For all my Azerbaijan friends! A great interview in Publika Magazine!
It is always a pleasure to talk about my work and my artistic philosophy with a journalist.
And for some years now, the Azerbaijani press has been asking me for many interviews. I am very happy about it because I loved my trip there and I took a lot of pictures.
Thanks to the great journalist Leyla Sarabi for his interesting questions.
Click on the pics below to read it:
The interview is in Azerbaijani but here is the translation for those who, like me, do not speak this language:
1)Are you a detail oriented person?
I think that if you don't have a sense of detail, you can't be an artist!
It is important for me to scan everything around me, because it is in the details that you give intensity to an artistic work.
I like to have different things to look at in my images. It makes it less boring!
The details and the message are important.
2)Where do you find meaning in your life?
That's a good question and I admit I've been thinking about it a lot for the past few years.
The meaning of life.
My place in this life.
I am an artist and my life is about that: traveling and looking at the world, cultures, people, what we do with our planet, meeting people who enrich me inside, and capturing moments.
It's also about stopping time! A photo is an image that doesn't move, but inside, we see a whole world that swarms, that abounds, that vibrates! The life!
I want to freeze time, because it scares me. It passes too quickly.
Yesterday, I was still 20 years old and my head was full of dreams. And today, I am already 52. It's so fast after all.
3)Is suffering a necessary part of the human condition?
It is an interesting philosophical question, but so complicated.
We can't say that we have to suffer to live, but we are obliged to note that suffering is part of our lives.
Misery is everywhere on the planet and people don't have enough to eat, others see their country enter into wars that we don't always understand, and people die. You have experienced this not long ago in Azerbaijan and I know that your people have suffered. And now, with the pandemic, many people have lost their jobs too! Why do all these human beings have to suffer? It is unfair and it makes me want to scream.
What would life be without suffering? Would we be happier or would we become spoiled, capricious children?
I think we are crazy. Human beings are crazy. There is no other animal species on earth as crazy as ours because we create our own suffering by constantly fighting, by polluting the oceans and the air we breathe, by going further and further into inhumanity just to have more in our pocket than our neighbor.
We can't say that we have to suffer to live, but we are forced to admit that suffering is part of our lives.
4)What would people who never suffered be like?
As I said, I don't think they would be happier in the end. I think they would be more unaware of the realities of life.
Without having suffered, is it really possible to experience the most intense feelings? I don't think so.
When I was 20, I thought that to be an artist, you had to suffer. To be a cursed artist, who cries, who screams his art, who plays his life in each of his works.
At 40, I said to myself that finally, no! That one had to be happy in order to create serenely, and that art needed to breathe. That an artist was at his best when he managed to be stable, to have a healthy life.
Today, I understood that all this is bullshit.
An artist suffers, that's how it is. You want to find the secrets of life, and stop time. One seeks to make his masterpiece! One wants to become immortal.
An artist, it screams, it lives too fast, it cries of despair, it creates extreme emotions because it is from that that great works of art are born! Not from happiness!
Happiness has finally something boring. Art is sweat and tears, blood and screams, sex and punches in the soul!
5)Among your works, which one is your favorite? Why?
It is difficult to say... The most moving experience is the one I lived in Cambodia with a French association "Toutes à l'école".
I was asked to go to a place where this association had created a sanctuary for little girls who had been orphaned or whose fate had been dramatic (father having murdered their mother, child prostitution networks...) about 40 km from Phnom Penh.
Several schools, a boarding school, and all the children's schooling taken care of by the association.
When I arrived, the children seemed distant, but that was normal! After all, I was an unknown European man in their eyes. Little by little, they understood that I was nice and I started to take pictures of life in the classrooms, the playground, during meals, etc.
And they played with the lens, making jokes, laughing, and giving me beautiful pictures full of newfound joy and hope for the future.
Then, I would say that my experiences in Africa with endangered species, like lions or gorillas, are also important to me.
There, you can't cheat with animals. There are rules to respect and, above all, to remain humble before their majesty.
But my photos of lions or gorillas are important to me because I was alone in front of the beauty of our world.
And I tell myself that my children's children might not have the chance to see these animals in the wild, like I did.
6)Tell us about your impressions about Azerbaijan.
I loved Azerbaijan! I went there for the first time in June 2019, invited by the French association "Les amis de l'Azerbaïdjan" and Mrs. Mirvari Fataliyeva who presides over the House of Azerbaijan, in Paris, and who does a beautiful job to promote her country.
"Les amis de l'Azerbaïdjan", presided by the French senator Jean-François Mancel, a great friend of Azerbaijan, is an association whose aim is to promote Azerbaijani culture, to make it known to the French, and to reinforce exchanges, whether they are tourist, cultural or commercial.
I knew little about the country. And I was amazed to discover so much beauty!
The mud volcanoes of Gobustan, the mountains of the Caucasus, Shaki, the beaches of the Caspian Sea, and then Baku and its rich architecture!
I love Baku. I would love to come back and stay for a while to really discover this incredible city in all its details.
And then, what I liked most of all, was the welcome of the population. What kindness from the people!
I was able to talk and exchange with many people, deputies when I was invited to the Azerbaijani Parliament, shopkeepers in Baku, and even quite by chance, with the Azerbaijani Paralympic archery team, which was training in Shaki!
They let me try their bows and I took some pictures of them. It was a great time with great athletes.
I believe that Azerbaijanis have a sense of hospitality and sharing, and are very eager to see more Western tourists.
On a personal note, I am very eager to come back to your country and continue to take pictures to promote it in the West, as I have been doing for the past two years. My photos and the articles I have written have been published in France, the Netherlands, Great Britain, the United States, and I have exhibited these photos in several countries, such as Portugal, Norway, Holland, in Paris, etc.
I would love to be invited by the Azerbaijani Ministry of Culture to work together on this project! If the Minister reads your article, I would be glad if he contacts me!
7)Is corona change your life?
Yes, the corona has changed my life.
First of all, because most of my exhibitions and lectures in 2020 were cancelled or postponed.
Of course, I still did 7 or 8 exhibitions around the world, but that's not enough for me.
And I lost a lot of money because if I don't exhibit, I sell a lot less!
And then I was living in the Netherlands and I moved to Paris, France, my hometown.
My life has changed too because I don't travel like I used to. The borders are blocked, there is this virus that prevents us from living normally.
My last trip was 8 months ago, to Estonia, Latvia and Finland! I never stayed so long without crossing a border, so I can't wait to do it again!
8)Whose work has influenced you most?
I don't know if I can say that one photographer or another has influenced me. Again, as a self-taught person, I never had to sit through dogmatic classes where I was told what was good and what was not.
I learned photography on my own, without worrying too much about what was out there.
But after a few years, I felt the need to perfect my photographic culture by going to museums, galleries, opening books.
And I felt close to many artists, naturally.
For me, there is one goddess that I place above all others, and that is Diane Arbus.
I love her powerful and raw work. She didn't try to be "pretty". Only authenticity mattered to her.
I love her portraits of people on the bangs of society, far from the easy way out or fashion.
In this, I feel close to his work because I too have photographed "marginal" or rather "marginalized" groups, like the IRA soldiers in Belfast, the gypsies in the south of France, or my current work on the Drag Queens in Europe, for example.
I could also mention Irving Penn, whose sense of portraiture I love, Vivian Maier for her street photography, David Seymour, so sensitive, and of course Helmut Newton for his elegant eroticism.
And then, if I had to talk about one color photographer, it would be William Egglestone.
I love his testimony on American society over several decades, his totally natural cinematographic sense of framing, and his garish colors. The art of simplicity. He could open a trash can, take a picture without even looking, and come out with a pure masterpiece...
9)Describe your life after coronavirus...
After the Corona virus, my life will go back to the way it was before. No... Better than before!
Because I'm hungry for freedom, for work, for travel, for meetings!
But honestly, I don't want to wait for this pandemic to end.
I have a big solo exhibition starting on May 3rd, until June 30th, in Paris, and I just published a book about my work around the corona.
I would like to do an exhibition in Baku, too!
It would be a nice meeting between the public, this country that I love, and my work...