I met French artist Christophe Pouget www.christophepouget.com through Emmanuel Fremin of Emmanuel Fremin Gallery in New York. Emmanuel asked me to interview Christophe as part of his upcoming solo show. I checked out his website, loved it and Christophe and I started chatting. Enjoy …
MICHAEL: Hello Christophe! I love your work. First of all, why do you like photography so much as a medium? What do photography and assemblages allow you to do?
CHRISTOPHE: Hello Michael, thank you very much for the interest you have toward my work! Well, I was a few years ago art director in different advertising agencies in Paris and I often worked with photographers to realize advertising projects. I have loved working with those more or less important teams made of decorators, models, hairdressers, meeting the same creative project. I was the director coordinating their work and gradually watching the project becoming real. Create an image to transmit an idea or a message was very exciting!
And time went by, I became a freelance graphic designer - established now in Lyon - and I detached from this universe and turned toward reporting photography which corresponds better to my personal aspirations.
My work of assemblages was born about five years ago of a desire to experiment new visual territories. There are so many talented photographers who have strong and sensitive work that I wanted to find a different and personal angle. A picture represents an instant. It is a characteristic of photography, so through my assemblages, I had the power to capture, to gather several time spaces in a single picture. I have always loved to tell stories, first when I was an art director and after that, with my kids when they were children. So this technique appears to me naturally. I am inspired by the photographic work of the painter David Hockney. He was recomposing with the 80's portraits and life scenes with Polaroids and photos.
MICHAEL: Yes, assemblages allow artists to capture more than one moment and tell a more complete story. Does this technique work better with human portraits or cityscapes or pictures of the countryside?
CHRISTOPHE: In fact, I work the three with the same approach, but all is a question of time. Concerning portraits, I need a period of time between ten minutes to maximum one hour; ten minutes when I meet people in the street and they don't have so much time to give me. To the opposite, when it's a thoughtful and prepared project, I usually need less than one hour to realize the series of images. This will allow me to compose the portrait. What I like in portraits is the speed of realization and also the short time to compose them (one or two days) compared to the landscapes. Also the fact that we all have multiple ways to be unique, so why should portraits be only one side of our personality? People are generally relaxed during the shooting because they know I will not keep a single image that could displease them.
Concerning the cityscapes, I have projects started two or three years ago, but they are places where the architecture evolves - construction sites - and therefore they are not completed. For most cityscapes, time spent taking pictures varies from several days to several weeks, even several months, depending on if I'm in a photographic journey or if the place is accessible regularly.
If it’s pictures in the countryside, the seasons are important and usually I'll wait until all cycles are spent. To capture the characteristics of each season, the realization takes at least one year. The more I advance on my work the more I enjoy working the cityscapes because I like to mix architecture and characters, create an interaction between the site and the people.
MICHAEL: Most artists take single pictures and treat one photo as if it's complete by itself. Do you ever take a photo and think that it doesn't need to be in an assemblage and can stand alone as complete?
CHRISTOPHE: Yes of course, I don't think always through assemblages. They are an important part of my work, but I am also working on a series of photos on various themes in which I try to find the right alchemy between characters, space and light. I love the moment in which I realize that I have a made a good picture, it is a very strong feeling.
MICHAEL: I would think that the work you do is almost like painting except you paint and move around bits and pieces of images on a computer. Photography has changed a lot, No?
CHRISTOPHE: You are completely right. The pictures I take are from a painter's palette. When I chose a place, I first look at its position relative to the movement of the sun (at the time of location shoots, I never separate myself from my compass), to know the path and thus the impact it will have on the architecture or landscape. The intensity of light varies according to the hours of the day. It gives birth to a multitude of changing colors, reflections, shadows. This is all of the information I'm trying to capture in order to understand how the place will live and evolve throughout the day.
Digital photography has revolutionized the course of things. There is now much talk of Digital Art. It is a broad debate and the field of possibilities is enormous. As far as I'm concerned, the major advantage is that it gives me the ability to take an unlimited number of pictures. These digital images that I can see easily on my computer are the raw material for my work. Conversely, I appreciate the manual work of art. I practiced silk screen printing and collage and before the advent of computers, I was composing my works using cuttings, photocopies, I also drew typographies. For my assemblages, I needed to take some distance from the computer. I have set, strict rules and always proceed according to a strict code of ethics. I only use my images, never play with filters, I frame and cut them only in squares or rectangles and if I don't like it, I search for another way.
MICHAEL: Where are you exactly? Paris? Lyon? Does the city inspire you? I've never been to France, but I see it as a giant outdoor museum and lovely place, full of art, highly-cultured people and great food. Is that an American stereotype?
CHRISTOPHE: I lived and worked in Paris in the 90's, but I am established now in Lyon for 18 years. I had loved living and working in Paris when I was young and single, l had at first a maids room in an old and awesome Haussmanien buliding, a small room accessible by seven tiny stairways. I had youth and energy to discover Paris and its wealth.
It is truly an outdoor museum, rich of cultural history, but also one of the best places to see cultural events such as shows at the theatre, exhibitions and concerts. I decided to move to Lyon to become a free lancer and start a family with a better quality of life compared to the bustling city that is Paris. Lyon, the third largest city after Paris and Marseille is also a very rich cultural place. It still has an important architectural heritage from Roman times (it was former capital of the Gauls in the Roman Empire) to the 20th Century through the Renaissance. Several neighborhoods are on the World Heritage List of UNESCO. Lyon is the capital of gastronomy and there are a lot of small restaurants called Bouchons where you can eat great French cuisine for a very low price in a very friendly and nice atmosphere. It is also the second student city in France giving it a real youth dynamism and for a decade, electronic music festivals, the Biennial of Contemporary Art have managed to change the bourgeois spirit that was there a few years ago. Both of these cities are inspiring to me for sure. I’ve done several assemblages of them, but I think that I need for my process to be confronted by the unknown. I need to discover and learn by myself how new places resonate and live, meet and talk to people of different cultures so I can capture and understand those places. It can be either city or landscapes that I see for the first time, either in Lyon, Paris, New York or anywhere else. As soon as I can start a story, I can relate to an atmosphere.
MICHAEL: Some people think Parisians are rude. Why do you think they think this? I don't want to believe this because I have a very romantic view of Paris and all of France, but I have heard people say these things. Are they wrong?
CHRISTOPHE: No, they are true, definitely and unfortunately true. Most Parisians are stressed and always in a hurry, so tourists think they are pretentious and arrogant. Moreover, Parisians are not concerned with tourists, so when tourists arrive, they come with a romantic image and they cannot imagine an aggressive and indifferent welcoming, but when you know Parisians, speak the same language, you can get in touch with them and so you do not feel the same way as tourists. I've got lots friends living in Paris so I don't feel the same. Paris is such a beautiful city that you forget Parisians and for sure Michael you will enjoy a romantic journey. And you can also easily find hospitality and warmth anywhere else in France!
MICHAEL: What have your assemblages taught you about time? Do you feel you have enough time? Is time on your side? Does time go too fast or too slow?
CHRISTOPHE: I am fortunate to be independent for almost 20 years. It's a status that is not always very comfortable, the work is often cyclical, periods of doubt or loss of confidence are recurrent, but the sense of freedom that I feel to manage my time is a very valuable thing. I have time, but time goes quickly when you've got a lot to do! Comparing to others as I work at home I can make several very different things happen in a day (work on my projects, having a meeting, looking after my children, have sport or a walk in the nature with my dog, talk to my neighbors when I meet them, etc.), it is very appreciable.
My assemblages have taught me that we must learn to stop in our daily lives and feel things around us. Change the rhythm of our lives in small ways to discover life anew. Many beautiful things are around us as long as you pay attention. I'm rather contemplative, however it requires time, but it brings me great joy and serenity and it often allows me to reach more reality on questions in a deeper manner.
Time goes so fast! Take your time, look around you, have a break, consider things and human beings differently! That's what I'd like to tell to people who live in our cities and no longer take the time to look at the beautiful things they face every day and they do not even see. I think that it could give them positive feelings.
MICHAEL: Isn't it amazing how photography has grown in the past few years? Everyone has a camera on their cellphone. What do you consider the difference between taking pictures and true art photography?
CHRISTOPHE: Yes it is, we have never made so many photos, we have never shared so much either. To me, it opened the way for the expression of a new photographic style, the one of the "mobile" photo taken with a smartphone that allows in many cases to bring more spontaneity and greater intimacy with the subject . It allows everyone to produce content or to stage his/her life. This added to the instant sharing on social networks helps to create a new form of photography. I think this movement is complementary to the so-called, traditional photography.
But I think these people do not carry out a photographic work with real development. The pictures are not the result of a real job. These are often pictures without great interest and retouched with a range of filters (Instagram). There is no more selection of photos, any camera shot becomes presentable with this application. Where's the pleasure? The moment of interior victory when an authentic picture is successful has disappeared.
We cannot now dismiss these new modes of photographic expression. And this is not because there is democratization that we must be less demanding. Let's be just curious and excited to see that photography continues to evolve and offer us new eyes. I believe that all art tools, materials, methods, materials may be used, so it all depends on the relevance of the subjects and the emotions they convey.
MICHAEL: Do you come from an artistic family? When did you become an artist? What's your first memory of art?
CHRISTOPHE: No Michael, I do not come from an artistic family. I was raised in a family of doctors, a more rational world! But I grew up in contact with art because my father was a great lover of painting and antiques. As a child, I often accompanied him in his research. I remember very well in these sheds were stored all kinds of miscellaneous objects from different times, it was something magical and the idea was to find treasures!
My artistic culture, I rather acquired by myself at 20 years old when I arrived in Paris to start working then after with my wife Marie. We have this passion and we love to visit all kinds of exhibitions in France or when traveling abroad. I have not done art school. It was not in family projects, I'm rather an autodidact. Deep within me, I always felt the need to create. I have several times tried painting, as abstract and figurative, but I found the report to the paint so hard. Several times late at night after working several hours, I was not satisfied. I wanted to destroy my work, go to burn it in my backyard. This introspection created very strong feelings. It was very stressful and not satisfying for me. So I gave my brushes to my children who have made a much better use.
For a few years, I also did illustrations based on collages, I exposed my work a few times and sold most of my creations, but it was more like a hobby. Really photography has always been part of my life. I have always held the social role of the one that is photography. It has involved my friends, my family, our travels, the weddings, probably for my attachment to the memory of the moment, but also as a necessary extension of myself.
I think I became an artist when I decided to do it 100% about five years ago by gradually abandoning my income-generating activities. It was a dangerous, but necessary act because I wanted to immerse myself fully and making it occasionally was not possible. I needed to produce, to know fully. Today produce, to know...d make, I'd like to share my life and balance between my art photography and reporting and my teaching job in graphic design.
MICHAEL: Wouldn't your life be better and richer if you had become a doctor? Why art? As a great doctor, can't you help a lot of people and make a lot of money and live in high society at the same time? Isn't the artistic life so uncertain and unreliable?
CHRISTOPHE: I don't think so. My life journey has always been directed towards creation and art. I can say that I'm lucky to do what I love and I was always encouraged by my wife who has more conventional work. I have no regrets and my choices have not always been driven by money. Life can be rich in different ways, even if you are not a doctor. I believe the important thing is to be aware of others. Openness to others is an everyday consciousness. And to equilibrate the uncertain and unreliable artistic life, it is important to find other jobs to balance. Teaching is the one I choose because exchange and transmission of knowledge is very gratifying.
MICHAEL: Finally Christophe, what do you want the world to understand about you when they see your work? Also, why should people care about art?
CHRISTOPHE: I may be someone like a witness of the time trying to collect the poetry of things. Art is part of human life. It brings people together and raises emotions that make us feel alive.
MICHAEL: Thanks Christophe. This has been great. Stay warm in Lyon!
CHRISTOPHE: Thanks to you Michael. It has been a great pleasure to chat with you and think a little further.
Check out Christophe Pouget at www.christophepouget.com.