Going deep underground in Melchior Tersen’s new exhibition

The serial collector took to the Catacombs of Paris to document youth culture and contemporary artefacts. Spoooooky!

Earlier this year, THE FACE hung out with Melchior Tersen at his home somewhere in Paris. A mysterious figure, the photographer and archivist has amassed an extensive collection of pop culture ephemera over the years – namely around 10,000 T‑shirts, bearing anything and everything from Nirvana to the cast of Jersey Shore.

Beyond that, there’s all sorts lurking about in his home-slash-museum: newspaper cutouts of Zinedine Zidane’s infamous 2006 headbutt, Slipknot memorabilia and an advertisement for a life-size X‑Files cassette with Mulder and Scully.

Seemingly well-versed in all things youth-pop-cool, it felt fitting that his debut exhibition, Sous La Terre 2012 – 2015 in Paris’ The Community Centre, would open with a clear agenda in mind. The aim is to bring youth, contemporary pop and underground movements together through Tersen’s documentation of cultural communities over the years, his works having featured in projects for Balenciaga, M Le Monde and Dazed.

I don’t really choose a topic to work on,” Tersen says. I talk about the things I live within the first degree. When I present a subject, I try to explain it in its entirety.” Part ode, part celebration, it was Tersen’s aim to bring together glimpses of the Paris’, er, literal underground for the exhibition. Think photographs shot in the spooky Parisian catacombs, small snippets of raves, Spongebob graffiti and a little dog, all captured by chance through the artist’s beady eye.

When you take pictures, you have to live in the moment,” he explains. It’s not possible to stay at home and do research or tests. It’s necessary to have human contact and geographical context.” In that sense, everything Tersen presents are moments of life, meetings that I lived.

It can be just one evening or an extended period, but it is always a testimony of what has marked me and enriched me humanly. I can’t belong to a particular group, but I have the chance to be eclectic. That makes me meet people coming from different universes.”

You might be wondering why Tersen’s exhibition isn’t a first-hand look into his extensive collection of stuff – you know, rooms of stacked T‑shirts and cassettes, walls plastered with historical newspaper cut-outs. That’d look cool, sure. But instead, the artist finds links between the randomness” of his collecting habit and the style of his photography.

It’s both a compliment to my photographic work and like therapy for me daily,” he says. I can’t help it, so I try to make this disorder coincide with my work. If one day I see an owl in nature and it touches me, I would want to start photographing owls at night. Maybe I’ll even begin to buy owl figurines. I’d find it logical to present my photos of owls with a collection of statuettes I find. It would speak to the shared fascination with owls.”

Happen to be in Paris right now? Head down and catch Tersen’s exhibition before it closes this weekend.

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