The man who wasn’t there

Peter Aspenden on Chris Marker: A Grin Without a Cat.

Christian Hippolyte François Georges Bouche-Villeneuve changed his name to Chris Marker, he said, because it fitted more easily on his passport. That wasn’t literally true, of course, but he was making a point. Chris Marker was not just a pseudonym; it was an act of erasure. He rendered himself invisible. For the last 50 years of his life, he declined almost all interviews and would not allow himself to be photographed. The consequence of that extreme act of self-effacement is that one of the most original and groundbreaking artists of postwar Europe is scarcely known to a wide public. Marker’s adopted name could not have been less apposite: leaving his mark was the least important element of his artistic practice.


Marker’s decision to eschew the trappings of cultish celebrity was taken early, around the time of La Jetée. “He wanted to preserve his own space, free of the demands of the media, especially towards the later part of his life,” says Darke. “And that had interesting results for those people for whom his work was important. If you wanted to find out about Chris Marker, it was never served on a plate for you. He would throw objects and artefacts around the place, and if you really wanted to find out about him, you would simply follow his work.”