Let’s set the stage here, and first discuss the major series you shot over the past fifteen years – from your first book about Russia to your work in Los Angeles.
My series have wandered: I like to take my time. My first major project, a true “passage”, was Souvenirs du futur, Voyage en Russie
, 1995 in Yeltsin's Russia: it was both an end – I stopped using black and white - and a beginning - it was my first book.
After Russia, I moved to colour and for almost ten years, I worked on two parallel series: Fictions Intimes
and Les villes du cinéma
. At the same time, I was increasingly asked to take pictures backstage at the theatre, in very low light, and these conditions led me to develop a specific technique, using film and a Leica – it’s the technical mastery acquired in commission work that allowed me to explore the night in my personal work.
Fictions Intimes is the snapshot of a generation, capturing intimate moments, sharing with characters, familiar or simply stumbled upon in a chance encounter.
Simultaneously, I was working on a series devoted to film studios around the world. It was a totally sentimental journey rather than a documentary, nothing exhaustive. I chose the locations for the references: the myths they reflect, my personal liking for the films that were shot there. The two series were very complementary: empty studios inhabited by ghosts, counterbalanced by Fictions Intimes
- as if I was frustrated by not having any characters in the studio and had invited them all into Fictions Intimes
And then, there was Merry Christmas
, a series about Los Angeles homes decked in Christmas decorations. I called it fantasy. And then the idea came that I was going to shoot David Lynch. He had just finished Mulholland Drive
, and was telling me about Hollywood and Beverly Hills: “in these houses, there are all these people who have nightmares at night, and that’s what I want to recreate in my films”. These Christmas homes I saw at night from my car looked to me like decorations for these fantasies.This series has a kind of thread running thought it: your relationship with fiction, your desire for stories, and the night, which is when you shoot. Is it because of the particular aesthetics it creates? For the freedom?
Yes - for me, it was always the night, for both reasons. I found my style there. It’s my element. Once you master the technical aspects, you can focus on what you’re looking for and stop trying to be in control, really yield to instinct. I had to let go: of me, of the city diving into the shadows, of people.
Things turn magical at night: everything becomes more beautiful and free; everything takes on an aura of mystery, stories have multiple endings. Nothing is fixed. Colour too is exacerbated, stronger. And at night, I have more time, I can escape, it’s a time when I can disappear – the night gives a photographer the added freedom of becoming invisible.Letting go is also one of the angles from which you approach the narrative for your story: how is it constructed?
I talk a lot about accident. That’s what I like. I’m really not into concepts or a priori constructs. I want to catch things, I'm always observing.And then there’s the texts that go with your books: they’re not explanatory introductions to your images, but actual stories. How much room do you leave for the author and his interpretation?
I like to hand over the images to a writer, let another author’s eyes lie upon my work, embrace it and build another story that I myself had not read in my pictures. That’s how I worked with PhilippeClaudel for Fictions Intimes
and Selim Nassib for Faux-Frère
What do you think Faux-Frère is about as a story?
It’s a very personal story. I’m married to a Uruguayan, who is from Montevideo; over the years, we have ended up making the crossing from Buenos Aires to Montevideo, as you usually never can reach Montevideo directly. I wanted to express the idea of this journey, with the Rio de la Plata which passes through and separates the two cities, one on either bank, with their painful stories, face to face. It also tracks the footsteps of history, but through my personal story.Your environment is urban, populous, often agitated. Characters roam the image, captured walking or running, sometimes for a car in which case the image becomes blurred. Why is your photography in constant motion?
It’s the occupation of places I’m interested in. Urban means human. Cars travel, wander, they’re in motion. And if my pictures are always moving, it’s perhaps because what I truly love is the cinema: my entire visual culture comes from Fassbinder, Schlöndorff, Chantal Ackermann, the Italians, the Americans too. This photograph of Montevideo could very well be drawn from Carlos Saura’s Sur. To me, this image embodies South America, nostalgia for Argentina.
I don’t film, but my yearning for narration and fixed, yet moving images that I have developed technically probably comes from that. I started with Kodachrome 25 film, which is not very sensitive to light and forced me to work at night at very low speeds, thus leaving the field open to motion within the image, to the motion-blur effect.
The image of Los Angeles is also totally cinematographic: I shot it from a car Ben Harper was driving. My assignment was to follow him around and make portraits, with very few constraints. It was back in the days when some magazines would still leave photographers free to choose their interpretation of the subject. To me, this image has it all: motion, the night, the city and a story flying by.
Limited edition, numbered and signed.