reached the American charts and having won a grammy made them “legit”, but were they?

Pilatus died young, victim of drug abuse, but Morvan appears in the documentary, telling his version of the high and rise of Milli Vanilli. At one point he recounts how they were prisoners of the success, the high life, the hotels, teams and groupies following them around, but what I always find curious in cases such as theirs is that they were imprisoned by their image. That is what prevents change and evolution.

A photographic portrait is not only a register of a person’s corporal presence, it can also be a representation of one’s spirit, how one moves thru the air, how one envisions oneself… That’s one of photography’s characteristics. And it’s my opinion that, unlike what Benjamin once thought, this magic power, this aura, is not dependent on the technological proprieties of the equipment at hand; meaning, one doesn’t need to use less sensitive plates or a damaged lens to have the aura participate in a photograph. The aura is, in some sense, the vibratory resonance of the photographic moment between the photographer and the photographed and one doesn’t need the historical process to legitimate that. It’s an aesthetic quality, a register.

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