© Bernard Plossu

Xavier Barral

1955-2019

Xavier Barral always took the road less travelled, ignoring old habits and repetition. His passion for other people’s passions (photographs and artists, authors and researchers), his tireless curiosity that constantly searched for new discoveries and encounters, as well as his quest to find a deeply personal approach, made each of his projects a new departure, an original chance to travel through space and time – as he did in the books Evolution (2007) and Mars (2013).

While studying in Paris at Penninghen, a renowned graphic-design school, Xavier Barral met Robert Doisneau and Roman Cieslewicz, and the photographer and designer would both leave their mark and inspire him. Above all, he was attracted by the elsewhere and he drew, travelled, navigated and worked as a photojournalist, before art directing a number of magazines. Xavier Barral’s meeting with publisher Éric Hazan in the late 1980s marked a first turning point toward books. Hazan entrusted him with the design of his first publications, notably Doisneau/Renault (1988), and this “book-object” and its metallic slipcase were the first evidence of the singular form – always so closely in line with the content – that Xavier Barral would later give to each of the books he published.

In 1992, he co-founded Atalante, with Annette Lucas and Stéphane Trapier, a visual and communications agency specializing in culture, which created the visual identity of a number of French institutions (Opéra de Paris, Cité de la Musique, Théâtre de la Colline and Théâtre du Rond-Point, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain), as well as designing art books and exhibition catalogues. With Atalante, Xavier Barral confirmed his craftsman-like skills, his vision, and a feeling for dialogue with artists. He also revealed a manner of approaching the very physicality of books that would become his trademark, such as in Pleine Mer by Jean Gaumy (2001).

In 2002, he set off upon the adventure for which he had been prepared and led by his different projects over the years. Encouraged by publisher Hervé de La Martinière and author friends, he founded Éditions Xavier Barral and published his first book: Mot à Mot by Daniel Buren. From then on, he alternated works that honoured his many long intellectual and artistic friendships – from M’as-tu vue, created with Sophie Calle in 2003 to Depardon/USA in 2018 – with those dedicated to the work of major figures in photography, such as Sergio Larrain (2013) and, more recently, Masahisa Fukase (2018). Interested by different artistic practices and the links between the worlds of art and science, and with the enthusiasm of an explorer, he brought to life projects that were products of his encounters with new people or of long-held ideas or desires that could finally be achieved. Published in 2015, The Lost Tribes of Tierra del Fuego, for example, paid homage to Martin Gusinde’s photographs of the Selk’nam, Yámana and Kawéskar peoples, images that Xavier Barral had first discovered when travelling in the region in the 1980s.

 

A number of his books were accompanied by exhibitions, for which he was also curator and designer, including AutoPhoto (Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, 2017) and Wall, featuring photographs by Josef Koudelka (C/O Berlin, 2017, and Dar El-Nimer for Arts & Culture, Beirut, 2018).

 

Xavier Barral recently finishing the printing of The Comet: The Journey of Rosetta.

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