Les Chapieux, Géographie d'un secret


[Chapieux, Geography of a Secret]

"Located on the steep south face of Mont Blanc (French side), the Chapieux valley is a high altitude site, inaccessible in winter due to avalanches threat. Whereas for centuries, only mountain farmers and soldiers ventured there - the first to produce their cheeses, the latter to fight in a famous border zone with Italy - from the end of the nineteenth century this remote region started to be popularized by the pioneers of mountaineering.

Mandated by the Facim Foundation, photographer Céline Clanet followed all the ones destined for these altitudes: farmers and their animals; hunters stalking mountain game; climbers and skiers looking for the dazzling heights. Through images and texts is outlined the portrait of one of those places that isolation and uncompromising beauty place at the forefront of human fantasies. "

(Monograph introduction, published by Actes Sud)


The Amphitheatre

The mountain provides an ambivalent feeling: that of constantly meeting it for the first time, and that of having known it strangely from time immemorial. Seasons, sky, and every hour of the day, continually shape a different surface. Similarly, each meter walked makes it new, revealing a peculiar angle.
The mountain is a visual paradox, a multiplicity of fleeting appearances, embodied in a complete and silent immobility.

The Chapieux valley plays with this ambiguity.
It happens to be the theatre stage of a wild ballet, danced by passing men. Those who inhabit it, exploit it, shape it with their harrows and their animals, and those who skim the tops or trails for a few hours. These populations, which coexist but never meet, will always be passing: they draw lines, follow trails or tan mountainsides' skin. The set, out of the mists of time, this "primal Creation ossuary" as Alexandre Dumas once wrote, will stay there, unchanging.

At the end of autumn, the Chapieux valley empties out. Unable to stay there due to recurrent avalanches, the residents and their herds settle down to a lower place, for a few months. Climbers then venture there very rarely, chosing safer routes. Winter covers everything. The valley becomes prohibited, and gets a moment of freedom, wild and intimate. A seasonal modesty.

I imagine a silence raising from the low pastures, up to the Aiguille des Glaciers, bow of the valley. I imagine all the pictures I could not make, the snowy routes I could not take; the secret light that surely caresses the Seigne mountainsides, and the deafening echo of heavy snowslides. I imagine the vibrant darkness of night, this impossible high mountains blackness, when mineral world is covered with deaf whiteness, reflecting a clear sky. The forbidden show of a winter landscape that I believe to be flamboyant, and that I will not get a sight of.



Monograph by Céline Clanet
Texts by Bruno Berhier, Hervé Gaymard

Copublishing Fondation FACIM
144 pages, 68 color photographs
10.2'x10.2', hardbound
ISBN 978-2-330-03073-5


Actes Sud