Built in the 1920s by architect Robert Mallet-Stevens for Charles and Marie-Laure de Noailles, a couple of patrons with close links to the artistic avant-garde of the day, Villa Noailles sits atop a hill overlooking the town of Hyères and the Mediterranean. When did you first discover the villa? What was your first impression?
I discovered the villa in 2003, while taking part in the fashion and photography festival. I immediately perceived the villa as a place of encounters, exchanges and culture, but also of receptions. It is a huge and maze-like house, but is also full of surprises and hidden corners of more human dimensions.How easy was it to manage a carte blanche assignment for someone much more used to working in a studio environment?
I’m not only more familiar with the studio, I’m also more accustomed to commission work, so I had to work on defining my project and its limits. The villa’s geographic boundaries were a good start; I then relied on the history of the place itself, how it was designed as a holiday home combining creation and recreation. I re-wrote fictional elements based on aspects of the villa’s history, in turn inviting creative individuals to become involved.The history of Villa Noailles is populated with many illustrious guests, among which Man Ray and Luis Buñuel: was this heritage intimidating, or simply an exciting source of inspiration?
When you explore the villa’s archives, you stumble upon major figures in 20th century art (Dalí, Cocteau, Giacometti…) and cannot help but consider the wealth of art created by these great minds… but sometimes, you find a picture of Man Ray (he is the character depicted through the white mask in my image) wearing a colander on his head during a party at the villa, and that makes you feel much less overwhelmed, and more eager to convey the light-heartedness and spontaneity they were capable of.
There are many shadows and ghosts in these photographs. What’s the atmosphere in the villa like at night?
It was only well into the shooting that I noticed the recurrence of shadows and ghostly figures. Not just ghosts of the former occupants and architect, but also phantoms of fictional events and unlikely constructions (one of the black forms in the picture of the villa is actually a cut-out silhouette added to the shot).
The villa always remains - day or night - a place where anything goes.
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