He is an old man whose body I wash every morning. A room without soul, silence, an island. I do not know if he speaks my language, Mr. Yu was born in China. He smiles at me from time to time and seems to understand my simple orders.
His wife stands back for a moment, we argue a little before she leaves us alone. Despite his great age, Mr. Yu has the body of a young man, his skin does not crack or wither in any place and the flesh tense has the appearance of not having lived. But the illusion stops there, because Mr. Yu is tired of having already felt too much.
Las are his loins, so are his lungs too.
These last days, breathing has become short, as if assailed, eager to snatch the breath still preserved. The old man’s eyes are closed as I pass a glove of warm water over his face. We share this silence, maybe I can ask him questions but I do not do anything about it. For months already. I sometimes feel that we share this silence, as if we had chosen without saying it, but I know that is not the truth.
The truth is that Mr Yu chose this silence, I’m just obeying the circumstances.
My hands run through his body while my mind wanders. The thin torso, a quivering fistula in the left arm, a leg amputated at the knee that I saw step by step curling up, as one nibbles a nail at the pulp. I know all his gestures, every corner of skin, thrill of muscles, pointillism of a daily toilet performed in bed. I imagine Mr. Yu’s existence all along the body, like the landscape of the volcano expressing through erosion, the jolts of the earth, the years, the weeks unfurled. I think of the long journey, the months in the wet of the boat, the Indian Ocean from side to side. I think of the child sitting on the bridge, a line on a maritime map between Canton and this island, 1930s,
end of the world.
I feel that my photography is born in this room without soul, in this silence. A way of telling, of these stories told to children, the memory of human, the water flowing from the mountain. I think Mr. Yu is going to die soon. My daughters trudge valiantly into the gullies, we perspire drop by drop and sink into the island while the body of Mr. Yu remains motionless. The water is flowing from the mountain, the wind is rising from horizon, the storm is coming from the sea.
Julien Coquentin – born in 1976, lives and works in France.