Inheritance. Photographer Jean-Christophe Vincent explores the beauty of the Lot churches

Jean-Christophe Vincent, photographe, veut faire connaître la richesse de notre patrimoine avec ses clichés de peintures des églises romanes du Lot.

Jean-Christophe Vincent, photographer, wants to make known the richness of our heritage with his pictures of paintings of the Romanesque churches of the Lot.
Jean-Christophe Vincent, photographer, wants to make known the richness of our heritage with his pictures of paintings of the Romanesque churches of the Lot. (©André Decup)

In his exhibition at Hammerin the north of Batchduring Heritage Days in September 2022, the former professional photographer Jean-Christophe Vincent has combined his talents with one of his passions: paintings of the churches novels of Batch.

Quercy has architectural masterpieces of the Middle Ages that people come to admire from all over the world: from the Valentré bridge to the Saint-Étienne cathedral in Cahorsto the city of Rocamadour or in the village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie.

In the Lot (and in France) the vestiges of the medieval period remain more numerous than those of all the other periods combined. It is impossible to move around here “without seeing a steeple pointing up which is enough to evoke the 13th or 14th century. More than 400 religious buildings criss-cross our land. Impossible to climb a hill without finding a small chapel which one often wonders by what miracle it was able to grow in such a wild, remote corner” notes the historian Régine Pernoud.

The murals, the monumental decoration of the building

The thirteenth century sees the development of Cahors, became a financial center, a market town and soon to be an intellectual centre. The King of France arrives in force in Quercy during the Albigensian Crusade. This will give it a prominent place between Aquitaine and the Toulouse South.

Churches, present everywhere, now bear witness to the history of our country and the technical know-how of the time.

The murals are an essential part of this. In the Middle Ages, a religious building was considered complete only when it had been provided with a painted decoration intended to embellish the house of God and therefore to honor him. All the churches were painted because we were talking to people who couldn’t read. We tried to make them understand the Gospel through paintings, sculptures and stained glass. It was the comics of the time.

Concerning the Lot, about fifty saved settings are known today. The majority were made at the end of the 15th century. At the end of the Hundred Years War (1453), Quercy was then in full architectural and human renewal with the arrival of outside populations to repopulate the abandoned lands. The faithful return to their church after years of absence linked to the conflict. The diocese of Cahors is in relative peace. Perhaps we wanted to be part of the creative momentum then underway? The murals, mirror of their time, express the theological and spiritual considerations of the moment.

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Meeting with Jean-Christophe Vincent

It is this beauty of religious places that Jean-Christophe Vincent highlighted in his exhibition at La Raymondie in Martel from September 17 to 20, 2022. Photographing the sacred is far from an easy task. How indeed to succeed in fixing in the lens the immaterial perception of the divine that the artist of the fifteenth century sought to transcend?

In his 45 prints, the result of photographer Vincent is often striking. The focal length is short, the distances close. The framings cut to the quick to keep, through their close-ups, only the essentials. The invisible becomes within our reach.

Exchange with this former professional photographer from the Paris region, who came to spend his retirement in Martel. Which, for three years has been traveling our lands to share these moments of pleasure with us.

News: Your passion for photography, how did it appear?

Jean-Christophe Vincent: When I was very young, I showed enthusiasm for the world of insects. They are the ones who gave me the sense of observation… and taught me patience. As my neighbor says, I can lie down for half an hour waiting for a dragonfly and examining it. And from the age of 20, I was in the field to photograph them.

After nature, today you are interested in the churches of the Lot. Why ?

JC. V.: Versatile photographer, I also strive to bring to life what is disappearing. This is the case of the murals of the churches of the Lot which, in poor condition, are becoming rare. It’s also a way of paying homage to under-recognized artists from the Middle Ages, for the messages they wanted to convey to us.

I have invested in this area to make them better known to the general public. A work of art project is being studied on this theme.

The poor condition of the paintings is not an encouraging factor for an artist…

JC. V.: Yes, the paintings have been damaged by time, humidity and vandalism. Being rarely open, some poorly ventilated churches suffer damage due to mould.

Often, the walls have been covered with plaster and it is their unexpected appearances during renovations or restorations that have allowed them to be brought back to life.

Cahors, Rocamadour…

Which Lot churches have you selected?

JC. V.: All those who still have paintings from that time. Unfortunately, they are few in number: the cathedral of Cahors, the Saint-Michel chapel in Rocamadour, the churches of Catus, Lamothe-Fénelon, Les Arques, Les Junies, Carlucet, Rampoux, Puy-l’Évêque, Carennac Tauriac, Soulomès, Saint-Jean-Lespinasse, Lunegarde and Saint-Cirq-Madelon.

Which ones caught your attention?

JC. V.: The church of Tauriac, in very good condition, has retained its original version. On the vaults, prophetesses announce the sacrifice of Jesus. In Puy-l’Évêque, we come across black and white paintings, which is very rare in the medieval period.

In Saint-Jean-Lespinasse, a painting is extraordinarily modern: the baptism of Saint John the Baptist. By its slender, almost transparent persons, one would believe a contemporary painting, a Giacometti.

Which of the great photographers do you feel closest to?

JC. V.: Having known Ernst Haas, the first Austro-American colorist who died in 1986, well, I had a particular sensitivity for him. But I am not inspired by any of them. I try to stay myself. For me, the important thing is contemplation while going on the field.

What is it to contemplate?

JC. V.: It’s taking the time to observe, to understand, to soak up an event that seems to have no interest.

What do you want to bring to the public?

JC. V.: I want to present him as close as possible to reality by working on the composition and the lighting.

I have a taste for beauty and I would like to share it with as many people as possible.

Through the enhancement of a detail, I want to show the inaccessible and in a church, the sacred. Presenting the birth of the world with Adam and Eve requires having faith. I want to offer photos open to everyone, Christians and non-Christians.


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