In partnership with Photomed Festival, LensCulture is pleased to present a series of preview articles highlighting various parts of the upcoming festival’s program. The festival will run from May 26 to June 19, 2016 in Sanary-sur-Mer in the south of France.
Also: if you would like to have a chance to exhibit your work at the festival (as well as in Beirut, Lebanon), learn more about their “Mediterranean Spirit” call for entries.
Eric Bourret was born in Paris in 1964. The work of this “artist walker” has been influenced by English land artists and landscape photographers. Since the start of the 1990s, he has been traveling the world on foot, over every kind of terrain and at every altitude, making images he sees as “experiences of walking, experiences of the visible”. He talks about the potential that walking represents for sensory and physical transformation: “It heightens one’s attention and receptiveness to landscape.”
Or, as Bourret says, “I’m made up of the landscapes I traverse, and which also traverse me. I see photographic images as receptacles of form, energy and sense.”
LC: What was your initial attraction to the subject of archaeological landscapes?
EB: A large part of my work as an adult is really the realization of my childhood dreams. Curiosity, knowledge and desire are intimately linked with this story. For a long time, I was pierced (like many of us) by the histories of the Mediterranean civilizations. Finally, I made a five-year ”Grand Tour” of these mythic places, animated by the desire to crystallize, photographically, my long-held fascination with these sites.
Thanks to Photomed, I was invited to “unearth” this work of my youth, which was begun 21 years ago. It was such a pleasure going through old contact sheets and the 6x6 black and white negatives—not to mention all the associated memories! It’s especially a joy because so many of these photographs have never been exhibited and their presentation at Photomed 2016 will be a first.
LC: One of the curators/organizers of Photomed, Philippe Serenon, described that you are not a documentarian, but instead in search of aesthetic and personal vibrations. Can you say more about this feeling from your perspective?
EB: Giza, Petra, even the city of Venice—these are all beautiful, catalyzing places, but also perilous for a photographer who would like to express something singular. After all, they are so iconic, in so many different ways, it’s hard to find an original vision.
For my work, I utilized intense, vibrant blacks to express myself. The light inundates a large number of the photos and, by working with the frame, confers a certain diverting gaze from our original expectations. Each subject—column; desert; arch—becomes a plastic body as well. The thing, reality, undergoes a physical transfer onto the sensitive surface of the image.
I like this ambiguity: it transforms the photographic image into something of a theatrical piece, a construct of the imagination. An experience of the landscape, yet modified.
For example, what happens, sensorially, when you photograph Saqqarah: you’re standing underneath the earth, in an ancient tomb, lit by a single, feeble lightbulb. Your camera and your skull slowly and simultaneously register their surroundings, over the course of 45 minutes. Steadily, the latent image and the accompanying “micro-events” appear. But this passage of time seems greatly reduced.
It’s the same as when you photograph the stars while your eyes habituate to the darkness of sky above…your experience modifies the landscape and vice versa.
LC: These days, the destruction of ancient sites in the Middle East is very much in the news. Considering that your work was begun many years before the recent conflicts, I imagine you have some thoughts on the subject…
EB: Well, I don’t live in the area and haven’t been there since 2006. I’m not a historian nor a political scientist or journalist. So I can only speak from my personal experiences. But, tragically, I have a number of friends who have died or are unaccounted for. Many people…
In better times, I had a thousand and one encounters there—meetings of great intensity, friendship and laughter. For example, my nighttime arrival in the city of Sana’a. The place was lit only by the multi-colored molten windows of the surrounding homes. A multitude of magic lanterns, but at the scale of an entire city.
Or another moment: my adoption, in the Yemeni mountains, by a roving group of warriors, each armed to the teeth, as if they stepped out of a Sergio Léone Western. Such gentleness and kindness!
Or the New Year’s Eve I passed on December 31, 1999. We spent the evening in the temple of Baalbek in Lebanon, and we were all alone. An unforgettable experience, so far from the madness and hand-wringing of the ”Y2K Bug“…So many stories amidst these ruins…
—Eric Bourret, interviewed by Alexander Strecker (originally in French, translated into English)