Some photographs from the Nord-Plage series by Jean-Luc de Laguarigue were exhibited some time ago in Fort-de-France Martinique prior to the presentation of the entire series due on the early weeks of 2014. These are the photographer’s answers to Aica-Southern Caribbean:
How difficult is it for an artist and photographer to live and work in a region without any structured promotion or art market? How does this influence his production?
This question does not seem to apply to the status of a region even though history and insularity add to the difficulty. When you look closer you realize that very few artists live from their art. That is undoubtedly the reason why many visual artists choose to teach or work in art training workshops. Everyone tries to find their own solution. Photography is ambivalent in that sense, as it can offer many possibilities including providing professional services and the practice of my artistic work. I have had for long years to cope with providing services or else, earn a living. All the same, I have always tried to save some time for my personal work, although this means maintaining some balance in the two activities. But I try to cope with this option.
I have known very early that I wanted to be a photographer, which was no easy-going or simple task. At thirty-seven I decided to give up the comfortable life of a company executive to be fully involved in my passion for art. That may seem a postponed decision, but let us say that I made it when I was ready. On the other side these long years of maturation have proved very beneficial: all along I kept asking myself ‘what is being a photographer?’, and attempted to find an answer. I was very much interested in the work of great artists. I would not be able to tell what consequences this form of seclusion has had on my production. What I mean is, having started this adventure rather late I knew that time was short. While working I was still doing research. So, every time I completed some work, the next one was germinating. I was caught in a process I had initiated.
In fact the main obstacle today lies in the representation of my work and the way other people appreciate it. But this difficulty is not limited to me.
The word photography has multiple meanings and involves many practices. How you define and limit your art in this contemporary art world?
Tags usually tend to classify the individual in a more or less reassuring category, which could be flattering or not. Tags also match the ‘repulsion for the market’ and can very soon become a trap. But in fact no one really escapes from this and that is why the artist must try to define his art anyway while being conscious that this attitude will be demeaning.
My art work can be defined through several aspects: it focuses at the same time on rehabilitated memory as a tool of knowledge, a research on the image aesthetics with its own language, and a projection in time. I have expressed this temporality in many works, maybe in all my creations, in fact. Otherwise, I have always believed -or felt- the world was there for me to reach and that the more specific one is the more they can reach the universal or ‘diversality’ to repeat the word used by Edouard Glissant. That is why I set to work on Martinique –‘this place is impossible to miss’- without any regionalist inclination.
Then for personal reasons, my art work is very much influenced by the concept of breaking-off or loss, of chance and memory, which in fact brings us back to the notion of time.
What circumstances brought you to visit Nord-Plage –North Beach- for the first time? What were your first impressions?
I remember very clearly, that was back in 1993, and the photos I made then are definitely without any interest: being blinded and mesmerized by the place, I had been unable to express any emotional distance. But still, back home that evening, I wrote this in my diary: ‘While there, it reminded me of Cartier-Bresson in Spain’. What I had seen in Nord-Plage had reminded me of one of his photographs made in 1933 in Valence which represented a child walking with his arms open along a wall stained with blood. This triggered off my project.
It seems that this Nord-Plage series focuses more on the landscape unlike the first series – People from My Land, Land of the Imaginary- which focuses more on portraits.
I needed precisely to evacuate this impingement of images on my retina, this influence that was left by Cartier-Bresson’s photo, and I could not find myself in a situation that would lead me deliberately or not to copy his work in any way. That would have been meaningless. Time –again- to appropriate the image was therefore necessary. Progressively I could perceive the singularity of this place, its specific geographical location, its ‘way of the cross’ –literally and poetically-; and the tragic aspect of this loss, its dramatization. This brought me back to some part of my childhood. It may look like a caricature expressing it this way, but there I saw a sacred place where what is alive could only be defined by its last breath – a place where absence could be incarnated in a masterly manner. Besides, I refused to reproduce in a different way People of My Land or Land of the Imaginary.
You have been working on Nord-Plage for twelve years if I am right; how many photos did you make? On what criteria do you select the photos that will finally be exhibited?
I could not give a precise number: there was the moment I discovered Nord-Plage, when we prepared the eponymous film made by José Hayot, the filming itself and the ten years that followed during which I very regularly returned there.
Besides I started on a black and white project, but I opted quickly for colour photos. Then progressing in time this adventure revealed to be a real field of experiment, and I carried on successively on 35 mm film, medium format, and then finally with a Cambo chamber for digital backs.
I built the whole project from some images that I found interesting and kept for support, as the danger lies in copying one’s own work, and becoming repetitive. The selection which obviously is subjective has to be radical and without any indulgence. It also matches the references that occur from one image to the other. The whole thing forming one piece summed up in about thirty photos.
What are the most crucial steps in the process: is it when photographing or developing the film which constitutes the ‘second birth’ for an image; or when treating the image posteriorly? Or else is it in the final selection of the photos to be exhibited?
I could not possibly determine the most crucial. Each stage is important. Taking the picture constitutes somehow the writing of the ‘partition’ then, you have to play and perform.
For the Land of the Imaginary series you mention some photographic manipulation in which several images overlap and connect. Can you explain these words? The Nord-Plage series seems to be technically simpler without any overlapping or imbrication.
This word ‘appareillage’ just like its definition comes from Guillaume Pigeard de Gurbert who used it for the first time in his project ‘Tout’ Moun’ –Everybody-. As he states: ‘This processing of images is specific to photography as it does not consist in showing images in succession but in –by- melting them simultaneously. The temporal matrix of these processed images helps them create eventually new temporal effects’. It was for me a way to try a new relation –succession and time- as the processed image is seen at the same time, in different perspectives and fields. Apart from Land of the Imaginary, I used this process for ‘The Rest…’ series because I felt that it matched my ideas. But I don’t really think this is necessary for the Nord-Plage series. One may consider that the image must and can be just what it is, each picture having its own life, although Nord-Plage constitutes a whole piece.
You use several approaches in Photography, taking the photos, using photomontage; digital experimentation generated by chance effects and the passing of time. What do these different techniques bring to the photographer?
These techniques enrich my reflection on photography, just like in a poetic commitment. But all this does not matter, only the experience remains: what matters is just the intrinsic truth of the image, what it bears in its silence and in its shape. ‘And the rest is of trifling importance’…
Traduction Suzanne Lampla