A never seen Paris through the thermal imaging camera of photographer Antoine d’Agata

On the eve of the first lockdown, the French photographer creates the “Virus” series, a journey of thermal images that has made the city of Paris a theater of wandering souls.

This article was originally published on Domus 1067, April 2022.

Since 2004, Antoine d’Agata has lived all over the world, taking photographs wherever he goes. Instead of seeking to portray the state(s) of the world, he offers insights into his explorations. In a constant attempt to break societal boundaries, rather than considering society as a whole in order to “document” it, the artist ventures into a maelstrom of chaos at his peril.

His images are subjective gestures that aim to push the frontiers of visual representation, moving beyond the norms governing the photographic act. His work takes the form of an autobiographic journal, a chronological account of disjointed trips, an intimate encounter with the world’s violence. In this fragile endeavour, he becomes the object of his images, documenting what he experiences, traversing and being traversed by envelope-pushing experiences where excess is the common denominator.


This is the context framing his Virus series. Initiated in March 2020 before the lockdown, it developed from an urge to bear witness to the economic and public health situation from a standpoint that reflected how bodies resist financial domestication and constant surveillance of their behaviour. At midnight on 16 March, D’Agata began walking around the city taking photographs. For 45 consecutive days, working out of the Magnum offices, he used a thermal sensor attached to his smartphone to record the viral emergency that had turned the city into a peculiar theatre of wandering souls, bowed heads and elusive bodies.

 Like an “agent of infection”, he engaged in the experience of the pandemic and lockdown. The artist’s attention was drawn to the way his device captured the infrared rays emitted by the bodies he saw, varying depending on their temperature, and he became fascinated by a process that reduces places, objects and human subjects to their essence, devoid of superfluous characteristics. “Through this ambivalence between solidarity and contamination, this inevitability of social death and physiological death, I sought to capture the viral episode using a language of the senses and the resistance that transfigures bodies, with the thermal image drawing out shapes, positions, figures, curves and areas that are imperceptible to the naked eye,” says the photographer.

Virus, lockdown a Parigi, marzo 2020. © Antoine d’Agata / Magnum Photos. Courtesy of Magnum Photos, Galerie des Filles du Calvaire, Paris
Virus, lockdown in Paris, March 2020. © Antoine d’Agata / Magnum Photos. Courtesy of Magnum Photos, Galerie des Filles du Calvaire, Paris

Making unconventional use of surveillance technology designed for scientific and military purposes, D’Agata recorded the expressiveness of the deserted city in lockdown, plunged into silence as stereotyped silhouettes flitted along the streets, bodies struggled to inhabit an almost uninhabitable space, and homeless people emerged as the last living bodies to endure. His austere, flame-tinged compositions offer a feverish, alternative, quasi-dystopian vision of an emptied city.

D’Agata produced 13,000 such images, half of which were taken in the streets of Paris and the other half in French hospitals. “This experience wore me down but also strengthened my convictions beyond the artistic dimension with regard to the political struggle I’ve been waging for years. I was privileged to experience this crisis with the ability to move, feel and share. I’m trying to live up to the responsibility I feel I have to invent a different kind of opposition and possible reaction. It’s important not to settle for merely understanding and feeling, but to establish adequate stances, gestures and acts and follow one’s ideas through.”

Antoine d’Agata. Foto © Gilles Pandel
Antoine d’Agata. Photo © Gilles Pandel
Antoine d’Agata
Curated by:
Cynthia Fleury e Eric de Thoisy
Pavillon de l’Arsenal, Paris
Opening dates:
until the 21 August 2022

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