Surreal and mysterious portraits and places in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom
In 2010, French photographer Stéphane Lavoué discovered a special landscape in the United States, called Northeast Kingdom. It is located along the border to Canada in the northeast corner of Vermont, comprising Essex, Orleans and Caledonia counties. This beautiful, rugged, remote area has a population of roughly 65,000 people. Lavoué’s series and book, The Kingdom is a personal tribute.
When Stéphane Lavoué and his family first came to the Northeast Kingdom, he immediately felt he found a very special place. In the beginning, he wanted to make a body of work like a journalistic investigation. Levoué started his series with this idea in mind, but the project and the resulting book are far more than photo reportage. His images transcend into narrative fiction, even if all the people and places are based on a real place.
I have the habit of browsing through a book from front to back, then working my way back toward the front again. As a result, I came across the accompanying text at the back of the book and read the account right after my first pass through the book. The story is about a woman traveling to the Kingdom. She is searching for her brother who has been absent for many years. Could all the people and places Levoué captured be evidence of this story?
The French writer and journalist, Judith Perrignon, was asked to write her short piece to accompany the images. Her text was written after the photo series was completed, so her story is a mix of invented memories and fictional events. With or without knowing this, an entirely new layer of meaning is applied when viewing the book with her text in mind. Before I knew the text was fictional, the portraits and scenes I had first encountered had me retracing my steps; wondering who and where Levoué had chosen to photograph because of their importance in the story. Levoué’s images have a timeless and surreal quality – natural lighting makes a man waring a hairnet and an Army graphic t-shirt look like a renaissance painting, and scenes of The Museum of Everyday Life could easily be mistaken for a setting from Twin Peaks, or a Wes Anderson film.
In addition to the striking images and text, the book itself feels great to hold. The embossed cover feels like leather, the printed end sheets of the book feature a map of the Northeast Kingdom; which invokes the idea that one is holding a personal journal, or an artifact that is a part of the mystery and the story within. The mystery deepened each time I went back to the images and re-read the text. Levoué’s world in The Kingdom had me revisit the work multiple times; and left me with more wonderful questions than answers.
Photos by Stéphane Lavoué, with text by Judith Perrignon
Graphic design by l’atelier 25
French & English
Munken lynx 170 gr & woodstock grigio 110 gr embossed hard cover
2017 first edition
This is an edited version of the review first published in F-Stop Magazine in January, 2018.