Text Rémi Coignet
Biblioteca de Fotografos Españoles
La Fabrica, 2015
Amaury da Cunha
Katja Stuke & Oliver Sieber
Pierre Von Kleist
French and English editions
The Eyes Publishing, 2020
Conversations is a book of interviews with contemporary photographers, conducted by Rémi Coignet, a writer and editor. Since 2014, when the first volume will be published, the aim is to give a prominent place to photographers, so that they can make their voices heard in the field of publishing, often forgotten in favour of those of critics, journalists and curators.
Photographers are invited to revisit their work and reveal their intentions. In the course of the interviews, a geography of contemporary photography is sketched out, following on from two previous volumes, Conversations, published in 2014, and Conversations 2, published in 2016.
This third volume focuses on photographers who are particularly interested in photobooks. Photographers thus fully discuss their editorial project, their vision of the photobook and its importance in their photographic practice.
RC: Do you ever, as writer W. G. Sebald sometimes did, place an image as an attempt to convince the viewer of the veracity of what is claimed in the text?
SC: Not in this way. For example, when I was following someone on the street or when I was a maid, the image served as an observation, regardless of its quality. Not really to prove that it had happened but as a simple observation. I don’t need to prove it.
RC: You affirm?
SC: That’s not what matters. Even if I say it happened, it might not have happened. Anyways, the mere fact of selecting a small portion of text, an instance in a whole story, implies that this is not the truth of the story. It’s happened, it’s gone, but it’s not the truth. When I made the film No Sex Last Night, we lived together for a year, we filmed 60 hours and we released a 1-hour movie. We could have made 30 films that would have said one thing or the opposite.
RC: It seems to me that you wrote somewhere that you live what you are photographing, and you photograph what you are living.
AdA: Yes. This is a complex, impure relationship. There is no possible balance. At no time can we achieve a balance, harmony. Life or photography always takes over. I am constantly struggling to find that balance, which is impossible. But this very attempt is worth living. I think it makes the experience more intense because the photographic distance allows an intelligence of the lived moment that makes it deeper, more ambiguous. And of course, living these situations instead of just observing them, in my opinion, gives relevance to the photographic language that exempts it from any possible voyeurism. This allows me to go beyond the illustrative function of photography, to deny the function to which it is reduced, which is to illustrate concepts, ideas and discourses, and allows me to bring it back to a physical experience of the world.
RC: I just wanted to ask you this: everyone knows about Chris Marker’s artistic work, but what kind of an editor was he? He’s edited dozens of books.
WK: Chris Marker conceived the collection “Petite Planète.” They were paperbacks and his idea was to show cities from this or that country in different ways. And it was a perfect fit to meet a guy doing that. He looked at my work, and it was the opposite of the New York publishers. He said to me, “We’re making a book with these pictures, and if Le Seuil doesn’t take it, I’ll give them my resignation!” This guy resigned every month. He was their pocket genius, and at Le Seuil, they were smart enough to go along with what he proposed. You’re asking me what kind of an editor he was? Well, he was the kind of artist who made movies, books and wrote. He published a novel by the way. So he said, “Let’s go.” I started working from the pictures I had. And speaking of the practical stuff, Vogue was great to have, because I had no technical knowledge but I had noticed a small room where they had a copy machine, which was high-quality for the time; and I was able to make layouts as I wanted. The book was made possible thanks to the Vogue copy machine! [Laughs]
RC: Nicaragua June 1978 – July 1979 has a very different structure than Carnival Strippers. […] Why this structural choice? Was the point to strike the readers with the images first, and then give them keys to understanding the context?
SM: That’s a nice term, “keys”. Keys to unlock the mystery behind or around the photographs. In some ways, that was a much different process for me than Carnival Strippers, which took me three summers to complete. I was speaking the same immersive language, but there, time was moving very fast in a process no one had any idea where it would lead to. So, stitching together the photographs when I came home a year or so later, they were like fragments of a process. Part of me wanted to recreate that feeling of flow from which the photographs came, of time moving very fast, very cinematically. I wanted the reader to just experience that sense of emergency, but at the same time there were limits. The technology to print in colour was quite expensive and certainly not as good as the one we have today. […] So, for me, it was a choice that was both economic and aesthetic.When faced with the economic decision, I thought about how I could create another form with similar results.