About the artist
Painter, photographer and graphic designer, Nicolas Guilbert drew in the newspapers from 1976 until 1995 and published several albums, especially Alice au pays des merveilles (Presses de la Cité, 1978), Des histoires ordinaires (Luneau Ascot , 1982), and Rue des Italiens (Le Monde/La Découverte, 1990). At the same time as this career, he is also a photographer and that leads to many publications such as Animaux & Cie (Grasset, 2010), result of 25 years of reporting. His latest photographic exhibition “Animonuments, un voyage sentimental à travers la France”, was presented at “Le Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature” in spring 2011, as well as “l’Abbaye de Montmajour” in summer 2011, as part of “les Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie” in Arles. It is the subject of a book (Animonuments, Éditions des Cendres, 2011).
You have worked extensively as a press illustrator, art director and graphic designer; you also do paintings and drawings. How did you come to photography?
I had been fascinated with it since my teenage years, when I started collecting photography books. I was fortunate enough to work as an art director with truly great photographers, and have been carrying a camera with me for 35 years. I took pictures of the street, of my everyday life, wherever my travels and wanderings in the city took me, but didn’t show any of them for decades. I only exhibited my drawings and paintings: to me, photography was not that important. And the awe of working with great photographers held me back a little.
Where did you get this fondness for the animals with which you are, so to speak, coming “out of the woods”?
As I was tidying up my archive one day, I realised that I had unwittingly photographed vast amounts of animals, exclusively in cities and in the proximity of humans. This created quirky, comical situations, but not only that: the animal expresses innocence, a poetical contrast that resonates with me. When I started noticing the ubiquitous reality, hidden in broad daylight in our cities, I understood that animals are not only plentiful in our environment but also inseparable from us, whether exploited or treated kindly. More generally - and this is what makes photography so interesting - when you have a topic in mind, it repeatedly crops up and reveals itself to you as if by magic.
Why exclusively black and white?
The first reason is my admiration for so-called humanistic photography and photojournalism, as practised by agencies like Viva, Magnum, VU etc. And more importantly, black and white gave me the impression I could reinvent the world, stylize its graphic virtues. At that time, my priority was framing, framing, framing: I saw colour as an artifice, although I did admire Alex Webb, Guy Bourdin and the other great colourists.
You now work with colour: why the change of heart?
When I started thinking of myself as a photographer, I showed several people my portfolio; they were surprised to see only black and white, and persuaded me to go back and look at my colour digital images. It was a revelation and a revolution, and since, I switch from black and white to colour depending on the subject. Colour is actually great, but it took a good 35 years for me to believe it!
Do you have any ongoing projects?
Are you still interested in animals?
Yes, in a sense: I’ve been working on the trades of taxidermy for the past four years. Apart from that, I’ve just finished Paris/Paradis, a book compiling 35 years of photography in Paris. I would also like to show my work on Venice, where I’ve been going regularly for 30 years: it has taken an interesting turn since I switched to colour. I have several photo reports underway and one or two series combining painting, drawing and photography, in line with my Photoiles.
Selected shows and awards
Zachmann > < Guilbert, Musée de la Photographie, Mougins, 2014Animonuments
, Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature and Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie, d’Arles, Abbaye de Montmajour, 2011
Animaux & Cie, Twenty-One Gallery, Paris, 2010
I love crisis, paintings & photographs, Alexandre Cadain Gallery, Paris, 2009
Animaux & Cie, Musée de la photographie André Villers, Mougins, 2009
Photoiles, paintings & photographs, Teissèdre Gallery, Paris, 2005
, with Alix Brijatoff and Richard Caillat, Denoël, 2005
Animaux & Cie, with Cécile Guilbert, Grasset, 2010
Animonuments, Éditions des Cendres / Musée de la Chasse
et de la Nature / Centre des monuments nationaux, 2011