How photography is significant to you? What is your expression? Why do you prefer to work with still images?
I am not born yesterday, yet I am still filled with wonder… What is this all about? Who I am? Where am I going to? Why do life situations make me think a certain way? Although it is my imagination, like dreams and illusions, I am interested in the beauty of real life. ‘Photography’ is a way for me to capture and appreciate real beauty. My work has time and space as its main focus, ‘me’ a stage to go through. My choices come from intuition or may be unconsciousness. I simply feel that something important is happening here. I am obsessed to give a meaning to life. I search for a long time, for months, for years, to find a book… to me, each photographic print is a page of this book. When the whole series of photographic prints are seen, they tell a story like a novel. They give a deeper and deeper meaning to reality. If I am making a book that contains about fifty pictures, I will have to process more than thousand pictures in the dark room. With what I have at my disposal, camera, photographic paper, film, I explore the capacities of my laboratory and I always learn something new. By playing with hazardous substances, I discover meaning… For example, for three years I took photos of the matrons of the kinder garden of my son. And, I could not resist adding colors with crayons on my own black and white photographic prints. This book is titled ‘The Golden age – the garden of art’. Later on I read a novel from Balzac, ‘Le Chef-d’œuvre inconnu’ (Unknown Masterpiece). So, after reading Balzac’s novel, I imagined retrieving the notebook from a ‘photographer alchemist’ who died in a fire. This alchemist was inspired to write his notebook, by a muse – a woman dancer. The time Balzac wrote his novel, was the same period that saw the invention of photography as well as the birth of classical ballet. To depict this time, I used stroboscopic pictures. This allowed me to divide time into sequences… to separate and mix the movement of the dancer. To fix and freeze both time and light on a paper is the most wonderful invention, let’s never forget that. At that time, Daguerre was like an alchemist photographer…. he could fix time by extracting gold. Similarly, I try to play and fix and use substances, materials, matter in a way to provide something quite alchemist. The technique of chromatic allows pigments of earth, colors and metals. I therefore used gold, lead, aluminum, mother of pearl and pigments of colors for this purpose. I also tried to use Sulfuric acid, but it destroyed some images / photos. I then started using the ‘cyanotype’ technique, which gives an amazing blue, which is called in French the ‘blue bird’. This blue represents heaven, sky and infinity. I added on top of it, some plants from my garden. These were photographed, by exposing them to the sunlight. I called this work, the ‘Making of the absolute’. For my ‘Around the hill’ 365 project in Tiruvannamalai, I made the prints using palladium, a very precious metal… this is without any doubt the most beautiful photographic process. But, because of the cost of the palladium, it can no longer be made commercially and this traditional technique could only be hand-made.
Digital photography has invaded everyday life and has indeed become the most democratic and dramatic form of expression. What is the reason behind your continued use of traditional photography?
Digital technology is indeed a scientific revolution. I use the digital technology only for re-working and enlarging the silver negatives for making palladium / cyanotype contact prints. The software to process images has been invented by scientists, who have thoughtfully integrated experience and results. However, these scientists are interested in only pleasing the consumers and are keen to give them what they need and want. They are neither interested in revealing the process or philosophy behind it nor simplifying it so that the technology could be understood. On the contrary, the manufacturers offer too many one-click-button possibilities and in the process of using these multiple options, the ‘photographer’ gets lost. Hence, in contemporary times, for a free and fair photographic practice, a photographer must understand the traditional processes. In a world where photography becomes so easy and democratic, one should question oneself about illusion, and about disillusionary processes. The consequences of not using traditional photographic processes anymore, is that all the substances and the materials needed for that has become very expensive and inaccessible. As I said earlier, the decision to continue to use traditional photographic techniques is to choose the best that fits my subject, its purpose and to reveal the real beauty of it. I find a lot of satisfaction and freedom in using traditional technique in photography.
How do you incorporate other art forms in photography? What is your way of seeing?
The way a photographer looks at things and objects is a ‘new reality’ for other contemporary visual arts. For, whilst going into photographic practice, one has to forget about the visual technique. Lines, matters, light are essential for the understanding of visual arts. Hand coloring with colors on my monochromic photographic print, is an addition on this expressive space, as well as adds unity within the image. This I call harmony. I am also free to use the colors that I want and escape the regular choice of color films which are generally restricted by corporate who makes films. So, I have the feeling that I have the power to recreate the world.
The influence of the masters who made me love photographs is still very much present within me. I particularly appreciate and enjoy the poetic quality of photographs. It doesn’t matter whether this ‘poetry’ is from a master or someone unknown. What I am really interested is to fathom the ‘emotion’ behind it… Does it tell something about beauty? What did this photographer thought or felt while taking this picture…?
Tell us something about your series for project 365?
Project 365 is ambitious in several ways. It centralizes many different perspectives about photography and its art at one place, on a connecting indigenous subject, for one whole year. This goes way beyond the promotion or destination making of Tiruvannamalai. This collective project is a meeting between very different artists who explore the photography medium. I deeply thank Abul to have invited me and found me through social media. This experience is a very rich one for me. In a way, he pushed me to realize one of my deepest desires in photography, which is the use of Palladium. The artist is often on a solitary path and meeting others is very important. Language and different use of techniques are not boundaries in the field of art. This meeting with other photographers allowed me to understand beyond my ‘own’ culture. Art has this magical power. This experience has certainly reinforced within me my will and choice to use traditional technique in photography. For me, this project is also a representation of a non-conventional testimony, a creation of archives. Why would you stop the emotion where different sensitivities express themselves? This beautiful project is a fruitful exchange between artists as well a personal challenge.
How do you translate the differences in the socio-cultural and geographic spheres of France and India in your project? How has it affected the images?
India has always fascinated me. And, one can say that India has changed somehow all the photo-artists who have worked here. Photographers whom I particularly appreciate – Cartier Bresson, Édouard Boubat, Denis Brihat have been to India. Film directors Alain Corneau and Louis Malle as well… Another important geological connection with South India is that I am born in Africa… the same climate, the fragrance of fruits, flowers, culture, people etc., This brings out all the nostalgic sensations. Till now, in my work I was taking special care to not directly portray human figures … only the imprint of mankind… On the contrary, while being around Arunachala for the Project 365, I found myself being particularly interested in showing faces, its presence, and its beingness. This has revealed another phase, another aspect of myself. I am not completely unaware about the problems and challenges of South India. And yet, I look this South Indian countryside with naïve eyes. I have never experienced this grace and blessing in other parts of the world.
A project, like that of collective project 365 reveals the fundamental aspect of photography. And this is an art in itself. All around there is confusion of images, reflective mirrors, which actually hide the true meaning or are manipulative. This will eventually make one tired of himself or herself. We then have to re-create magic. This can be done through ‘poetry’.