Gregory Halpern created the photographs in Let the Sun Beheaded Be over several months in the French archipelago of Guadeloupe. The exhibition title refers to a 1948 book by Aimé Césaire, a poet from Martinique who evoked the surreal as a lens through which to contemplate the forced migration and violent colonial past that shaped the Caribbean. Like Césaire, Halpern grapples with this history by conveying his experience of the islands through poetic and visceral details and motifs that drew his attention. A photographer who focuses on place as subject matter, he commingles life and death, nature and culture, and beauty and decay in enigmatic color images of Guadeloupe’s residents and lush landscape, as well as monuments related to the brutality of its past. Halpern’s photographs are grounded in reality, but edge toward the dreamlike. They serve as records of the encounters that punctuate daily life in a place layered with complex history, while simultaneously blurring the relationship between documentary and personal perception. This exhibition marks a new partnership between SFMOMA and the Hermès Foundation. Gregory Halpern: Let the Sun Beheaded Be is an edition of Immersion, a French-American Commission of the Hermès Foundation. It is mentored by Clément Chéroux, senior curator of photography at SFMOMA.
Header image: Gregory Halpern, Untitled, from the series Let the Sun Beheaded Be, 2019 (detail); courtesy the artist; © Gregory Halpern