Maya Sachweh

cover of "Maya Sachweh"

The only work I’ve ever seen by Maya Sachweh is an artist’s book published in France in 1981. Running to some 40 pages, this paperback (titled simply Maya Sachweh, and identified on the back cover as #5 of the “Cahiers L’image/Alin Avila”) contains several sets of black-and-white photographs with brief captions for each image.

The first, “Séries grises,” begins with a dateline (“Lundi matin. 11 heures 27”), followed by moody, close-up shots of deserted streets, cracked and stained sidewalks, peeling walls, gutters, each accompanied by a typeset text. From the opening image (the shadowy entryway of drab building) and caption (“The young woman left the building. She wore no makeup. She looked like she’d left in a hurry”), it’s clear we are in the realm of film noir. Each page in this part of the book carries two stacked images, the top one paired with a snippet of third-person narrative, the other with a brief passage of reflective prose written in the first person. The story isn’t spelled out, but it seems as if a philosophically inclined detective is tailing a desperate woman as she hurries through an empty, derelict neighborhood.

page from "Maya Sachweh"

The photographs in the second series, “Autoportraits,” feature Sachweh herself, sporting a Louise Brooks hairstyle, as she strikes sultry poses out of American B movies or early Godard films. Again, the photographs (now larger and sharper) come in captioned pairs, with one text credited to some classic pulp or mystery writer (Raymond Chandler, James Hadley Chase and Mickey Spillane seem to be her favorites); the other an italicized sentence possibly expressing the inner thoughts of the femmes fatales that Sachweh embodies. Thus a Chandler line such as “Good evening, amigo. If I wear black it’s because I’m beautiful, evil and lost” is paired with: “She lived enclosed in a world built of habits and lies. She would dearly have liked to get out, but all the exists were blocked: she saw no alternative.”

page from "Maya Sachweh"

The book concludes with another series of bleak street shots and obliquely angled photographs of shop windows shielded by venetian blinds. Other images in which the camera points down at a patch of sidewalk look like crime scene documentation.

Was Sachweh influenced by Cindy Sherman’s “Untitled Film Stills”? It seems likely (there’s even a “Cindy” named in one of the pulp novel quotes), but she is equally indebted to the European photo-novel, and maybe also to Chris Marker’s La Jetée. Her use of text to build a narrative (something absent in Sherman) links her to artists such as Bill Beckley. Setting Sachweh even farther apart from Sherman is her fascination with the urban poetry of decrepit sidewalks and graffitied walls, which suggest an affinity with no one so much as Rudy Burckhardt.

If she did any other photo-text books, there’s no sign of them, apart from some online references to two  “photos-romans” done in collaboration with the writer Gérard Guégan and apparently published in the French edition of Playboy in 1983.