All images © Antoine d'Agata
Antoine d’Agata’s latest publication ICE continues his ongoing fascination with sex, drugs, death and dissecting taboos, finds Chloe Athanasopoulou.
Perhaps it is too soon to judge whether Antoine D’Agata’s newest incarnation, ICE, is his swan song, but undoubtedly, it is the most contextualised and revealing book he has produced so far. Refreshingly amoral, excessive beyond reason, paradoxical and seductive, his journey through the prism of the drug, metamphetamine hydrochloride or so-called ICE, is unlocked here not just by way of photography but also through extensive writing.
Alongside already familiar photographic work produced since 2005 in Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, the injections of text throughout the book, such as his personal diary, emails to and from prostitutes portrayed in ICE, his editor, and his children back in France, offer a new dimension and level of complexity to his work that refrains from repetition. ICE is not an answer, but rather a multi-layered question, a circle of construction and destruction where the chronological distance between the photographs taken becomes spirally bigger together with the intensity of the pure experience. Antoine’s ambivalence between pain and pleasure, and instinctive gravitation towards the fugitive and circumstantial leaves no space for romantic notions of idealised beauty.
The protagonists of ICE are contemporary nymphs; abyssal and suffering, humane but still hard to reach and to keep hold of. Ka, the most beloved and indeed photographed of all the girls, is a contemporary Olympia, a Baudelairean Red Hair Beggar Girl, a queen, a prostitute, a cannibal, an anorexic desire and still, as D’Agata describes her, "taller than a mountain". The complex relationship between the prostitutes and the photographer is exposed through the extraordinary textual part of ICE; the shocking honesty and brutal rawness from both parts in regards to sensitive matters, such as the exploitation of the sitter, intimacy, sex and love, is far from pretentious and counteracts the judgemental and reassuring predisposition of our times.
The oeuvre of Antoine d’Agata has never been easy to digest and ICE is unquestionably his toughest body of work yet. The rigour and sheer determination of his quest reveals much of himself but uniquely, and crucially, opens up to the experience of his subjects.