An interview with the French curator Fannie Escoulen about her inventive exhibition that was shown at the inaugural Dubai Photo Exhibition. Her curated collection focused on self-portraiture.

In her words, “Some artists, such as Claude Cahun and Antoine d’Agata, have implemented various auto-fictions to ‘shape’ an artistic identity for themselves. The artists have taken themselves as the object of their work to invent a destiny, develop a new self-representation and, in turn, create a ‘fiction of events and facts that are strictly real.””

Managing Editor Alexander Strecker reached out to Escoulen to find out more:

LC: Can you introduce your exhibition program to our readers? What inspired you to put together this group of artists?

FE: I decided to work around one central theme: the question of self-fiction and self-portrait. This allowed me to assemble a group of artists, from historical icons like Hippolyte Bayard and Nadar, to contemporary figures such as Antoine d’Agata.

Self-portraiture has always been seen in the history of art and photography as an important matter for artists. “How to represent oneself faced to the world” is a crucial, fundamental question in so many ways.

By using their own identity, photographers address problems surrounding social, political, intimate, and religious subjects. It is of interest to me to see how, from a personal view, each of us can recognize themselves in the work of such artists.

LC: Photography is, at once, considered a source of truth and a document of the world and at the same time, a source of suspicion, manipulation (“photoshop!!”). How does your exhibition engage with this topic? How do fiction and reality intersect in photography?

FE: Hippolyte Bayard, one of the pioneers of photography, took the first staged picture in 1847. I felt that it was important to start my show with this picture, demonstrating how, already, at this period, photographers could manipulate reality, even with a portrait image.

The rest of my exhibition reflects on these questions: when photographers play with reality, when the viewer cannot determine what is true or false. Claude Cahun was one of the first female photographers to manipulate her identity, transforming her own aspect and giving doubt to the viewer.

I like the idea that making a self-portrait is often giving another image of yourself. So, of course, the question of fiction vs. reality is concurrent throughout this exhibition.

LC: The theme of the Dubai exhibition, overall, is to foster dialogue between photography in different countries around the world. How do you imagine that your exhibition can contribute to this conversation?

FE: I have chosen to work on a problematic theme; I imagine that each curator will have taken a different point of view in their exhibition. Some countries have more recent photography than others and it will be fascinating to confront these parallel time periods.

LC: LensCulture believes that photography is one of the most universal languages on the planet—do you agree? Can you say more?

FE: I certainly agree! Photography is probably one of the most accessible mediums—from documentary practices to more conceptual ones, each of us can feel emotions evoked through a photograph. This is even more apparent when we see children coming in to exhibitions and perfectly understanding the meaning of the images, without any explanation.

LC: In the past, we used to speak of local/regional photography styles—for example, the tradition of Japanese street photography or the history of French photoreportage. In today’s globalized world, do you think that such local specificities continue to exist? Or is there an emerging “international” style of photography that transcends local boundaries and erases these old distinctions?

FE: I do think that these traditional styles are tending to disappear, even if some “schools” continue to exist. For example, German photography has/had its own style and American photography as well…however, it is apparent to see that young generations of photographers (all over the world) are exploring and pushing on the possibilities of the medium, regardless of location.

This is probably due to the evolution and pervasion of digital technology. Since younger generations are so comfortable with these techniques, they feel less restricted and more willing to experiment. While a lot of things have been done in photography, now is a time to be even more inventive, creative, and expressive.

—Fannie Escoulen, interviewed by Alexander Strecker


Editors’ Note: The Dubai Photo Exhibition ran from March 16 - March 19, 2016 in the Dubai Design District (d3).