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  • L'oeil du Père Rouel: Autour d'une série de photographies d'Alphonse Rouel en Nouvelle-Calédonie (1913-1969)
  • Emmanuelle Crane
L'oeil du Père Rouel: Autour d'une série de photographies d'Alphonse Rouel en Nouvelle-Calédonie (1913-1969), by Hamid Mokaddem. Nouméa: Editions Expressions, 2004. ISBN 2-9519377-1-3; 96 pages, photographs, appendixes, notes, written in French, bibliography. A$55.00.

This publication is the first of a series. The work is in large part the outcome of the initiative taken by the Northern Province of New Caledonia to save the island's cultural heritage. This first publication aims at saving the material heritage through photographs, while the second in the series, when published, will focus on the nonmaterial heritage through the words and actions of Kanak leader Jean-Marie Tjibaou. Besides revealing the historic-cultural inheritance of the north of New Caledonia this series is also motivated by the lack of access to scientific research on the territory, as [End Page 191] clearly expressed in the editorial introduction.

The forty-seven photographs—mostly taken by Father Rouel from 1913 to 1969 and not previously published—are informative and instructive about the rather atypical life led by the Marist priest. Photographs 1 to3 trace the first four years spent in Houaïlou (on the east coast), while the remaining photographs represent his activities in Hienghène (north of Houaīlou). The archives of New Caledonia hold photographs of Father Rouel that are more refined and aesthetic but represent other geographical areas of the territory (the Loyalty Islands, Island of Pines, and Bourail), so an emphasis on the Northern Province makes this publication quite significant. While the title of this book literally means "the eye of Father Rouel," this can be misleading, as it is not a comprehensive study of the nature of his photography or ofthe photographic role played by Rouel. The emphasis, furthermore, isnot on the photographs themselves, as they are mostly used as illustrations and reproduced in the third section of the book. There is little reference to the history of photography; there are only a few quotations from Roland Barthes and Susan Sontag, and little commentary on or analysis of the medium. For example, author Hamid Mokaddem writes, "All photographic works are made following the technical apparatus inherited from the daguerreotypes. Rouel continues a photographic tradition started by Father André Chapuy, first photographer of the Melanesian world" (41). Although there is a span of over a century between Chapuy's first photograph of New Caledonia and the latest images made by Father Rouel before his death, it is unclear what technical parallels Mokaddem intends to make between the two photographers. By not acknowledging the literature and the technical evolution of photography, the author makes confusing comments such as this, referring to photograph 15: "this photograph has something more than 19th century photographs as . . .We feel a relation of connivance" (45). Mokaddem neglects to draw parallels to the technical difficulties of photography in the nineteenth century, which required rigid poses of its subjects due to technical constraints. There is no clear evidence in the images that the relationship of the photographer to his subject was better between Father Rouel and the Kanak of Hienghène than it had been for previous photographers.

Mokaddem notes Father Rouel's production of a 35mm film in 1931 and offers general facts about the use of religious propaganda (by Father Colin, founder of the Société de Marie), but he does not comment onRouel's use of the moving camera, stating only that the film is available at the Tjibaou Cultural Centre in Nouméa. Mokaddem suggests Father Rouel screened his film during conferences in France in 1932, but we do not know if the Kanak community saw it at the time. It would have been interesting to investigate how descendants of the film's Kanak subjects commented on this movie, described in this book as "bordering on the caricature of colonial ideology" (15).

Without writing a biography of Father Rouel, Mokaddem has succeeded [End Page 192] in recounting the social links the priest established with the...