[slidepress gallery=’charbonneaufrench-massillon’]

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Jeff Charbonneau $ Eliza French


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Massillon is a group of performance-based pictures loosely inspired by the life of one of our ancestors who lived and died in Massillon, Ohio at the turn of the 20th century.  We are transposing her life story into an ongoing fairytale inspired by our own dreams or fantasies, creating single-frame narratives that can be read individually or in tandem.  Our basic themes are a woman’s suffering, her longing, her searching, and her interior fantasy life.   We shoot on large format or medium format film and manipulate the images using traditional darkroom techniques.  The images in this essay feature Eliza as the subject and were taken and printed between 2006 and 2008 in Northern California primarily.



We have been working together since 2004 and our images are created through a partnership from conception to finish.  They have been exhibited in galleries, and international art fairs since 2006.  Our work is currently published in the companion catalogue for the exhibition “The Art of Caring: A Look at Life Through Photography” on view at the New Orleans Museum of Art.


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Editor’s Note: Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks… david alan harvey

35 thoughts on “jeff charbonneau & eliza french – massillon”

  1. Brilliant. My favorite essay on Burn so far…which, means for me, that fine art and film are where my true love lies. I love the recreation of someone’s life and the dreamlike interpretations that can proceed from there. Such beautiful work. Really, really amazing stuff. Congratulations, Jeff and Eliza, my respect is all yours.

  2. Very conceptual….reminds me a bit of the kind of work that won the EPF grant…To me this is more about inventing and forming some kind of mood with static imagery. I prefer photos that accomplish the same task in a dynamic way where the artist chooses to, or is forced to move and react quickly to changing events, something that is much more difficult to do well.

  3. All respect for the mastery of the medium.
    I prefer the darker twisted fairytale imagery of Mike Garlington myself,but that is just a personal taste thing.[also shot on LF]
    Some of these images look lovely [the panorama especially], even as jpegs, and Im sure look spectacular as large prints.
    Suprisingly I find these not the least bit pretentious as they are exactly what you say they are and pretend to be nothing else.


  4. Classic pictorialism (Panos is going to loooove it!).

    Though this is not what attracts me, in the core, about photography, an absolutely wonderful, personal and most often winning, approach to the medium.

  5. jim

    you should maybe read before passing such quick judgement:

    “We shoot on large format or medium format film and manipulate the images using traditional darkroom techniques.”

    not my cup of tea, but there are couple of lovely images. numbers 9 and 11 stand out.

  6. I love the concept, some of the images especially the scyther and 7, 9 and 10. There’s something not quite working for me because of the techniques which I think you can get away with in the stronger images. I don’t know if its because you’ve used a soft lens or if its something you’ve done in photoshop. Maybe this project would be stronger if you were to use the old processes or a better lens. Sometimes I think its a case of weak composition, close cropping. Anyway, lots of technical weaknesses in my opinion but good ideas. But also maybe technically they would look better in real life than on my computer. Anyway, I am glad that Burn is showing them to us because lord knows there’s not much photography to see where I live.

  7. collaboration…
    has its
    like the
    the spinster
    is beautiful..
    just so….
    are they fiber prints?
    selenium toned?
    I find them
    and would love to see the prints…..

  8. Imaginative, beautiful, timeless, technically superb, creatively daring. A narrative that reads like a fairy tale. You took me someplace I’ve never gone before and I loved the journey. Thank you…


  9. “Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.”–Jung

    What i love best in photography, as with writing or painting or music or living, is that stories unfold in ways that meditate upon not one story but upon the full wave of a collision of stories. What makes photography so rich, what allows photography to continue to grow and deepen and widen is that it’s flexibility is that of dreams, be those the moments ‘real’ in front of our eyes or the moments inside us, and are awakening to them….

    first, i want to congratulate the both of you, Jeff and Eliza, on both beautiful and compelling work, a unity, but also on your collaboration. Photography is always a dialogue, even when one photographs alone, work is really always a collaboration to begin with. As a photographer married to another photographer, I’ve cherished the necessity and power of collaboration. Though my wife and i do not ‘collaborate’ per se on individual projects/pictures, both of work is a conversation with the other’s ideas and works. This yields a beautiful fruition. .the same is true here….

    the work itself, while reminding me of another famous pair of photographers (husband and wife) who construct surreal and dream like images, is indeed both a fairy tale and a re-imagining of a life lived that still remains here in the present. Also, it reminds me of one of my favorite photo-novels, which i’ve mentioned here before, Wisconsin Death Trip, and all that makes the work ripe is that besides the dreamlike iconography and symbols, are the very real moments that seemed culled from our own dreams. The beautiful image of the woman with the scythe, as if from Dryer’s Vampyre, to the Rebecca-like panorama shot, to Poe’s caged eggs, that the ‘old’ look (the cyan prints) retain a transformation of the light the suggests not so much the past as the morning light slipping beneath the eyelid of a dream….

    If anything, i wanted more…but then i have a thirst for long books and long photo books/essays….i want to see and listen to even more…..the woman with the braid like the twine of a noose, the flax of a horse mane, clenched in her mouth is just feverish and hunger-bitten….

    congrats again….and great journeys continue toward your bitten upon dreams…

    lovely, indeed


  10. Herve
    August 24, 2009 at 2:15 pm
    Classic pictorialism (Panos is going to loooove it!).

    Laughing hysterically…
    Obviously Herve… u know me well… very well….:)))))
    My girl loved it…
    All girls loved it…
    The girl ( woman ) in me also loved it…
    but..( ahhhhhh… does it always a “but” has to be in the middle spoiling the “fun”????? )
    “Pictorialism” doesnt even express the way i feel about the above piece…
    the word “fake” is not enough…
    the phrase “art for the sake of art” is not good enough either…
    the LA expression “gay” cant describe it either…
    Salvador Dali would or should probably puke…( ok.. “she” said thats a stretch…)
    if this is surrealism then im an F-16 jet fighter pilot chasing Cherokee indians to steal
    their turkeys just for the “thanks giving” dinner tradition November party night..
    Hopefully this type of “photography” someday will be illegal….
    ( now, im the new “Stalin” )..
    Bottom line:… total bullshit…

    but… big but…. but… that sells……
    That can be a book… postcards… profitable…
    ( even the “woman” in me agrees…)
    Big THUMPS down…………

  11. rebeccaperalto@gmail.com

    A true artist can respect and appreciate the art of others……….. even if they do not have the capacity to understand it……..;-) I thought it was AMAZING, and beautiful!

  12. Perhaps I’m just not in the mood this morning. I’ll have another look this evening but I’ll not likely warm to this essay anytime. Though sometimes I surprise myself.

  13. Not really my cup of cha, ( you can tell the english members of this forum).

    As objects I am sure the big prints are impressive, beautiful to behold and have an impact in exhibitions. Beautifully crafted hand printed traditional prints have a depth that is hard to beat.

    There seems to be a real fawning whenever anyone mentions that hand made black and white prints have been done in the darkroom, people seem to fall over themselves and turn into dribbling wrecks just because the prints have been done by hand using a traditional darkroom. Yes I agree hand made prints are great (I spent years working in private darkrooms printing for photographers, and still don’t consider myself as skilled as the greats who can really make a dull neg spring to life.)

    Over the years I have tried to understand this type of photography, I have admired it and wondered at it but have really been moved by it, to me it just seems a bit introspective or self indulgent.I am just not hard wired that way.

  14. oops the last sentence should read “but have rarely been moved by it” and NOT ” but have really been moved by it”

    Blimey what a difference a simple spelling mistake can make………..

  15. If I was fifteen and in love with the girl next door I probably would love this stuff……… I’m not in love with the girl next door

  16. My mind played tricks on me. I read you’d manipulated them using photoshop. Anyway my comments still stand.

  17. Jeff and Aliza

    Congratulations for being published here.

    I’m afraid this does not speak to me.

    It is very hard to do this sort of work without looking…well…silly. These are reasonably well crafted images, and are likely commercially saleable, which is a good thing. Perhaps pushing them a little harder in that direction would not hurt.

    What falls down for me is that for the most part the images look a bit slilted and self conscious.

    I love the idea of story-telling. Art Kane was a master of this. He would make up a little story, then use it as inspiration for a series of photos. He also did a marvelous series using Song lyrics as inspiration. The results were often beautiful and magical. In contrast, the work here seems a bit awkward and contrived.

    I like the idea, and the direction and would love to see more.

  18. Dear David Alan Harvey,

    Thank you so much for inviting us to share our work with your readers. I did read the responses today and was pleased at the mention of Wisconsin Death Trip. When Jeff and I met and fell in love he showed me this book for the first time, and it touched me deeply. A copy of it is on my desk at all times to keep me company. The other comment that I liked wasn’t a positive one, but nevertheless it provoked a good memory. Whoever wrote it expressed that they would perhaps like the pictures if he/she was in love with the girl next door. It reminded me of a day at the gallery during our last exhibition when a class of young women artists came for a tour. They were “girls next door”/ teenage/ early twenties. They were riveted to the room. I could see them seeing something they had always wanted to but hadn’t. A certain expression of pathos and the courage to identify with our own fantasy of ourselves. Perhaps this wouldn’t be the coup de grace for many of your photographer colleagues, but for me, inspiring young women to want to shoot and create and to let their fantasy lives loose was fulfilling. We saw fire in their eyes.

    The dialogue portion of your site seems to be a haven for strange, sometimes ungraceful acts of the ego, and I’m not sure I comprehend the use of it. I do, however, think you are doing an amazing job with your curating, and always look forward to checking in to see what’s new. Best wishes to you in every endeavor and thank you again.

    Eliza French

  19. Congrats on you being published on burn.

    Like some comments above, technically superb but since it’s conceptual and I don’t get the concept (the statement doesn’t help much either) I’ll pass. Beautiful images, very personal I reckon, I’m a different person with a different background.

    Some of those remind me of Bergman though, and that goes a long way as a compliments. I wish the best for the future…

  20. Sorry if this is redundant. I attempted to write a response earlier but have not seen it post. I was simply saying thank you for sharing our work on your forum and wishing everyone the best in their personal endeavors. We work very hard to make something that comes from a place of love/passion, and appreciate all of the encouragement from those who do find an affinity with our subject.



  21. I am a HUGE fan of Eliza French and Jeff Charbonneau’s work. Not only does it tell a story, but the images literally transport you to some ethereal place, where anything is possible. They are dark and mysterious, but somehow hopeful. They are a perfect combination of sweet and sinister.

    On another note, anyone who thinks they’re doctoring these beauties with Photoshop is a moron by the way. They are a few of the only exceptional photographers I know who use a darkroom – and use it well.

    In essence, I just love, love, love their photography and am always looking forward to whatever they might come up with next.

  22. Thank you so much for publishing our work on your site. I am very appreciative of the “exposure” and commentary both positive and negative.
    I find it useful in evaluating the effectiveness of communicating through imagery. I also find the essence of communication to be the biggest gamble and sometimes the biggest disappointment in sharing works of art. Titles, labels, words and genre designations often narrow or betray the original intent of the message.

    My personal thoughts (I can and will only express my views,Eliza has her own) about producing an image with the intent of communicating what I can with sincerity, are based on my background and internal meanderings. Unfortunately we too often defend or define ourselves through criticism of the external and take umbrage at an opposing point of view. Hopefully we can all engage in sharing our ideologies without destruction and thinly veiled preaching. (Already this sounds preachy).
    My first experiences with photography were in documenting people in other cultures as a student of Anthropology. I struggled with concepts of subjectivity, manipulation through foci and the exploitation of subjects – where no matter how sincerely I attempted to comprehend or portray their reality I was merely providing my own interpretation. In many instances I was consciously or unconsciously cherry picking the “right” moments for portrayal, imposing my cultural bias and perhaps adding to the endangerment of their well-being, either real or imagined.With all due respect to the world of documentation and photojournalism, I stepped aside; my epiphany being that for whatever reason, something about my approach was not sincere within me. I think that photojournalism and documentary photography’s capabilities are by far the most substantive and important historical attributes of this mechanical wonder; the camera. With that being said I would emphasize – in the hands of the appropriate practitioner. I think this site demonstrates the abundance of those practitioners. From my roots, in concert with Eliza, evolved a highly stylized, craft oriented vision of a world that I (we) could feel comfortable portraying. I feel that the “medium” of photography is just another technological tool to deliver whatever message can comfortably fill a frame. Maybe the work that Eliza and I present would be better described as subjective narrative and printmaking. To me photography is a manipulative medium that is essentially stilted, contrived and narcissistic by virtue of it’s subjective focus. For us the process of selectively creating an image of an interpreted past is purely an element of fantasy with (hopefully) a wink and a nod to the pomposity and pretense of the antecedent framing that has been handed to us through the medium’s short history. In posturing this way I hope as much to present an “objective” question to the viewer about the “importance” of an image in its message as well as its pretense about being an “object of art” if it is interpreted to be subjectively “beautiful” . Hopefully our collective whimsies as photographers can allow us all to experiment and accept success and failure in our attempts to communicate. At least it’s fun and challenging to try………

    Again, thanks so much to everyone for taking the time to look.

    all the best

    Jeff Charbonneau

  23. Not my cup of tea. Using imagery and style thats been defined and done to death in the pop music world to tell a story of ‘womens suffering and longing’. There is no depth in the concept or approach, ‘womens suffering’ has actually become a style definition in photography and art. Suffragette style.
    You must begin with a subject that you personally know well and you will have something interesting and relevant to say, because you are a women does not mean you understand and can convey womens suffering in an interesting and intelligent way. But then again this looks more like a editorial photo shoot and not a story, so in that case, o.k stuff, would suit Britney’s dark comeback album, but its been done stronger and better in the past. (But that goes for all current pop/media culture). And that wave needs to be fought and not rode.

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  25. Jeff and Eliza

    I was absolutely captured by the ‘scyther’ image and both interested and confused by the others… Your work is rich and demands both time and dialogue – your written comments here support and explain – and still leave me wanting to understand more of my own response to these images. I wonder if I could ask your permission to use an image on photo-dialogue.com (will send a separate email).

    Bob, your Jung quote is, I think, spot on.


  26. Love this work. Interesting technique. I like how the artists chose to portray the narrative in a photographic style that exemplifies the period of the character. It’s too bad that some commenters don’t think before they make absurd statements like: ” because you are a woman, doesn’t mean you understand women”
    and relating it to an overused pop culture artifact. I thought the “rock” references were kind of fun.
    and to John Vink and photohumourist, Clever indeed (how dismissive)…….it’s a good thing SHE ISN’T USING A SICKLE….(visit your dictionary) maybe she needs big strong men like you (if you are one) to teach her….

  27. Done in real environments, these are astounding photographs.

    I think this is some of the most original, evocative and technically savvy work I’ve seen in years.

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