The 3rd edition of the Luxembourg Street Photography Festival, held from 2 to 5 May 2019 in the Rotondes, welcomes Pierre Gély-Fort for a lecture & signature around his latest book “Extrême Far East” on Saturday May 4th from 1.30pm to 2.30pm.
A photographer and creator of books, with a penchant for visual worlds, rich in color, I extend my love of travel through the books I design and lay out.
Without texts or legends, the geographical locations become the pretext for an artistic expression, outside of a traditional narrative documentary or photo-journalistic document. I reveal my travels and encounters across a range of countries by means of an emotional gaze and an inherent, underlying dialogue.
Throughout these different peregrinations, the viewer / reader can infer a singular imagination, empathy and tenderness towards the photographed subjects, and the authenticity of the staging. The assemblage, resonances and scenography constructed from these photographic moments foster a dialogue between the images, and create proximity with the subject.
Up until 1868 Japanese society remained voluntarily isolated on its archipelago.
From this date onwards it began to open up to the outside world, particularly during the period known as the Meiji Restoration, when it invited large numbers of foreign experts to its shores. However, once the country had been sufficiently modernized, these were sent on their way.
Still cut off today, Japan accepted only 20 applications for asylum in 2017 out of the 20,000 applications made according to the Japanese Justice Ministry.
This society, which is both extremely modern and extremely conservative in terms of its ancestral traditions, has always fascinated me.
Photographically it also posed a personal challenge: would I succeed in avoiding the typically exotic, kitsch and touristy photos taken of Kyoto and the surrounding region?
Can a diptych show up contradictions?
Yes, but not only that. It can also show up contrasts, similarities, conflicts and repetitions.
Within the context of a series, or more broadly within a photographic narrative or book, the double-page diptych without text or captions interacts with the sequences that both precede and follow it.
Photography critic and novelist John Berger analyzes the ‘energy of the montage’ in this type of visual narrative: ‘such an energy closely resembles the stimulus by which one memory triggers another, irrespective of any hierarchy, chronology or duration.’*
Space-confinement, modernity-tradition, solitude-the crowd. Do you think that your series offers a vision of this society?
The series is taken from my eponymous book. It offers a vision that is necessarily fragmented and certainly highly personal: the perception or sensibility of a French photographer whose work is inscribed in the immediate, unaware of the codes and language(s) of this society.
What remains however, is the sensorial frustration of a westerner who peers into the heart of a volcano, all the while remaining on its edges.
The mask, in various forms, is very present in your photographs. Why is that?
It is a reflection of Japanese society and perhaps a reflection of Japanese thought.
The mask = the face. In Japan, a difference exists between one’s personal thoughts and feelings and those displayed in public (the facade). These two aspects of thought are referred to in Japanese as Honne (本音) and Tatemae (建前). Is wearing a mask akin to this notion of the facade? We can imagine this to be the case.
Can we say that your photographs have been staged?
Yes, despite the fact that my photographs are taken on the spot, over the course of my wanderings and without a predefined subject matter, or exterior assistance for that matter (a fixer or otherwise).
The choice of what’s in the frame and outside the frame, the decision to shoot at a specific moment and ultimately the editing are all acts of staging.
The visual narration for a series or a photography book is exclusively staged in my opinion.
Do you agree that there is a certain elegance and mute violence in your series?
Herein lies all the ambiguity of a culture where the individual silently effaces him or herself in favour of the collective. This is especially apparent in the series taken in the reclusive, night-time world of Gion, the Geisha district in Kyoto.
The westerner notices the silent and elegant rustling of women along these paved streets, making their way from one engagement to another at one of the teahouses. From the age of fifteen onwards, girls sacrifice their lives in the name of this ancestral culture. The figures in this series move amidst coloured scenes of shadows and light, creating atmospheres that are both warm and sensual, cold and somewhat unsettling. In this, the westerner may detect a certain mute violence.
There is an exaggerated sense of solitude in this series. Is this intentional and if so, why?
A sense of solitude can be felt from almost every page. Its omnipresence in Japanese society probably reveals the other side of collective living: the individual is effaced and is ultimately alone in the face of the collective and its rigid codes.
Your work possesses a certain cinematic quality. Why did you choose the ‘still image’ as your medium?
The explanation of the ‘still image’ by John Berger sheds light on this deliberate choice:
‘Surprisingly, photographs are the opposite of films. Photographs are retrospective and are received as such: films are anticipatory. Before a photograph you search for what was there. In a cinema you wait for what is to come next. All film narratives are, in this sense, adventures: they advance, they arrive. The term “flashback” is an admission of the inexorable impatience of the film to move forward.
By contrast, if there is a narrative form intrinsic to still photography, it will search for what happened, as memories or reflections do.’*
To my mind, the still image transmits the emotion of the experience to the spectator. One simply has to observe in an art gallery how an art lover, whether he is a collector or not, is emotionally ‘inhabited’ before their preferred image. A unique relationship is created, uniting the spectator, the emotion of the image and the artist/author of the photograph.
How are your diptychs constructed?
It’s difficult to provide a structured answer to your question. Ultimately a combination of emotion and sensitivity leads me to decide whether a diptych works or not. More concretely, it requires long multiple sessions of observation and comparison, associating the selected images before finding the most harmonious couple. The colorimetry, the light, the geometry and the distance to the subject in the two images must also be coherent in terms of the desired emotion.
Why did you choose photography?
The choice of this particular medium of artistic expression came about following my meeting with Agathe Gaillard. I read her autobiographical work Mémoires d’une Galerie in one sitting and this inspired me to visit the gallery in the hope of meeting her in May 2015.
Several times a week Agathe Gaillard would make me dive into the universe of art photography. This universe, which she wanted to leave behind after working there for forty-two years, fascinated me more and more with each visit.
In September 2016 I nervously decided to finally show her some of my photographs. Ramrod straight and with a serious expression on a face deep in concentration, she silently and rapidly looked through my images. With her back towards me, she walked to a chair to sit down and then raised her head, uttering the words: ’Right Pierre, now is the time for you to take the plunge.’
I climbed to the top of the diving board and I jumped in!
* John Berger and Jean Mohr. Another Way of Telling: A Possible Theory of Photography. London: Bloomsbury, 1982.
Pierre Gély-Fort – Extrême Far East
May 2, 2019 to May 5, 2019
Luxembourg Street Photography Festival
Place des Rotondes, 2448 Luxemburg