Brigitte Lacombe and her sister Marian held a workshop at their exhibition yesterday. Brigitte has been taking photographs of leading and emerging players in the Arab film world and Marian has been making a documentary of the process, filming actors and film makers on what film means to them. On my way to see them I pass some of Brigitte's earlier work, photo's I remember from magazine covers and coffee table books. I'm running late and I've already been in to the exhibition twice but I can't help myself taking a second to have a closer look. Dennis Hopper in a cowboy hat, a young Julia Roberts an even younger Steven Spielberg. It's like a modern history lesson in film.
When I entered the workshop Brigitte and Marian are side by side behind a desk, they are not immediately recognizable as sisters. Brigitte is wearing serious black glasses and has her head down while writing notes. She looks no nonsense. She's not wearing a hint of make-up, she dressed comfortably in black and her hair is that gorgeous greyish/white. She is like one of her portraits. Black and White.
Marian is petite, wide eyed and has a smile that says "welcome". Marian looks around the room making eye contact with people, nodding and smiling.
When the conversation begins Brigitte makes it clear that she would like to have more of a discussion than just her speaking at us, her accent is beautiful, its soft and french. Initially a couple of photographers want to speak about technique and light but the conversation quickly moves on to the people in the photographs. What did you say to them to get "that" look?
"I don't like a lot of people around," Brigitte says. "I don't like a lot of noise. I really don't speak very much". Marian smiles knowingly by her side. Immediately they become sisters in my eyes, there's an unspoken language between them. Marian is nodding but she's thinking something else. Later in the conversation Marian contradicts this comment "you do speak, you say some wonderful things" she says mischievously. Brigitte slowly smiles and says "maybe I do? maybe I just can't remember what I say?" There's a chuckle from the crowd.
I can't help but think of my own sister at this point. What would we be like in this situation? Would I be drawing naughty pictures on the paper in front of her while she tried to speak? Pinching her leg under the table. With my sister so far away I can't help but start to feel a pang of jelousy looking at them together. They are so comfortable, they're adding to each others conversation, finishing sentences, they both are saying the same thing but differently. You can tell they're close and were raised to look out for one another. They have the same values in their work, they have the same interest in people, they love to hear people's stories. They have both been moved by the stories they have heard from the Arab world over the past year.
Brigitte mentions with a brilliant French disdain in her voice "when the DFI initially spoke to me about this exhibition they wanted to do one of those behind the scenes type documentaries that you see all the time now" In a tisk tisk way she abruptly says "I could not!" She paused for a moment and then said something that touched my heart "Then I thought about it for awhile and realized that Marian was right there, that Marian could do it, if she did it I would be comfortable, she is the ONLY person I could do it with". Marian smiles in her direction. I can feel a little tear in my eye.
A bit later they are asked if they think the exhibition would work as well if it was just one of them. Before Brigitte can answer Marian jumps in with a definite no, "it would be nothing without Brigitte". There is no jealousy in this comment she is saying it with pure respect for sister "no matter what, I will always be Brigitte's little sister". Okay, now I need a Kleenex.
I ask them if they fight like sisters, they both immediately answer "YES!" The crowd chuckles. Marian adds that one of the best things about having the film was the "evidence" it provided for her to give to Brigitte. "I would say, listen to how you are talking, listen to what you are saying to me". They both giggle.
When the workshop is over I get to have a moment with Brigitte on my own. She is fascinating. She retells her story of arriving in Cannes in 1975, the opportunities that were presented to her. There were hardly any photographers then, definitely no women. I ask where her confidence came from at such a young age? She tells me that she's not sure, maybe she was just young and foolish.
I tell Brigitte about my girls, how they both see themselves as future photographers and film makers, she smiles and then something comes to her. She says "you know, I left school at a young age, it must have terrified my parents at the time but they loved me and they made me feel loved. I felt that I could do anything. If you can give your children anything, give them that, love them."