His father died one night in March 2007. In the same room where he was born 71 years earlier. During the day, he got on his tractor as usual. He had milked the cows, washed the barn with plenty of water, spread out the straw and fed hay. Then drank his decaf, sitting in his place in the kitchen, always the same.
The next day, Odile Meylan took a picture of this mug. Just like, she says, the imprint of her last fragments of life: her purse, her Swiss army knife, her slippers, the jacket hanging from the coat rack, a calendar, the watch, a pillbox. Memories of an honest, discreet, valorous existence in Bottens (VD). Black and white images “because unlike light, shadow allows light to be perceived”. That of the loved one who became a star. She posted the photos on her website. Gallery Title: Retinal persistence.
The swollen phalanx
She confides, sitting on her daddy’s chair in the kitchen. So inevitably, tears come. So we’re talking about something else, about his 9-year-old daughter Thelma. Who just broke a finger. Odile took a picture of the swollen phalanx. “She said to me, moaning: but mom, why are you taking a picture of this?” To “digest”, she replies. As with her father, putting a distance from painful things because she feels helpless.
And then it’s his passion, photography. Photographer of the daily life of others, since 2002, for the newspaper 24 hours. Photographer, too, of his days. Odile Meylan exhibited last fall at the Toulouse Photographic Meetings, is currently the guest of La Chaux-de-Fonds peasant and craft museum. She shows the photos she took of Olivier Longchamp, her neighbor farmer and farrier. Images up close, “the hands that speak labor in each of the folds”, his sweater scratched with hay thorns, the tongue of a cow licking its nose. “A melancholy experience”, sums up a notice. To tender would be more exact.
There is also The Little Cherry Tree, ode to a childhood tree on which she climbed at dawn in her pajamas to pick up the berries. “A landmark, a rallying point, 53 paces away were the farm, the parents,” she describes. Gallery of unchanging time, that of the swing attached to the branches, of the snails that dawdle, of a pig’s snout thrown into the basin, of chicken dewclaws that two childish hands manipulate like a puppet.
She says that the little cherry tree holds its own in the winter wind, that it has extended its roots to draw so many lines between the farm and the outside, between childhood and adulthood, between dreams and reality. This farm, for the first time in generations, has become just a dwelling. Odile Meylan lives there. The mother is in a home for people of her age, one of her sisters has recovered the fields, the other the chalet above. Odile occupies the house, with her companion and their daughter.
So, of course, between these ancient walls, childhood has resurgences. Those years were filled with happiness. The meadows, the trees, the animals, the home. His father, a little wild, tended to run to the stables when a visitor announced himself. Odile is a bit like this: “I could be alone for days.” As a child, she looked at planes in the sky and opened atlases. Want to travel? “I hated routine, school-vacation-school, it depressed me.”
But departures, station and airport halls will wait. She becomes a teacher to perhaps retain a little bit of childhood. At 25, she deploys one wing then two and leaves for one year: Central America, Australia, Asia. Take souvenir photos. On the way back, the teacher remakes. Fall back into the routine. She then dreams of being a reporter, “because there are no school holidays in that profession”. Migros course to learn the technique, then the International Center of Photography in New York for three months.
Victory over routine
Odile begins to test the waters, Estonia (for her perch fillets), Peru (for the Vaudois who live there) then reports for Terre des hommes and Medair in Pakistan, Angola, Afghanistan, Congo . In 2001, she was an intern at 24 hours. The editorial staff is convinced of his talent. A year later, a place becomes available. She becomes a press photographer: her victory over routine.
In 2006, she boarded the RMS Queen Elizabeth in Southampton and sailed six days to New York. She photographs the passengers and the crew. “I remember this man who made the crossing just to throw his wife’s ashes into the sea. I could already imagine the photo, the opening of the urn and the dust scattering. But failed: he threw the urn in the water. “
In 2011, she went to Jamaica with her partner who is a reggae producer. She photographs the old cinemas and theaters where Bob Marley played. The past, the original farm, she says nicely, keep coming back to her. She now leads this project around people and surrounding landscapes. By revisiting the territory of childhood “with the little cherry tree and the neighbor with the accent to cut to the scythe”.
1972 Born in Lausanne.
2002 Committed at “24 hours”.
2011 Birth of his daughter, Thelma.
2020 Laureate of the Manifesto festival in Toulouse.
2021 In September, Alt. +1000 photographic festival, in Neuchâtel.