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 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.
Limited edition, numbered and signed.