Could you please elaborate on the process of photographing ‘Half-Light’?
I began to photograph this project in January 2018, and I took the last images in February 2020. During this period, I multiplied the opportunities for new meetings. I had ten evenings per month free to propose to someone to do his/her portrait while I had to juggle between an extremely time-consuming paid employment and my family life.
In a way, the process of ‘Half-Light’ is direct: at the exit of your subway station, after work, you have five minutes to convince perfect strangers to open their door and their heart to your camera lens.
Fortunately, I live in a working-class neighbourhood, “Belleville” in Paris. The people there are curious and open-minded. When you get the first pictures in the street, some lead further to photo shooting in the people’s homes. Usually, we do a single session.
What defined the moments when you told yourself: “Yes, this is the person I want to photograph”? Are there any particular characteristics that attract you in a person?
When you are outside and watching people, you have to focus to reach a kind of state, when you say to yourself: do not think, be quiet and observe. Only then, you can respond to something that is beyond your consciousness but that you know you want more than anything else. I believe that the force of instinct can unfold completely unexpected spaces, those of rare beauty. Something meaningful and profound.
For the portraits in the book, I tried to push back all the possible prejudices that could assail us to reach out to others. By breaking the social mask, fleeing the standardised public space, I hope I was able to go to what constitutes the intimate – to meet those who cannot hide their fragility, their emotion, or their need for attention.
Were people easy to collaborate with or did you experience some sort of confrontation?
I don’t know why so many people agreed to participate in the project. I never made speeches to convince them of the merits of my approach. I just said that I was interested in capturing their portrait, then I left it up to their determination if they want to be involved or not. Some of them are naked in the pictures. During the shooting, I only asked them if they want to be partially or fully naked. In that case, I think that the most difficult part is not to get consent but rather not to hurt the person by creating an image of him/her that he/she cannot stand. When this happens, you have to make the choice not to put on display what you have obtained.
Is there a specific reason behind combining black and white and colour images together in the book?
More than anything, I love the poem ‘Obsession’ extracted from ‘The Flowers of the Evil’ by Charles Baudelaire. There is a line that says something like this: “For I seek emptiness, darkness, and nudity!“ Maybe this is the only graphic palette I have mentally, the rest is just an attempt to get closer to people.
For most of your life, you are working as a police captain in Paris. Do you think your profession reflects in your way of photographing?
The practice of my job, which I started at a very young age, has brought some particularly existential questions to me: how can I apprehend these ordinary imbalances that I observe in everyday life? What place are we able to make for each other in order to live in peace together? And more generally, how can we deal with an unjust society whose only response to the violence it generates is extreme punishment?
‘Half-Light’ is an object that refuses any distance between the world and the one who looks at it. We must not be afraid of our emotions. Feeling is not a danger.
When talking about your project, you mentioned that you took these photographs in Paris “during a period of mourning.” Do you feel ‘Half-Light’ became therapeutic for you?
The medium of photography can bring both the model and the photographer the consolation of being seen.
I am also a great believer in the clinical dimension of learning. For me, photography can be the means to exorcise a wound, to retrace its history or to get rid of a mental imprint by making it palpable. I guess it is about going through what we are not yet able to heal.
What do you hope to achieve with your first monograph?
With this work and thanks to the unfailing support of Sylvia, Myrto and Joao from the magnificent Void team, I strived to establish a closed world representing what could be reached. I hope to create a modest line of sharing, of attention that requires to get out of a position of a simple spectator defined by an unconscious absorption of the world.
’Half-Light’ (published by Void) has just been released. You can order your copy here.