Begin with this, these are completely analog photos. You must let that sink in before you look at the work. Jean-Paul Bourdier’s new book Leap Into The Blue seems so much a product of the Photoshop age that it is easy to miss one of its signature accomplishments – that everything you see is really happening at the moment and in the space before the camera. This is a testament to his skills as a photographer, his imagination and his willingness to commit the time and energy necessary for the realization of these wonderful photographs.
Using no more than models, paint, a few props, mirrors and the landscape Bourdier creates a world of startling color, unexpected reflections, incongruity and…….beauty. I picked a few images to ask him about in hopes of understanding his process and his thinking.
AR: Let’s begin with the sketches, because they imply the preparation process. How do you begin to imagine these worlds? How long do you prepare before you begin to shoot? (See photo “page 182”)
JPB: In the beginning, I was mostly interested in discovering and listening to the landscape to see what it would suggest; on-site improvisations were key and there were fewer drawings. Little by little, though, it appeared to me that the landscape was a blank canvas that could be sculpted and painted, and I now prepare a shoot many months in advance, taking with me well over 500 sketches for potential projects.
AR: In the photo on page 189 we are literally in the desert, but where are we in your mind? (See photo “page 189”)
JPB: I enjoy seeing myself caught within this dilemma, and I am first attracted by projects that will undermine, in some ways, the assumptions made by my thoughts that I think of as my “little prisons.” So, I’m interested in constructing situations in which one would ask, “What is this?”, because a question reflects an absence of knowledge and a glimpse into infinite potentials. In such a situation, our rationale may drop out of the picture and leave room for humor or laughter (which, in my view, do not coexist with thinking).
AR: In your pictures, bodies float in space, and the models are unconcerned and relaxed. But knowing how you work, it seems inevitable that gravity is about to take its toll. Are they dancers or gymnasts? How do you actually make these pictures? (See photo “page 187”)
JPB: As human beings, we experience gravity as a fundamental ordering principle in our lives. We are both this heavy body and something vaster that exceeds anything we can label. Science has shown us that matter is empty.
Most of the more than 50 friends who have come with me into the desert are “regular” people; a small number have been involved in sports or dance.
There are a few ways through which one can float in space. It took me over five years to resolve this simple enigma, and I would not like to deprive your readers from the pleasure of solving it themselves. This said, many friends take risks and perform flights without any particular skills.
AR: You mention Botticelli, Dalí, Klimt, Magritte, and other painters. But you are also a teacher of architecture. How does that influence your work? (See photo “page 21”)
JPB: I see architecture as a way to mediate between heaven and earth, and I could say the same about the practice of yoga, dance, or other performance arts. Perhaps because I have been trained as an architect, my mind is obsessed with finding some kind of order in the world around me to balance complementary forces: high and low, right and left, hard and soft, life and death, and so on.
In my work, the tangible first ordering principle of lines is the horizon line (whose specter is the photographic frame); the first ordering principle of colors is the sky, and a major ordering principle of my present work is my relation with what I call our ancestors, while I continue to explore my relationship with geometries, companionship, and the lightness of being. Part of the web of relationships we have with the world is the realm of the ancestors — I am developing this notion in my upcoming book. These “ancestors” are the painters who have touched me deeply who I would like to pay homage to, through diverse paintings or constructed allusions to their work.
AR: Here and there the landscape has been painted, and these painted figures interact with the models. Who paints the images and are they the results of the places you find, or do you seek out spaces for the images you have prepared? (See photo “page 176”)
JPB: Yes, the models and I participate in painting these images. The nature of a rock can call for a painting that I may or may not have in mind and, occasionally, I may be looking actively for a rock surface that would be ideal for a certain painting.
AR: It’s obvious that there is much preparation here, but also much that is not easy to control. How much is chance a part of your work, and how much is foreseen? (See photo “page 217”)
JPB: I often love to imagine that I am somewhat in control, but I have come to realize that I am just a conduit for thousands of forces that are making the work. Even my sketches and desires are molded by thousands of forces, so the work is continuously making itself. It is a bit like planning a meal; you may have all the ingredients, but the taste is unforeseen.
AR: Here on page 202 is a wonderful image, two faces side-by-side, one inverted. Their eyes are closed and they seem to be communicating telepathically. Can you tell me something about this image? (See photo “page 202”)
JPB: So often I am not listening to the world around me, but also not listening to the world within me. How can I embody this seemingly permanent deafness?
AR: On page 106 there is a remarkable picture, a seemingly endless sheet of water only an inch high. Take a moment to describe how you made this picture, what was it like to be there? (See photo “page 106”)
JPB: As I suggested earlier, the forces of nature are infinite, but the most memorable are the weather changes, which can transform the whole shoot into a dramatic scene within minutes: small tornadoes, sand storms, torrential rains, and winds or flashfloods have often taken us by surprise. We have worked in the winter with temperatures around 10 degrees Fahrenheit below, and in summer above 110 degrees, so a shoot can also be a physical challenge. Often the cliffs or rocks are so hot that my model-friends can only stay in place for 60 seconds, and so a shoot that is usually done in an hour has to be heavily condensed. But in general terms, we are working quite fast with the constant fear of losing the light. This leaves almost no time to contemplate the breathtaking beauty of the desert.
AR: Do you have a favorite image and, if so, what can you say about it? (See photo “page 37”)
JPB: Each image is dear to me, for it represents an answer to a certain question that has been the focus of my passion at a certain point in time. There is, however, one that sticks in mind, that of a woman friend in blue, horizontally floating above the water. I had the idea for years, but could not find a way to make it possible until I bought a small five-dollar tool from a recycling place. I value this project because of the exceptional climatic condition that perhaps happens once every 10 or 20 years and also because it incarnates the notion of humans as a bridge between heaven and earth. Further, this flying, prone body embodies fundamental forces: the material (the body/the apparent life around and within us) and the immaterial (the flying body/all that is unknown about our life, including death), the four cardinal directions that, themselves, correspond to the four seasons, the four colors, the four moods, for example. It also alludes to the question of which gender is really on the cross every day. And is it not said in Asia that everything starts with the crossing of two lines?
As I was going to shoot, I looked down into the viewfinder of my (analog) camera, and became so taken by the stillness and the beauty of it all that I started to cry. After a while, though I heard some sniffling behind me and, as I turned around, I saw that her boyfriend was also crying, moved by the beauty of the scene.
Copies of Leap Into The Blue a limited edition book and print set and original signed photographs are available at volakisgallery.com.