Bright colors, tight framing and sharpness of detail sublimate these proud faces of Africa, Asia or Papua. It is an immersion in a beautiful diversity full of harmony and dignity, like a breath suspended out of time. A rigorous aesthetic placed at the service of emotion, that of a mutual wonder. Because they offer with generosity the landscapes of their scarified skins and the elegance of their ritual ornaments to the passionate eye of the photographer. The exhibition ETHINICITY by Benoît Feron is to be seen in Brussels until November 30th.
Interview by Cilou de Bruyn
- What are you trying to express in this work on ethnicity?
I am, of course, trying to relate things that affect me personally. I am fascinated by the diversity and the richness of human being. I believe that even unconsciously, I like less and less uniformity and my quest for images is certainly inspired. It is impressive to see how some people are trying (for how long?) To preserve this diversity as our Western world increasingly follows the path of globality and uniformity. I am also very impressed by the creativity and the sense of harmony and aesthetics of certain peoples who have almost nothing but who “feel” the beautiful as well.
. Are you trying to convey a message?
Yes, in the continuity of my previous answer, I like to show that we can express this creativity with very few means and that dignity is not a question of financial wealth but of inner wealth. The message also that human being is not one and that diversity is a chance. And then, I also like to highlight the body as a great vector of artistic expression.
• What contact do you have with your subjects?Are you doing some sort of wild casting or with a “fixer”?
There is no general rule. Each experience is different. But each trip is organized in advance, with a guide who knows the regio. But there is always a part of chance, a share of surprise and that’s what I like too.
- How much does it come down to chance? What limits do you set?
Never force someone, do not photograph him if he or she does not feel like it. Anyway, in this case, the result is not there. Do not show what someone does not want to show. It’s a question of respect too. As for chance, it plays a big part. We never know what we will actually encounter. You have to be able to improvise. One day, I went with a canoe guide on the Sepik River in Papua New Guinea for a few days. We stopped by chance in a village where the day before a scarification session of young people passing their initiation to adulthood had taken place. We did not know it. I had the opportunity to meet these young people, staying “in quarantine” in the house of spirits. It was totally unreal.
- What would be the place of spirituality for you who attended many ceremonies, religious or other?
It is important, it offers a breath, a hope for man, allows him to stop running, to take a step back, to give meaning to his actions. Provided you do not fall into blind fanaticism of course.
- What lessons do you draw from these encounters with authenticity?
- A return to the sources that makes one feel good, which allows one to refocus on the essential, which alone is important and give a lasting happiness clear of the useless.
- How do you get your subjects to give themselves so intensely?
I approach people with a lot of respect, gentleness, without stress, taking time if I need to. They have to feel good, they want to express something. It does not always work, but when it works it’s sometimes very strong. When the picture expresses this “intensity”, it’s because something has happened.
- And what do they tell you?
I want to answer this question by telling you an anecdote. During an exhibition in Brussels dedicated to the Rift Portraits, Afar immigrants from Djibouti came to me to tell me that they were proud to be presented with such dignity and beauty, because we often give a picture of Africa that is very negative. It made me think of an interview with Sebastiao Salgado who said that “everywhere people are beautiful and everywhere they want to be represented in a dignified way”. I agree completely.
- A personal definition of beauty?
It’s very subjective. But I would say a mixture of harmony, balance, authenticity, sweetness or power, which generates a positive emotion.
- In the current climate of ecological collapse and upheaval of our capitalist values, what is your feeling – or what is your contribution to remedy it?
I try to show the beauty of our planet by making people aware of the importance of not screwing it up. It’s a small stone to the building, I hope.
- What about these migration flows from Africa?
A shame for the human being. A few months ago, I came out of Ai Wei Wei’s “Human Flow”, which deals with the problem in a global way, disgusted and deeply sad. How can we treat our equals like that? While understanding that we can not open all the doors, on risk of unbalancing an already fragile system. But I am frightened to see how this problem awakens egoism and the rise of nationalism, in defiance of heart values. How much people forget that a different being can be a source of wealth and that the world is built through migration. I am convinced that the only solution is to solve the problems on the spot to stop the need to flee. But there are so many divergent geopolitical interests between nations that I am not convinced that there is a miracle and satisfactory solution.
- What feeling dominates – traveling, shooting, editing, exhibiting?
In travel and shooting, the excitement of discovery, which can be clearly enjoyable. And then the quest for the image, the search for the angle, the point of view, the meeting, … It can sometimes become a little obsessive, I admit … And we must not forget at that moment of meeting, listening, to discover the reality of the other.
In editing, the search for the balanced image (composition, framing, light, harmony of colors, expression …) among all those (too many …) that scroll on the screen. And when we are there, it’s a very beautiful emotion.
In exhibition, the happiness of exchanging, of sharing experiences, with people of all horizons who are sensitive to the images that you present and that you might not have met otherwise. It’s a very rich to be able to share……
- Benoît Feron: https://www.instagram.com/benoitferonphotography/
Galerie Arnaud Rogez, under the artistic direction of Pascal Young.
1249 Chaussée de Waterloo. 1180 Brussels.
Until November 30th.
- Book :
Rift Portraits, Editions Regards Passion, 2016, 144 pages.