Yannick Cormier
Tierra Magica
02.12 ... 05.22.2022
opening : friday february 11th / 7pm

It feels like a fever dream. Like a strange nightmare. In the early-morning mist, the trees seem to take on human form, the bushes grow legs and walk forward with a determined gait, human tissue becomes bark, or the other way round. Elsewhere, horned beings, covered in animal skins, feathers, even blood, wearing grimacing masks, forming a cohort that we join with fear, fascination or even enthusiasm. Sometimes, these creatures from a distant-past hurl abuse at passers-by, pretend to kidnap young women, or fight one another. At times they allow themselves to be hunted, to be mistreated by the crowd then judged by a court, whose verdict is unsurprising: at daybreak, they disappear in the bonfire.

Yannick Cormier immerses himself in the carnival rites of Portugal and North Western Spain in a manner that is truly his own. He brings no pre-established protocol, no aesthetic pretention or need to make an inventory to the table. Other photographers have already done that. 19th century anthropologists systematically captured the faces and profiles, making an inventory of the masks, accessories and costumes, reducing ancestral rites to the status of folklore. More recently, meticulous and spectacular photographic directories, laid out with technical exactitude and method, brought these figures back to the present in an almost anachronical way.

These pictures, however, are intended to go beyond all that, to the border between the visible and the invisible, between fear and hope, between pagan beliefs and religious beliefs. Unruly, turbulent and transgressive, these photos are imprinted with the pulsation of the crowd, revealing the vital forces at the very origins of carnival. Yannick Cormier takes the viewer on a journey to the heart of the tumult and strangeness of these festivals, all of which share the common thread of marking out time, transgressing established order and reminding society of its intangible connection to nature. The seasons follow one another, life is perpetually reborn. Death, as tragic as it may be, is very much part of life. Cormier blends these parades with archetypal landscapes, like so many fantastical visions, depicting forests that could be the belly, the forge, but also the place where these unsettling creatures fade into the mist.

These festivals were banned by Franco in 1937 as they encouraged unrest and rebellion, and were never officially rehabilitated. Instead, they became events of political and cultural resistance. They are still around today and circumstance has made them synonymous with a new form of disobedience. For those who wish to be at one with others, to frolic in a packed crowd in a life-saving burst of freedom.


Yannick Cormier was born in France in 1975. In 1999, he joined Astre studio in Paris. He started off working as an assistant to Patrick Swirc, William Klein and many others for magazines like Vogue, Flair, Elle, Vanity Fair. He then became a news photographer and had his work feature in French and foreign publications like Libération, Le Nouvel Observateur, Courrier International, The Guardian, The Hindu, CNN...

Cormier lived in India from 2003 to 2018, where he continued his photographic explorations while developing other activities. In 2007, he founded Trikaya Photos Agency, based in Chennai (Tamil Nadu), a collaborative platform for photographers working in India, who were interested in the political, social and cultural issues facing a society that was constantly changing before their eyes. Between 2011 and 2016, Yannick Cormier also curated a number of exhibitions for the Chennai Photo Biennale and Pondy Photo (Pondicherry).

During this period, he began to document the rites, celebrations and festivals of the Dravidian people in Southern India (from the Sanskrit “Dravida”, which means surrounded by water on three sides). “In Tamil Nadu, in the south of India, the most far-back, ancient traditions have remained intact. The powerful presence of spirits and living Gods are incarnated behind the masks, in the release of the bodies during the rite and in the animal bodies during the sacrifices. We can no longer tell if they are men, Gods or spirits, as they live their real and divine, natural and supernatural truth. Men and women in a trance rushing into the darkness, in broad daylight…” His immersive process creates pictures that suggest more than describe, leaving space for the artist’s own feelings of fascination, astonishment and exaltation. These pictures were published in 2021 under the title Dravidian Catharsis , by Le Mulet.

Yannick Cormier’s interest in jubilant crowds, ancient traditions and lasting archaic rituals found a new outlet when he moved back to Europe. His experiences of carnivals in Portugal and North-West Spain rekindled his attraction for forms of resistance to the uniformization of the modern world. Somewhere between the sacred and the profane, mysticism and paganism, not unlike the subject, Cormier explores these festivals, oscillating between fiction and reality, in Tierra Magica published in 2021 by Light Motiv. His research into the borders between the real and the spiritual is ongoing, under the title Pagan Poem .