As a frequent traveller, Antoine Béguier chose to turn his lens this time towards the French countryside. In La traversée des ombres (Crossing the shadows, ed.) he captures regions whose beauty has faded – victims of desertification and climate change.

As a French photographer living in Brussels, Antoine Béguier discovered documentary photography during his studies in Calcutta. “It was in 2013, despite my shyness, and my arrival in a country that I did not understand, that my camera became a powerful tool. It allows incredible encounters and gives access to places that are usually inaccessible”, he says. Since then, he has not stopped travelling and capturing marginal areas. From Iran to central Asia, he has photographed reality and the instantaneous. “show the anecdotal and the intimate to make sense of a more general situation. I stay factual by showing, with sensitivity, what people are going through”, he adds.

During the summer of 2020, Antoine Béguier went against his usual ways, and chose to discover his own country: France. A journey through agricultural lands, where the urban does not dominate nature. “Argonne, Morvan, or Aubrac became the new exotic destinations”, he joked. During his journey, the photographer was confronted with rural depopulation, isolation, and the problems of yet another heatwave. These issues – no matter how alarming they are – stay hidden away in the shadows of the trees, and far from the French cities.

The countryside is emptying

Picturesque and intimate, his work the Traversée des ombres sets out to meet the actors of these forgotten lands. Those who chose rurality over hectic city life. “We have either a romantic or pessimistic perception of rurality. Out of all the people I met, none desire to leave the countryside. They all praise an extraordinary quality of life, the beauty of daily life, and are very attached to the specificity of their local produce”, the author explains. Yet, the difficulties are very real. During one month – the hottest weeks of August – Antoine Béguier discovered to what extent. My journey confirmed two things to me: the countryside is emptying, and the lands are drying”, he admits. Pressed by the declining climatic conditions, the inhabitants face withered land and a lower harvest. Alone, at the heart of their hectares of land, they sink into solitude, and are forced to show resilience. “When I did the maths, the density of my route was about 9 inhabitants per km2, which is a little more than the density of Kazakhstan! ”, says the photographer.

How to face an uncertain future? Can we save the countryside from global warming? Is it already too late? With a human eye and picturesque compositions, Antoine Béguier highlights these uncertainties. Under the summer light, burning and red, and by the candle light in the evenings, he paints the portrait of a wiped-out population, and of a raw landscape, mistreated by overwhelming temperatures. “I spent my summer reading Camus. His descriptions of the dark sun in Algeria, of the heat and the aridity mirrored the situation”, he adds. A kind yet threatening presence, the sun as recounted by Camus becomes an allegory of the French countryside. Regions kept alive by the dreams of its residents, that are slowly fading away.

© Antoine Béguier