The duo of artist Virginie Pougnaud and Christophe Clark are exhibiting a number of their staged photographs at Galerie XII until July 29th. L’Œil de la Photographie met them.
Zoé Isle de Beauchaine: Tell us about the works you are exhibiting at Galerie XII.
Virginie Pougnaud: We’ve mixed an older series, Mood Indigo (2014), with our most recent work. The series À poils (2022-2023) is about fur, animal and human skin, while Fetish (2020) is made up of still lifes evoking the memories of one man.
Why the title, A Certain Idea of Happiness?
Virginie Pougnaud (VP): We’ve been working together for 25 years and in our practice we’ve always tried to achieve a certain happiness and art of living. Whether through photography, painting, music or our encounters, our sole aim is to find within ourselves a harmony and a gentle way of life.
Christophe Clarke (CC) : Today we are proud to look at one of our photographs and be taken back to a period in our lives. There is a continuity between our art and our biography.
In a way, these works function like an album?
VP: Our series are like a family album and our models often grow old with us. They are, or have become, our friends. Behind our shots, there’s always the idea of creating a richer relationship than just someone posing for us. There’s an exchange, a double gaze, not just ours but also the one they cast on us, because in the end we look at ourselves through our models.
It was your first series, Hommage à Hopper, that made your name. Can you tell us about your relationship with the arts, and painting in particular?
CC: For me, painting is sacred. More so than photography. I’ve always been immersed in photography, and I’ve seen its evolution from film to digital. But I’ve always respected painting far more than photography. My ultimate aim is to get as close as possible to painting and give photography something that it perhaps doesn’t yet have. This is another reflection on photography: where does it fit in? It’s everywhere, it’s loved by everyone, but I feel that it hasn’t yet found its full potential, that it isn’t respected as it should be. That’s what I’m looking for.
VP : Painting is my way of self expression since childhood from sketching to oil painting thru comics. At the beginning photography imitated painting. This the direction we tend to take but photography brings a surrealist aspect may be a little lighter.
There’s something very dramatic about the way you use artificial light.
VP: My background is in theatre, which is what made me want to go into directing and composition. When I went to see plays, I was particularly struck by the sets and the illusion created by the lighting, the way the light blended with the painted elements.
CC: Our relationship with light has evolved. When we moved to the countryside we started doing still lifes, which led to the Fetish series. At that point we gave ourselves the freedom to stop editing, which had been our speciality up until then. The lighting was also much simpler, we followed the natural light.
Why did you streamline your sets?
CC: We’re having more and more problems with everything – clothes, sets and props. We’d like to streamline as much as possible. I don’t know where that will take us. This desire was born after the Fetish series, which was very full of objects and symbols. We wanted to move on to something simpler. But generally speaking, although we work on the mise-en-scène, we’re looking for a form of simplicity and a fairly direct reflection of life. That’s why we work with the utmost intimacy and avoid retouching as much as possible.
VP: Colour is the only thing we can’t get away from.
Is photography a game?
CC: Yes, in every way. People perceive a form of loneliness, drama or anguish in our images, yet we think of them in an eminently cheerful way. I think this comes from the fact that photography is serious. It lacks lightness. Painting perhaps allows the imagination a little more freedom, whereas photography suddenly fixes a scene in reality.
VP: If photography wasn’t a game we wouldn’t do it. Ultimately, we do it to escape the gloom of life. We like the lightness of our stagings and the fact that we can do them anywhere, anytime.
What are your current projects?
CC: We have a lot of material around our images, particularly video, and we’re thinking at the moment about how to use it, what we could do with it, perhaps make a film…
VP: We’ve also been working on a series for over ten years in which we photograph little girls growing up.This project began a bit by chance, during a summer with some friends.We asked their daughters to pose in our sets, and it’s become a ritual ever since.Today they’re around eighteen and they keep calling us every year to continue the project. In the end, at a time when images and selfies are ubiquitous but evanescent, only these portraits remain, and for them they are the marker of another year gone by.That allow them to watch themselves grow older. It’s a project full of life and poetry, which we’d love to show, but in today’s world it’s complicated.
Clark & Pougnaud – A certain idea of happiness
Galerie XII Paris
14 rue des Jardins Saint-Paul 75004 Paris
Tuesday-Friday: 2pm-7pm Saturday: 12pm-7pm
& by appointment outside these hours