1 The Hunt I have to stay very still and very quiet. This is the chase. I can hear my heart pounding in my chest....so thankful its only me that can hear it. Don't give anything away. The moon's silver light is making everything inky black, and the night is so cold that my breath curls and shines so brightly that it may as well be a roar, a visible scream. Breathe in and hold it. Stay very very still.
What's that? The crack of a twig, the crunch of leaves...which way ? Over there.....very still. Strange sport.... where death is the prize. Exhilarating prize. Terrifying prize. These thoughts all whirling through my brain, but I so want to win...need to win. Here tonight by myself crouching amongst the trees and undergrowth. But who to tell if I return victorious. Home is so quiet these days, nobody left to tell. Two legs is getting better and better with each passing day, and with all those four legs to help, just stepping outside could be enough to finish me. Strange game. Exhilarating game. Terrifying game. Stay still, very still.
2 The Book As a species we have always hunted, indeed for millennia we had no choice. If we didn't engage, we starved and we died. Instinct, pure and simple. The game of life, of survival. The convenience of modern life has dulled, if not neutered that instinct completely. The fact that these days, we can casually summon up our daily kill simply by using an app on our phones, or stalking the gleaming sanitized refrigerators of our local supermarkets, means that the reality of where our food comes from has become such an abstract concept, that it is almost easier to believe that flesh and saran wrap come from the same womb. Man made placenta, vacuum sealed by metal mother.
The fact is, whether we find it palatable or not, that hygienically sealed piece of protein, cast so easily in amongst the other trophies from our modern day hunt, was first an organic mass of flesh and bones with life and blood coursing through it's veins. Even the animals themselves have had the fear and caution bred out of them. Farmed into captivity, living short, quiet compliant existences, until en mass they are delivered unto their slick well organised place of dispatch. A streamlined impersonal factory of death where one by one they are systematically slaughtered humanely - humanely, only we could conjure methods of execution, and name them after our own species in such a way as to assuage our collective consciences, and make the victims feel as if they are being blessed - and then, just as on the production line of an automotive construction plant - but this time in reverse - they are dismantled one by one. Saran wrap or not, we hunt.
Elie Monferier's Sang Noir is a dark powerful book, almost primal at its heart. The artist has taken the act of the hunt back to its natural state.
This is a hard uncompromisingly male place. There is no room for modern political correctness here. Sang Noir inhales masculinity and exhales machismo, it bleeds testosterone.
The few portrait studies included depict a hard breed that would not suffer fools gladly. Men of granite, without levity, inscrutable, determined and completely in control, and if we still feel the need to question their dominance, a naked male torso, hirsute and barrel chested, as solid as the trunk of a tree, a fair match for any prey, lest there be any remaining doubt.
Yes, a very male world.
The world in which these pictures were taken is a dark one, the images themselves darker still. An alternate universe of complete silence and calm and its counterpoint of cacophonous pursuit. Dogs, men, guns, and silence once more. The world of the hunter.
As an object, Sang Noir is an austere labour of love.
Hand produced by the artist in an edition of just seventy copies, the quality and construction of all aspects of the book is quite simply breath taking. Obviously no production line publication, it carries a finesse and detail that pushes it way beyond the description "naïve". The cover, a plain simple black on black, the title contrasting in tone with surface beneath. It wraps around the contents, but is not bound to it. A place to hide, to wait.
On entering the book, the narrative is broken into three parts - chapters if you will. Beneath the flyleaf resides part one, a collection of folded unbound pages depicting the hounds being readied for their work.
These world weary foot soldiers are the backbone of the hunt. Their faces mirror their masters. Not in countenance, but in experience. Both man and beast sharing the same eye, that of a predator. Agitated and restless, leashes are strained as they await the night's activity.
Then to the main body of the book, its guts. The open spine is hand stitched, and the cover page a full page of free form poetry in Monferier's native French. Within the covers we commence the second part. The frenetic dance that is the hunt itself.
The pursuit, the kill, the spoils.
The images glide between the hush and stillness of landscape, and undergrowth, to the movement, power and chaos of the pursuit itself.
The nights deadly tango.
One image taken from the hunter's perspective, the camera’s eye following the barrels of a shotgun as it sweeps the openness of an empty sky.
Another, angled toward the ground, following the legs of a hunter as he goes about his business. All aspects of the nights activities are chronicled. Saws cut through carcasses, blades, black with blood are cleaned whilst still gleaming in the light.
The dark contrast of the monochrome lending an almost threatening tone and ceremonial feel to the proceedings. In requiem, snowflakes, droplets on a lens, a universe on glass.
The concluding part of the story, is the feast.
A sequence of portraits, close cropped and using the same earthy monochrome pallet. Each image positioned centrally to the page and boldly bordered in white. Even here no shying away from the reality of the kill. Each subject captured tearing into flesh. Ripping the meat from the bones.
If the prey's capture and execution was a primal act, why not its consumption. In his notes for the book, Monferier states; "In the Middle Ages, black blood used to refer to the blood of deer and wild boar during the rutting season, but also to the fiery blood of the hunter who ran into the wilderness to brave them. The hunter kills them in order to eat their heart afterwards, to take possession of their strength and their virile vigour. Man thus renews with his animal dimension. Disproportion, unreason and disorder then dictate his behavior. He becomes wild in order to be able to meet the real beast he is stalking but also to free the phantasmagoric beast that is in it." We may consider it ugly and brutal, but then again what is the saying? A leopard never changes its spots. We are all cowardly hunters, eager to enjoy the spoils, but without getting our hands dirty and our deluded innocence clouded. Which means Sang Noir is possibly one of the most honest statements about the nature of man that we are likely to encounter.
Sang Noir is handmade in an edition of 70 copies, and is highly recommended. To purchase - https://www.eliemonferier.com/shop