The First and Second World Wars, Madagascar, Indochina, Algeria – so many conflicts in which the African / North African ex-soldiers played an important part.
An icon of advertising and an irrepressible figure of the French cultural imagination, the rifleman is a complex historical character with multiple layers: symbol of colonial alienation for some, an example of loyalty for others. His natural good-naturedness, so often the subject of praise, has brought him much sympathy and condescension in equal measure.
Senegal, Niger and Congo were the three great rivers of the former French colonial empire : three pathways by which French influence could infiltrate; used by the African rifleman in his daily meanderings as civilian or soldier. The African rifleman – both an instrument and an agent of the former French colonial empire – is today one of the last enduring symbols of this colonial era. He is a unique repository of francophone culture and has become a privileged witness to relations between France and Africa.
The series ‘The rifleman and the three rivers’ by the photographer Philippe Guionie offers us a contemporary artistic perspective on this forgotten or misunderstood aspect of human memory. For a few more years, these riflemen exist as our contemporaries. Safe-guarding such cultural heritage now takes on an added urgency just as we realise the need to establish immigration in the collective memory and to give it its rightful place in a common and shared historical perspective. The series entitled ‘The rifleman and the three rivers’, begun in 1998, was awarded the Prix Roger Pic in 2008.
About Philippe Guionie
A historian by training, Philippe Guionie is the exponent of a documentary-style photography which addresses themes of memory and the various constructs which surround identity. His principal mode of representation is the portrait. His guiding principle as a photographer: to put faces to those human memories which lack them, often by bringing together photos and sound recordings. Through his photography, he writes a human history and inscribes it in time, both in terms of collective memory and contemporary experience.
He is the author of several photographic works which include ‘African ex-soldiers’, ‘A small corner of paradise’ (Les Imaginayres / Diaphane, 2006), ‘Africa-America’. (Diaphane, 2006) & “Swimming in the black sea” (Filigranes éditions, 2014); his personal themes are displayed in galleries and festivals, in France and abroad (Arles Meetings, the Sète festival of ImageSingulières, Gallery of the Château d’Eau in Toulouse, Polka Gallery in Paris, Tbilisi Photo Festival in Georgia, various French cultural institutes in Africa and South America,…).
A winner of numerous photographic prizes including the Prix Roger Pic 2008 for his photographic series entitled ‘The rifleman and the three rivers’, he is in charge of a course on the Semiology of the Image at the Training College for Photography and Multimedia in Toulouse (ETPA) and leads a whole host of workshops in France (Arles Meetings) and abroad. A member of the Myop Agency since 2009, Philippe Guionie is represented by the Polka Gallery in Paris. [Official Website]