How did you come to shoot only at night?
The idea of taking
photographs at night came totally by accident. It happened near Annecy,
on a mountain I knew as a child, a place where nature has worked wonders
with erosion. I started working on this rocky plateau – it felt like a
kind of monastic retreat, a return to the desert: I pitched my tent, and
I spent over a month there shooting. After a few days, I had exhausted
the supply of literature I had brought along, evenings started to feel a
little long, so I found myself wandering around with a flashlight. And I
saw everything I had photographed by day; I could revisit all of it by
night without depending on the sunlight I was always after to create the
shadows I wanted to see. That's how I took my first night shots, with a
single tool – my camper’s lantern – because I hadn’t brought any
equipment for that. It wasn’t intentional originally, it was more a case
of the wonder and amazement I felt when I discovered the possibilities.
What encouraged me to continue over the years was the realization
that I could re-shoot everything that has been photographed until now,
all those things that photographers were shooting repetitively to the
point of exhaustion, and make something new out of it. For a
long time, your night photographs were in black and white, and then you
moved to colour, which became your raw material. Why the change? Did it
change your relationship to the landscape?
In my black and white
night photographs, my movements were highly visible: I was drawing with
the lamp, the lines were very marked. And I felt the need to leave more
room for space, depth, and this yearning called for colour and much
less acute interventions of the luminous trace. Colour allowed me to
work on interpreting the landscape. In my work, the transition from
black and white to colour was like moving from drawing to painting. In a
way, what I do fits in the tradition of painting: Renaissance painters
used a monochrome background, called grisaille; I also work with a
background, which is the dark of night. Against this neutral backdrop, I
place elements, transparently, colour by colour, with my palette of
colour gels and my "torch brushes".
How do you work when you’re shooting?
scout the locations by day; I prepare my frame, with the same camera
body and same focal length. I take a look at my scouting image and,
before shooting, I decided which colours I’m going to use. I have a
double, or let’s say triple palette, consisting of gels - transparent
films I affix to my torches – that come from the world of theatre, film,
and everyday life (sweets wrappers, exercise-book covers etc.). Very
little is decided while actually shooting.
Do you have a team to support you?
always better when there are two of you. At Marcoussis, where I was on
an artist residency - one of the two photographs selected comes from
there - I asked residents if they would be interested in taking part in
the shooting: there were sometimes ten, fifteen people around me.
ask people to press the shutter release, what they think about a
particular effect I'm trying to create, say a backlight, which I can’t
see the result of as I’m in the frame. I'm always in the picture, never
out of the frame: I walk around, in constant motion, so that my phantom
image never appears in the picture. It’s an interesting game: always
being in the picture has a slightly shamanic feel to it! The ritual with
the light and the gestures induce a rapport with a form of spirituality
- so any picture taken with this technique fits into this spirituality,
which I would describe as secular.
You have photographed cityscapes, but nature seems to take up most of your work. Here too, nature is what you find.
city comes with a challenge that’s hard to overcome: ambient light,
which is always competing with what I do. I had to look for technical
solutions for the power of my lamp to counterbalance public lighting.
The use of digital technology allows me, through double exposure
systems, to remove ambient lighting more easily and retain only my light
I had to do this for Yuccas
, because it’s
right in the middle of Pachuca, not far from Mexico City, and there are
sodium lights that give the sky reddish, orange hues.
Two states of nature are what I have photographed in these recent images, Yuccas
and Cabane de Marcoussis
features almost animal forms, very strange, somewhat disturbing, but
friendly nonetheless. They are like a family; it’s the clan side that
caught my attention.
In Cabane de Marcoussis
, chaos and
organisation meet. Knocked down trees form a big pick-up sticks game of
branches that kids have gathered into a hut. It’s human - perhaps also
animal - intelligence that has turned the chaos into an orderly heap.
The Mikado pick-up sticks aspect explains my choice of colours, there is a play of complementary colours and contrasts.
When evoking these landscapes, you sometimes use the word “stage”...
I create an image, I think of the condensation that occurs in an opera
overture, in the music but also in the scenic design, the set. An
overture must not be a spoiler for the rest of the plot, but must start
to draw us into the mystery and suggest the overall atmosphere.
Everything’s already there, but at the same time, nothing is given away.
Limited edition, numbered and signed.