Interview with Luiza Mogosanu for Blick
French born and alumni of the E.N.S.P of Arles, Charlie Jouvet chose to live and work in Berlin while collaborating periodically with Université de Paris. His artistic approach to the photographic medium is a mixture between amaze and reverence, or as he puts it, ʻI try not to disturb what I see.I see each of my pictures as the result of an uncertain process. When I finally get an image, itʼs always like a giftʼ.
He elaborately channels the viewer’s eye through gritty layers of densely colored mists, towards places and territories inhabited by secrets. He reassembles the layers with every frame of a series, playing with the elements in a cinematic manner. After he mentioned the “empty landscapes”, I went back to check again, as they felt enigmatically alive. A reason might be that the leading characters are being portrayed in their absence – the World War history, the travelling neighbor, the lost vineyards of Moldova...
Luiza Mogosanu: On your berlinerpool artist page you referred of photography as being “the place where I can do what I want to do as I want to do”. Could you expound on that?
Charlie Jouvet: Most of the time, in the most common of the scenarios, after one has completed his or her education and got their degrees, they’d need to earn some money according to their skills. Photography is a practice that could be successfully used in some industries - largely in media, therefore people would opt for it and then take in commissioned jobs or assignments - for magazines or companies for instance; I didn’t want photography to have this turn in my life. I believe that the medium has a lot to offer beyond this, in terms of the process of creating and experimenting. And it has to do also with the fact that I am not very compliant when it comes to taking orders in the way I produce my images. I guess this is basically what I meant.
LM: I’d like to invite you on a journey back in time and ask if you could recall the first photography that you’ve taken?
CJ: Oh, that’s a difficult task. I cannot recall any particular image, but I do have the memory of the mood from that time. It was in the era of analogue photography and it was for sure a black and white shot. In the « pre-digital » era of photography for the most of us that was the most common way of starting on your own, because you could build your own laboratory at home, work with your own prints, experiment with them. It’s also the time when you are up for many risks and try outs, and although you don’t actually know where they’re going to lead you, you keep carrying on until finally you cannot stop. The right encounters also play their role, in my upbringing they weighed quite a great deal, starting with the very fresh beginnings. I guess I chose photography just as much as it chose me.
LM: While I was looking at some of your works I got the feeling that the intention behind them was a strive to capture some sort of an intricate fibre of the place, that there was an intense tangible dimension attached to them...
CJ: You’re talking about Geheimnisträger ! I have been working on this project roughly between 2005 and 2010 and I had the idea in mind ten years before I was actually able to realize it. I had an attempt to pursue it around ’95-’96 and it was frustrating, as I could not acquire exactly what I wanted, so I let go of it for a while. It happened that in 2005, I had a chance to go to Poland to exhibit some of my works. From my perspective that territory I was about to discover felt like the center of Europe, I was essentially very appealed by the surroundings, I was fascinated to be at that time in Poland, so I started my research and began making the images that led eventually to Geheimnisträger (i.e. “guardians of secrets”). I preferred a longer time span to a shorter one for this project-research, built in layers, and I tried to watch over its outright balance which is sensible and changeable in unpredictable ways each time a new image is being added to the whole; I needed to weigh each photo, in order to enable the project to communicate its story. Essentially, I see it now like a sort of introspection, leading to an awareness of my own relations with things, with time, with the Continent’s history and places...
LM: Because you speak about your travel to Poland and since you’ve mentioned the « right encounters », I’d like to ask you, how these encounters act in the context of getting the exposure and the support that is so vital for an artist ?
CJ: Finding a suitable promotion and a constant support are probably the hardest, crucial, moments in the work process, no doubt about it. Once the work is finished, you need to be able to count on a solid network of collaborations and connections to promote, to exhibit, to publish it. It’s a job per se and even though more and more artists manage to learn and perform these smart skills, for me, all these strategies are really difficult to put in practice. I guess I’m relying on the fact that I’m fortunate to meet the right people to work with and build up interesting, long-lasting collaborations. So far, I was really lucky in terms of encounters. After the great mentors that inspired and motivated me during my training period, one of my first collaborators, interested in showing and promoting my work was Krzysztof Candrowicz. I met him in 2004 in Arles, and after he briskly introduced me the Lodz Photo Festival, he suggested to submit some of my work for the upcoming edition. Which I did, hopefully my work was selected and it’s how I discovered Poland the next year. This is how Geheimnisträger was made possible. Since then, he and his collaborator, Marta Szymanska were always on my side as friends and artists. There were later Ron Sluik and Irina Grabovan who invited me for a project in Chisinau, in Moldova. Another good friend is Peggy Sue Amison who runs the Sirius Art Centre in Cobh, in the south of Ireland, who has been supporting my work for many years now.
LM: In a broad sense, what is the core concept of your gesture as a photographer, do you identify with a position of power when you photograph, like Susan Sontag use to describe it? Are you looking for the “truth”?...
CJ: I donʼt think there is such thing as « the truth ». I believe that all of us are right and wrong at the same time. The only thing we could try to attain is to be true and honest to ourselves. That would be the only kind of « truth » I can imagine. When it comes to my work there is not such as a prevailing concept, but rather a certain kind of relation with the « outside », with the world around, that I seek to explore and cultivate. I think that each project consists in finding the genuine form by deciding for the appropriate strategy. When I go out to take an image I try not to disturb what I see. This is how I worked for series like Geheimnisträger or Basarabia . And this is why it takes so much time for a project to be completed. I work mainly around landscapes. Empty landscapes. I tried before to include people in the frame but they were too "loud" and disturbed the meaning I was aiming for. I guess I try to enchant the landscapes to speak and thus I’d be able to catch some of their stories. During the process I want my presence to be as silent and as unnoticed as possible. I see each of my pictures as the result of an uncertain process. When I finally get an image, it’s always like a gift. No, I don’t feel being “in power” when I take my photos...
LM: You have studied at École Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie in Arles, which gives me an extra reason to ask you what would be your view on Les Rencontres dʼArles, the internationally acclaimed festival?
CJ: Well, the festival is not anymore what it used to be when I was studying there, that is to say 15 years ago... Those things I grew up with are too old to be interesting now. As a festival, I think they have a very hard task to fulfill, they have to satisfy a wide range audiences, from the professionals who attend a lot of exhibitions every year, to the large public who wants to be seduced by "beautiful" images. It is unquestionably one of the most famous festival in the world and the expectations are fairly high.
LM: How well do you think they succeed to accomplish these goals?
CJ: As far as I can see, the professionals are always complaining about the festival, yet they keep coming back every time to Arles, because the city is beautiful and perfectly sized for that kind of event, the weather is great, so itʼs a perfect pretext for professionals to socialize over a drink, to chat and concoct new business... On the other hand, they attract large groups of visitors every year, so I guess everyone has a good reason to pay a visit to Les Rencontres dʼArles...
LM: What about the Berliner Preview, for instance ?
CJ: I have been at Preview a couple of times and I find it very interesting in the way they are combining Photography with other kinds of art forms and this active proximity creates a positive clash, it is very inspiring. As an artist I could be more fascinated by a sculpture, by an installation or by a drawing - it is not because I am a photographer that I would indistinctively feel impressed by a photographic work. Of course, this place is not the only one who has such a strategy, but this hybrid formula is much more difficult to find in France for instance. This was one of the reason why I wanted to live abroad. The professional world of photography in France seems to me most of the time to be a very exclusive and self-centered one.
LM: Tell me about other reasons which made you choose Berlin over France...
CJ: Like I mentioned when I was talking about Geheimnisträger, I guess I was searching for something that would give me the feeling of being in the center of the continent. There is not such a indisputable spot perhaps, but for me this region of Europe including Poland feels like a center. Berlin always attracted me because of its history that I find fascinating with every layer I discover. I’m interested in the German culture, in spite of the language challenge, I really believe that by leaving his/her native country one is pushed to learn a lot.
LM: Are there any particular artists that you you’d like above others?
CJ: There are actually a lot that I like. But I think itʼs more than « liking », they are useful to my work. It's pretty selfish actually. They point me some "directions" that I would like to be able to incorporate in my research, or not... They could come from any practice, but because the list would be too long, letʼs play a little game here and let me mention those who are not photographers. This way I could tell you about Jacques Tati, Bruno Dumont, Jean-Pierre Melville, Jim Jarmush, Bill Watterson, Jiro Taniguchi, Boby Lapointe, Alain Bashung, Marguerite Duras, Haruki Murakami or W.G. Sebald... The list could continue.
LM: Iʼm curious to elucidate the Bashung and Lapointe riddle in this puzzle of cartoonists, cineasts and writers. Thank you for taking the time and sharing your thoughts with us !
Berlin, 20. 12. 2012