An eclipse, from Earth to the Moon

Gregory Halpern / Magnum Photos.

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Posted today at 9:30 am

In the summer of 2017, photographer Gregory Halpern received an offer from TBW Books: this independent publisher offered to publish the project of his choice. The artist, who lives and works in New York State, decides to take over the management of the former Confederate states of the Southeast. A few days earlier, in Charlottesville, Virginia, a madman threw his car at a group of demonstrators who were protesting against a gathering of far-right leaders and activists. And Gregory Halpern knows that a week later, August 21, a total solar eclipse will plunge the United States into darkness for a few minutes.

Series Confederate Moons arises from the collision between these two events. Near Asheville, in North Carolina, turning his camera sometimes towards the heavens, grandiose, sometimes towards the men, nailed to the ground, the photographer sometimes lingers halfway: a flower on the background of the sky makes the link between nature, fragile and impassive, and humanity, derisory and essential. Halpern sees in the eclipse "An opportunity to bring the realism of life on Earth closer to surrealism than what is happening in the sky". An instant union in a geographical area where everything is divided, between rich and poor, whites and blacks …

Obsession with social differences

Two and a half years later, as the United States, like almost the rest of the world, barricaded themselves in an attempt to counter the advance of the Covid-19, the series Confederate Moons takes on a new dimension. Big cities have become concrete deserts, highways have emptied, endless queues have appeared at the entrance to food shops. This end of the world atmosphere is already predominant in Gregory Halpern's series. Because apocalyptic speeches and anxieties are still present in the North American psyche. Blockbuster scenarios get their substance, and preachers summon them to impress their flock.

Read also How to photograph an eclipse of the Moon?

In Confederate Moons, a girl bronze under the eclipse while a man anxiously looks at his phone. Beings react differently, depending on their personality and their environment. Because Gregory Halpern also shows the social inequalities that arise when the world is in the grip of an elusive and terrifying phenomenon.

His obsession with social differences stems, he says, from his discovery, as a child, of the work of photographer Milton Rogovin, who documented over thirty years the life of a hundred families in a popular district of Buffalo (where Halpern had him – even grown up). The book The Forgotten Ones ("The forgotten", not translated), released in 1985, moves the young boy to tears. So the seed is sown. It will take a few years to germinate. Until a professor at the university where Gregory Halpern studies literature and history – he only takes up photography by dilettante – encourages him and finally authorizes him to invent a artistic career.

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