At a time where smartphones with cameras have become ever-present in the entire planet, it’s difficult to capture images of people that are truly raw and pure. As the democratisation and popularisation of the photographic medium has spread, those images we recall from early documentaries and series by photographers and reporters who were the first to portray certain people are long gone. However, there’s still hope in figures like that of Bertille Bak, a contemporary French artist who immerses herself in the lifestyles of those she portrays. Until May 12th, her work is celebrated at Paris’ Jeu de Peume in Bertille Bak: Out of Breath.
Very often, photographers play the role of the outsider to immortalise what they see through their lens and offer a unique point of view to the world. But that’s not how Bertille Bak works. Aiming to camouflage within the community she’s getting to know, the Paris-based artist learns their costumes, rituals, and immerses in their everyday life. What’s interesting about her work is that she focuses on marginalised or ‘invisible’ communities, which we often see portrayed in untruthful ways. Those groups can range from the crew of a cruise ship in the port of Saint-Nazaire, shoe-shiners in La Paz, young miners in India, Indonesia or Thailand, asylum-seekers living in Pau or craftsmen in the medina of Tetouan. 
Bak not only photographs all of these people but she gets to know them and works closely with them. Actually, the issue of work is central to her projects, paying special attention to pre-industrial means of production and know-how that is, unfortunately, getting lost forever. This  ancestral knowledge, many times, if not passed down from generation to generation, just disappears in front of our eyes – just like we’re losing other necessary things to thrive like biodiversity, for example. After living with members of those communities for months, she turns that experience into photographic series as well as videos, mixed media pieces, and performances.
In her solo show at Jeu de Peume, the Marchel Duchamp Prix-nominee shares some of her most important projects, like Le Tour de Babel, a video where she follows a cruise liner and gives us an insight into the experience of its many actors: tourists, the ship’s crew, workers, etc. Presenting the dichotomy between the massive scale of the ship and the miniature, real space of the rooms that both workers and tourists live in for weeks, she tackles issues like leisure, work, confinement, restriction, and openness. In Boussa from the Netherlands, comprising two videos and a series of souvenir bottles, Bak denounces the unacceptable working conditions on the women working as shellers of small grey shrimp in Tétouan, Morocco, for a Dutch company. And in La Brigada, recorded in Bolivia, the artist turns her lens to the shoeshine workers in the country’s capital, La Paz, who often remain invisible due to their social status.
In all, this massive solo show at Jeu de Paume shines a light on unfair situations that many communities live across the world, portrayed as truthfully and honestly as possible by an artist who cares about them. Bertille Bak is a humanist activist, and her work is helping open the eyes of mainly Westerner audience. An unmissable exhibition to visit before it closes next May 12.
Boussa from the Netherlands.
La Brigada.
Le Tour de Babel.
La Brigada.
Le Tour de Babel.