French photographer Cerise Doucede suspends objects in mid-air, creating artworks that appear to be frozen in time.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

French photographer Cerise Doucede (above) suspends objects in mid-air, creating one-of-a-kind tableaux that appear to be frozen in time, and reinventing the art of portraiture by conceiving environments that teem with inanimate objects suspended in space, like swirling thoughts giving expression to the personalities of each of her subjects.

Blurring the lines between fact and fiction, Cerise draws us into their imaginations by carefully composing magical scenes where teapots, shoes, butterflies or even matadors appear to levitate as if asking viewers to suspend belief for just a moment. 

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Lost in thought, the characters project their fears, obsessions and fantasies onto chaotic settings in intimate locations at banal moments – like during meals – where surrounding objects, taking on a life of their own, fly, collide and unite. Scenes of daily life being an inexhaustible source of inspiration for Cerise, she takes a step back to create her own hallucinogenic version of reality, which sublimates the most ordinary instances. 

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1&3. Untitled pieces from the Egarements collection. 

Reinterpreting The World

Her Egarements (Distractions) and Quotidien (Everyday Life) series present improbable scenes where contemplative subjects appear happily lost in daydreams that provide a momentary escape from their otherwise mediocre lives. But it was with Genese (Genesis), realised in 2009, that she decided to stop all other activities to concentrate solely on photography.

Her version of the story of the creation of the universe – where God is a woman who creates the sky, sun, moon, animals and fish in her garage – reveals her slightly off-beat vision of religion. “A very important factor, when I start a new work, is to follow the idea I’ve chosen and to create a series that evokes the same story at different angles. I don’t make images to make an image – I’m continuing a story,” she says, “The notion of a series is primordial. I’m a sort of collector of photos; I find it hard to know when a series is finished.”

 In the beginning, she used family members as models (imposing on them roles she based on her memories of them) before asking friends and finally, strangers. Each time, she also chose locations that meant something such as their home, garden or workplace.

Cerise’s portraits of strangers required her to spend time dialoguing with them in order to enter into their world and uncover the places where she could create an image. Then, together with them, imagine a decor matching their personality.

“A very important factor, when I start a new work, is to follow the idea I’ve chosen and to create a series that evokes the same story at different angles.” – Cerise Doucede, French photographer 

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2. Cerise’s grandmother gamely poses for her works. 

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4. Untitled piece from the Geneses collection 

“Even if my images are complex to create, they are easy to understand, and what particularly pleases me is allowing the viewer to make up a story and ask himself questions. Thereafter, how deep the questioning goes is out of my hands,” Cerise says.

It takes her up to three days to set up a scene, and she spends most of the time reflecting before taking the shot. She jots down her dreams, things that touch her or words that inspire her, sketches, and even sticks on items that might come in useful in notebooks until she becomes obsessed with a single idea that may consume her for weeks on end.

When it’s finally time for the shoot, she arms herself with her Nikon D3S, and lies in wait for the decisive moment to stealthily capture the exact attitude she’s looking for, when her subject starts to think about something else. At that particular moment, the dream takes over and the entire backdrop surrounding the person comes to life. She notes, “They aren’t professionals and it’s quite difficult to get a neutral gaze. I often have to wait until they become really bored to obtain a certain look, which is the reflection of a certain weariness that says, ‘What am I doing here?

“It’s at these moments, when we are left face to face with ourselves, that our minds need to travel or wander off the most. And that’s when I really start to take photos of an expression or gesture that I know will be the right ones.” 

If my works prompt viewers to ask themselves questions or trigger certain emotions in them and causing them to create their own stories, then my effort has paid off.” 

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5. At the heart of Cerise’s work is the attempt to show how imagination can open our minds to an alternative reality. 

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6. An untitled piece from the Genese collection. 

Veering from the family path

Although born into a family of jurists in 1987 in Toulon, France, where she currently lives and works, Cerise found it inconceivable to study law. She entered the world of art through drawing, which she started doing at a young age, and for which she had a great passion, having observed her mother painting since she was a child.

“I’ve always known that I wanted to practise a creative profession, but I’d never imagined being an artist,” she discloses. “I wanted to be an architect, designer and then, finally, I studied to be a graphic designer, which allowed me to get closer to the world of the image. It’s also there that I started photography to support my projects and it finally became the goal itself of my creations. The graphic spirit of my images most certainly comes to me from these studies.”

After graduating from Speos photography school in Paris in 2010, Cerise was the 2011 winner of the Royal Monceau Raffles Paris Photography Contest and received €20,000 (S$30,185) to work on a personal, never-before-seen project that was integrated into the hotel’s artistic programme. 

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7. A piece from the 2012 Les Attaches collection.

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8. Cerise began her career by photographing her family members such as her sister. 

Waking dreams

Her photographs are the ideal stage for her fantasies, revealing her own life story. She has the joy of realising her dreams awake, of creating tableaux – scenes that have been rearranged and reassembled to create incredulous, dreamlike images after a period of slow reflection and diligent preparation – to convey her quirky reflections when observing the everyday. She loves these moments where she can reinvent places, reorganise space and appropriate objects to make them say something else.

For her, photography is the result of studying real life as well as the unconscious, thus revealing a person’s most intimate traits. Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that she’s particularly fond of the Surrealists and their work on dreams, hallucinations, and the refusal of all logical constructs of the spirit, the absurd, and desire.

“Just the name of the movement itself speaks to me: there’s reality and then there’s what you stick on top of it,” she divulges. She cites her admiration for the artist Marcel Duchamp and photographers Erwin Olaf, Tim Walker and Georges Rousse. 

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9. An untitled piece from the Quotidien collection. 

Cerise performs little digital manipulation on her photos, limiting herself to erasing the structure on which her objects are suspended. She purposefully leaves strings visible in her images to display a connection between reality and fantasy. So, while her portraits may be elaborately staged, she manages to enhance her subjects with telling details that somehow draw out their inner thoughts and states.

“If my works prompt viewers to ask themselves questions or trigger certain emotions in them and cause them to create their own stories, then my effort has paid off,” she concludes, “The message in my work is that one must take the time to dream.”