Irène Attinger, Lewis Baltz,
Broomberg & Chanarin,
Paul Graham, Guido Guidi,
Kummer & Herrman, SYB,
Michael Mack, Lesley A. Martin,
French and English editions
The Eyes Publishing, 2014
Conversations is a collection of twenty-four interviews between Rémi Coignet and the great actors of contemporary photography. Daido Moriyama, Anders Petersen or Lewis Baltz look back on their work and unveil their conceptions of the photobook. As the interviews unfold a geography of contemporary photography emerges.
RC: Is photographing architecture and landscape a way to have a discourse about capitalism?
LB: My god, I certainly hope it is! I mean, I think anything could be, but certainly that, because of the cynical commodification of people’s living conditions. Your home is something that somehow is more emotionally engaging and more part of your identity than probably the car you drive or the clothing you wear or the nationality you are born into. And there’s something about, at least in the American imagination: “a man’s home is his castle.” This is something... a man’s home is his equity base, or as we have seen recently, his negative equity base. That is, it’s a commodity like any other commodity. And we live in a world where everything is being commoditized. Those things that have not already been commoditized are in the way of becoming so. It’s probably not such a surprise that I don’t think this is such a healthy, great idea.
Adam Broomberg & Oliver Chanarin
AB: To put it very simply, in a childlike form: I went to a school where I was reading the Old Testament every day for twelve years and I didn’t think I had a relationship with this book until I read Adi Ophir’s text. He claims that the Bible can be seen as a parable for the growth of modern governance, for the State. God chooses his people, he gives them laws, they disobey and he punishes them radically. If you replace “God” with the idea of governance and State, we were all born into this silent contract where we accept the fact that the death penalty exists, that we invade Iraq, that I get a parking fine... all these laws. I didn’t sign a contract when I was born! And yet here we are, existing in this strange society. So that really excited me because it made this book [the Bible] alive for me. Also, it made me understand that I was kind of angry at that book.
RC: How did you start: did you first choose the passages you underlined in Holy Bible, or the images?
OC: We began by reading the Bible. Neither of us had actually sat down and read the New Testament and Old Testament. I think very few people have, because it’s a real labor. […] But we began by reading the Bible and selecting passages that were interesting to us not because they were biblical but, first of all, because they sounded contemporary, and secondly, they dealt in some way with the problem of image making. Throughout the Bible, you have a reference to the image —the production of the image— in lots of different ways, from different perspectives. The meta-narrative of this book is really about image making.
RC: In “The New Painting,” there is a polyptych that I particularly like: you show yourself facing a fogged up mirror. The fog steadily subsides and we discover your face. Isn’t that what photography is all about? A slow reveal?
EC: Yes, that’s it! This series is analogous to photography. It shows a small physical process inserted within a wider duration. Like the silver plate of a daguerreotype developed in mercury fumes. Here, the steam disappears and the portrait appears.
RC: Some photographers keep their distance from people, while others get close to them, even physically, like William Klein. My feeling is that you are in this second category.
JHE: I’m very interested in this question. What does it mean to be close, or distant? That’s what I wrote on the back cover of Trying to Dance: “It’s easier to keep your distance.” Observing from a distance is a way of staying safe. As you move closer, you reveal yourself. But if you decide to get close to your subject, you reveal yourself as a photographer in the same way the people you shoot are being revealed. Maybe photography is asking the question: what does it mean to be present or absent? To be close or far? All of photography moves between proximity and distance, whether you are shooting images or viewing them.
RC: In your work, we often find images of images: press photos, celebrity portraits (Brigitte Bardot, Marilyn Monroe, etc.), found photos or mannequins. Do you see them as interesting photographic material or rather as representations of our contemporary reality?
DM: [Daido Moriyama thinks a moment.] When seeing images, I always find another, whether it be a TV screen displaying image, a poster or whatever else. Basically, whether I take a photo of a woman in the street or I take a photo of a photo of that woman in the street, the point will always be to spark, a confrontation between these different levels created by my images. My work lies within this confusion, and I like that. I try to flatten all these levels. I don’t create a hierarchy of images. Never.