Scott Billy : Another way of looking at the world
An American by birth, Scott Billy moved to Johannesburg over 25 years ago. He has always been interested in art, and is totally passionate about South African art and design. Before becoming a gallery owner, he worked in marketing in South Africa, a job that didn’t quite fulfill him. It was because of the many South African artists he met over the years that he decided to make this important change in his life.
With his partner Kari Smith, he opened a few years ago, in Paris, the Bonne Espérance Gallery. A place that invites you to discover the creative exuberance of South Africa and exhibits emerging and established artists working in the fields of art, design and craft.
From Cape Town to Johannesburg, from Durban to Pretoria, Good Hope is a dive into the creative geography of South Africa and its neighboring countries, Lesotho, Swaziland, Botswana, Namibia.
Scott’s wish: to give a new voice to a unique artistic scene of the African continent by its originality, its diversity and its openness to the world.
He is also a great lover of photography and it is with pleasure that he submitted himself to our questionnaire.
Website : bonne-esperance-gallery.com
Instagram : galerie_bonne_espérance
Your first photographic trigger ?
Scott Billy : When I was a kid I took a photography class. For my first project I took photos of a beautiful art deco building from 1932. I thought I was the most amazing photographer ever, but it was the building that was amazing.
The man of images who inspires you?
Scott Billy : There are many but Jurgen Schadeberg’s photos are often very simple with a powerful, subtle message about South Africa and social injustice, but without anger and sometimes even with humour.
The image you would have liked to make?
Scott Billy : South African photographer George Hallett’s 1997 Truth and Reconciliation Commission portrait of Jann Turner with Eugene de Kock. Eugene de Kock, known as Prime Evil, was an apartheid government assassin who killed Jann Turner’s father. In this powerful portrait, she is standing next to the man who killed her father and looking at him with an ambiguous expression.
The one that moved you the most?
Scott Billy : “The Sharpeville Massacre Funeral” by Jurgen Schadeberg. He hired a small plane to take an aerial photo of the funeral of the 69 demonstrators shot by the police in 1960 outside of Johannesburg.
And the one that made you angry?
Scott Billy : “The Sharpeville Massacre Funeral.”
A key image in your personal pantheon?
Scott Billy : “97 rue de Clery angle rue Beauregard Paris 2” by Robert Doisneau. My gallery is in Sentier and every day on the way to the gallery I walk by the Pointe Trigano, the skinniest building in Paris, which has been photographed by Atget, Brassai, Cartier-Bresson and other greats. But Doisneau’s photo of the Pointe Trigano is the best, because it’s raining. And Paris in the rain is gorgeous.
The quality needed to be a good photographer?
Scott Billy : The ability to find the right subject and an understanding of light.
The secret of the perfect image, if it exists?
Scott Billy : The same as above – the perfect subject and perfect light.
The person you would like to photograph?
Scott Billy : I’ve been obsessed with Joni Mitchell since I was a kid. She’s the only famous person I really want to meet. I hope she’s reading this.
An indispensable photo book?
Scott Billy : If you’re a Parisian flaneur like me, “Atget.”
The camera of your early days?
Scott Billy : My first camera was a flat Kodak 110 pocket film camera; I developed the tiny negatives myself in the darkroom at my school.
The one you use today ?
Scott Billy : I have too many cameras. I have a big, expensive Canon digital single lens reflex that I never use because it’s so heavy. I have more fun using cheap plastic film cameras like Holgas because you often get beautiful surprises when you develop the film. I made my own pinhole camera, which produces the most surprising surprises.
Your favorite drug?
Scott Billy : I’m too old to do drugs.
The best way to disconnect for you ?
Scott Billy : Reading transports me away from any stresses.
Your greatest quality?
Scott Billy : I try not to take myself too seriously.
A picture to illustrate a new bank bill ?
Scott Billy : Josephine Baker would be great on a new Euro note. The EU needs a re-branding.
The job you wouldn’t have liked to do?
Scott Billy : Banker, mathematician, stock-taker, anything to do with numbers. I prefer images.
Your greatest extravagance as a photographer?
Scott Billy : I’ve wasted too much money on lenses that sit in the cupboard gathering dust.
The values you wish to share through images you make ?
Scott Billy : That’s part of the reason why I’m such a bad photographer. I’m not good enough to share any values through my own images. But I greatly admire photographers who are able to do so, such as South African photographers Zanele Muholi, Jurgen Schadeberg and David Goldblatt.
The city, country or culture you dream to discover?
Scott Billy : My next trip is to Clermont-Ferrand. During the first covid lockdown, I did genealogical research and discovered that my ancestors emigrated from Clermont-Ferrand in the 18th century. I like the idea of the journey over several centuries from Auvergne to Québec to New York to South Africa and now back to France.
The place you never get tired of?
Scott Billy : Namibia, the most beautiful country in the world. You can drive for hours and not see a single person, car or building.
Your biggest regret?
Scott Billy: I don’t think about regrets.
Instagram, Tik Tok or snapchat?
Scott Billy : None of them. People spend too much time on their phones. I only do social media, Instagram, because I’m forced to as a galleriste.
Color or B&W?
Scott Billy : Both but B&W is better.
Daylight or artificial light?
Scott Billy: Natural light, always.
The most photogenic city in your opinion?
Scott Billy : Paris but the parts of Paris most people think aren’t so nice, and especially Paris in the rain. I like photos of Paris that look like the setting of a Patrick Modiano novel.
If God existed would you ask him to pose for you, or would you opt for a selfie with him?
Scott Billy : I’d ask him to take a selfie of us both and post it on his Instagram and tag the gallery.
The image that represents for you the current state of the world?
Scott Billy: Check out Getty Images Special Correspondent John Moore’s Instagram page (jbmoorephoto) for heartbreaking photos of the war in Ukraine.
Can you tell us about some of your favorite images?
Scott Billy : Oh, that’s a tough question because there are so many images I love. But if I have to choose, here are the ones I want to tell you about today:
– Santu Mofokeng, “Winter in Thembisa” because it makes me nostalgic and melancholy.
– George Hallett, “Jann Turner with Eugene de Kock”, because of her look and face.
– George Hallett, “First Meeting with Mandela, 1994”. The haunting portrait of Jann Turner with Eugene de Kock is not typical of Hallett’s style, which usually captured joy, whether in difficult or hopeful times. This photograph illustrates Hallett’s joyful style.
– Jurgen Schadeberg, “Sharpeville Massacre Funeral.
– Jurgen Schadeberg, “Visit to a farm, Muldersdrfit, 1952”. This photo is pure joy.
– David Goldblatt, “Saturday Morning at the Hypermarket: Miss Cute Legs Contest.” I’ve burst into tears at a Goldblatt exhibit before.
– Jurgen Schadeberg, “Beauty Queen Contest, Benoni, 1952.” This is social commentary done with humor.
– Jurgen Schadeberg, “The Gambling Quartet, Sophiatown 1955” because of the Carraveggio-esque light.
– Zanele Muholi, “Apinda Mpako and Ayanda Magudulela, Parktown, Johannesburg” because this series of photographs of the daily lives of South African lesbians has probably done more to advance the LGBTQ cause in Africa than any other art project in decades.
– Nan Goldin, “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency,” because I want to know what’s going on in their lives and if they survived it.
– Samuel Fosso, “The Chief Who Sold Africa to the Colonists”. Samuel Fosso’s self-portraits make me laugh and make me think.
– Zwelethu Mthethwa, “Interior”, for his portraits of people in their homes.
– Nontsikelelo Veleko, “Kepi, Newtown, Johannesburg” Nontsikelelo Veleko’s street style photos in Johannesburg brilliantly capture the ability of Joburg’s fashion kids to look amazing with almost no money.
– « 97 rue de Clery corner rue Beauregard Paris 2″ by Robert Doisneau. This is a beautiful historical photo of a place I walk by every day.
– « Adiantum Pedatum,” Karl Blossfeldt. There are many nature photos, of course, but for me, Blossfeldt’s photos best capture the complex beauty of plants, perhaps because he was a photographer and botanist.
– Roger Ballen’s controversial Platteland series showed a side of South Africa that many South Africans did not want to see or did not wish to see. When they came out, my South African friends either loved or hated them.