Didier Ben Loulou,
Broomberg & Chanarin,
Klara Källström & Thobias Fäldt,
Greger Ulf Nilson,
Bertien van Manen,
French and English editions
The Eyes Publishing, 2016
In recent years, the photography book has achieved unprecedented artistic recognition, but we still hear too little of the photographers talk about their work. They have a lot to say. Rémi Coignet went to meet them and realized that each of them considers the book as an essential form of his work.
Photographers, publishers or graphic designers are invited to revisit their work and reveal their intentions. In the course of the interviews, a geography of contemporary photography is sketched in the continuity of the first volume, Conversations , published in 2014.
Rémi Coignet: From the very first page of your book, The Kiss of Judas, you state that creators generally cultivate a single theme. You go on to say that, for you, “this question sparks debate on reality and fiction [...] on authentic vs. fake, and on trompe l’oeil... but,” you add, “the most critical subject, above all else, is truth.” Does truth exist?
Joan Fontcuberta: No. That’s the point. I think truth is a cultural, ideological and political construct; it doesn’t exist in and of itself. To put it briefly, truth is merely a point of view, a discursive perspective articulated from a position of power. There are no facts, only experiences. We have diverse experiences of the same phenomenon; there are many truths, perspectives and points of view. And “the” truth is that point of view promulgated by an authoritarian discourse.
RC: How important is graphic design to you? For example, in Playas or Martin Parr in India, you decided to work with local, low-cost designers.
MP: Design and narrative within books are hugely important. As I explore different ways of presenting work in book form, design inevitably plays a very integral part of that.
RC: Why is kitsch interesting?
MP: The world is kitsch. I’m attracted to kitsch like a magpie is attracted to bright things. I’m trying to create entertainment: my job is to make entertaining photographs. So if they’re bright and colourful, that helps make them more entertaining. Within that entertainment there may be a serious message as well. But I am very careful not to shove that message down people’s throats too hard and fast. It’s not the main selling point.
RC: Is the absurd, in the sense of the theatre of the absurd, a notion of interest to you?
SS: Yes! [Small laugh.] Yes, for many reasons, but in part because the exploration of the notion of identity is like asking who we are, what makes humanity; and there is something partly absurd, obviously, in what is offered to humankind. For example, the figure of Bertillon, which is often present in my work, is also an absurd figure who pretended to wrap up the real, to grid out an entire society, convinced that it would be possible to discover and classify everything, to neatly arrange the elements of our environment in a definitive manner. There is something absurd about it. Because in fact, categories are always elusive. And this is a good thing, because it would be horrible to think that you could be cast forever in a box, unable to move.
RC: I was speaking with Gerhard Steidl a few months ago [see p. 210], and he told me that he was really surprised the first time you met. You came not only with a portfolio, but with a pre-conceived book, ready to print. Why did you think that the book was the right format for Sleeping by the Mississippi?
AS: For me, it’s not specific to that work. Originally, books always inspired me. I saw that as the primary form. This has a lot to do with where I live. Not living in a major city, exhibitions are not the primary way I would see artwork. The book form, and also printed matter – magazines and so forth – were more available. It’s the accessibility of a book – you can buy a book, own it, possess it. I was most inspired as a young photographer by certain books. The general thinking was that you had to have exhibitions first, make a career in the art world, and then you could get published. But with the advent of inkjet technology, it became much easier to make book dummies that look like real books.
RC: In the film How to Make a Book with Steidl, when choosing the fabric with Joel Sternfeld for the iDubai cover, you have this word: “It’s ugly good.” How important is it to keep the freedom to be “ugly good”?
GS: Joseph Beuys once said: “The mistake always begins when you sit down and want to start to make art.” This is very delicately expressed in German and my translation is only approximate. So, you’re sitting there, and you tell yourself: [Steidl pounds on the table] here’s a blank page and now I want to make art. The result is invariably shit. That was his message. My entire material aesthetics come from Joseph Beuys. From him, I also learned to find in any ugly material magnificent foundations. When I was silk screening for him, I would ask him what kind of paper I should use. And one day, we were sitting in his studio discussing the matter; there was a piece of garbage – craft paper – on the floor of his studio, and he turned to me and said: “Look at that, that brown craft paper. Why not use it? Make a silk screening test with it, it might show a nice contrast and work well.” From him, I understood that in matters of paper – clearly a luxury industry – it’s not the luxurious, high-gloss, shiny, gold, silver or ivory materials that make for quality.