When filming Footsteps in the snow, in 2011 at her family home on the Rue Boileau in Versailles, Valérie Sonnier purposefully leaves all the windows open. The house is thus left exposed to the slightest draught or gust of wind. She films at dusk or at night, a time not entirely clear. It’s a stormy evening and the curtains dance in the wind, blowing through the house. The house itself, with its pillars, balustrades and terrace, maintains a sense of faded grandeur despite its abandoned and dilapidated state and the overgrown garden that surrounds it; one can sense the life that once filled it. Moving through what seems like a film set, Valérie Sonnier’s camera explores the eerily empty rooms. The images, perhaps unsurprisingly, are black and white. A ghost appears right at the beginning of the film, entering the room on tiptoes, no doubt via one of the many open windows. The apparitions — along a corridor, on the terrace, elsewhere — are faint at first and become more and more precise. The ghost is present and yet untouchable and immaterial, void of any physicality. It haunts the garden and the house, the house itself a ghost. A blanket of snow, into which the ghost blends, covers the garden. Eventually the ghost disappears into the branches of the trees which are weighed down with snow, these “white” closing images contrasting with the black and stormy sky that loomed overhead at the beginning of the film.
With the magical illusion of this apparition, Valérie Sonnier once again goes in search of the ghosts of childhood. As one thinks back to the cinematic work of George Méliès’— his comical specters and evanescent ghosts rising up in enchantment, masterpieces from a time when the confrontation between ghosts and photography, acts of magic, ghostly presences and advances in cinema left spectators both shocked and stupefied — the remarkable similarity between Valérie Sonnier’s film and a photo taken by the famous photographer Lartigue entitled The ghost of my brother Zissou, Villa les Marronniers, Château Guyon, 1905, comes to mind and cannot go unmentioned. It is, as Walter Benjamin explains, the apparition of an unknown, however close they may have once been to us. With a physical trace we are in control whereas a ghost, paradoxically, controls us. In Valérie Sonnier’s drawings of the house on the Rue Boileau she chooses a view point where the austere façade of the building, adorned by large trees as if were that of the Petit Trianon, becomes an almost panoramic format such as one might expect to see in the cinema. Drawing the house and garden from different angles, it’s as if an imaginary storyboard were driving her on. Valérie Sonnier draws in old account books, giving herself precise and limited borders. Her drawing is precise and meticulous, restrained within the visible margins of the account books as if the slightest rustling of leaves must be captured and contained with the utmost detail. It all seems familiar to us, as if taken from the present, and yet at the same time her work feels distant and timeless.
Through her films, drawings and the paintings of her roses in her garden, Valérie Sonnier produces images that are ghosts in their own right that appeal to our subconscious vision. To understand an image is, through looking at it, to acknowledge its hold over time. The image has its own powers.