“Our work is not about pleasing, nor is it about harming anyone” (Albert Londres, foreword of “Terre d’ébène”)
“Every photographer must feel responsible for what he produces” (Raymond Depardon, interview in Le Monde, September, 1997)
I have traveled to Tibet for two reportages, in 2004 and 2006. During this time I have seen the impact of the evolution of the development of both Chinese and “western tourism” in many ways, particularly with the introduction of the train Beijing-Lhasa. The Chinese colonization is apparent in both the cities and countryside, bringing with it the development of increasing transit infrastructure. This country, until recently feudal, is entering the 21st century, repeating all the mistakes made by the western world both unrealistically and culturally.
The traditional Tibet very cherished in western phantasmagoria will die out in the coming years because of the new economic conditions in the world and in China particularly. The economic and tourist exploitation of this area will obliterate ancestral cultures and impose a new political and cultural order. These social, artistic and religious traditions will become consuming folklore organized in attraction areas for Chinese and “western foreigners”. I wanted to record those people with my photography before they disappear.
For this series, I worked with a photographic process adapted for large format photography. I used a 4”x5” folding camera on a tripod and had my subjects pose for me together with black and white instant film in order to capture only the intrinsic qualities of the individuals I am working with. Using negative/positive film allows me to immediately give a print while I retain the negative. As I take a photograph and give back the image, my subject and I are engaged in an important ceremony. The splitting and exchange of the negative and the positive renders our unspoken bond into a material presence, symbolic of what we have shared. This ritual linking human interaction to the photographic act is essential to me.
All shots were taken at a low shutter speed (from one second to 1/8 of a second), a more “human” speed with which one can capture a breath or a heartbeat.
Eager to avoid photographic “voyeurism,” I select the people during my strolls through villages in each of the countries I visit. The tools that enable me to convey an understanding through my photos are simplicity and sincerity. No shots are taken furtively; there are no “stolen” images. Although I am the one who ultimately depresses the shutter, there is always a dialogue with the persons. I explain what I would like to do and how I work in order to allow each one to participate in this social exchange, thus creating a collaboration between myself and the person as a human being. The posing is done around his activity and gestures which symbolize him. Each print comes with a caption with the name of the men and women. Those are observations of the world around me before it vanishes. I don’t try to make either natural or “pretty” photos, nor try to produce images that flatter my subjects. Above all, I desire my subjects to exist in their own complexity within their every day situation. My portraits are homage to their presence.
I produce social and documentary photography. I am a researcher and humanist photographer following in the tradition of Edward Curtis, August Sander, and Walker Evans, as well as being a responsible human. My ouvre is centered around making photographs and witnessing the condition of the world around me. It is a conscious construction intended to be far from mass consumption photography. I try to show a certain reality, which matches my emotions and I work to create a significant vision of my environment. Before the multitude of images that surround us, I want my production to be viewed as the opposite of simple aestheticism, superficial and easy to read, and far from photographic truism.
My desire is to show the contradictions and paradoxes; the counterbalance of a world in progress which is impossible to deny. I am interested in the reality we don’t see.
In Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America, I endeavored to produce images in which the effects of style and anecdote have no importance. I desire to show the inside of someone rather than their superficial exterior. I don’t pray to “the deity of photographic authenticity”, but rather I keep an “arm’s distance” from the persons I choose to photograph.
I am committed to producing images that speak for themselves. I photograph and fix the reality of my encounter with the objective of enabling a later audience to view the images while examining themselves. I offer the images to my audience so they may look into the eyes of these men and women culturally and physically destroyed by the occidental model. It is a time to view their dignity, as that is all they still possess.
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