The Prix Levallois is an international prize aimed at celebrating young, talented photographers under the age of 35 years. Each year, one winner is rewarded with a €10,000 endowment and a special exhibition at a gallery outside of Paris.
We caught up with last year’s winner, Tom Callemin, to learn more about his work and the effect that the prize had on his budding career. Read on to discover the unusual artistic practices of a distinctive artist.
LC: Can you introduce your project “Index”? What first attracted you to the subject and how did your idea develop as you worked?
TC: “Index” is not to be seen as a final project or finished series—it’s an ongoing work that keeps on changing. Every photograph becomes a new story and the works can be combined or taken as individuals. Even the title, “Index” isn’t really a title—I had to give this “thing” a name, and since it’s an index of different pictures, well…
When I started this work, I just wanted to make a single picture. Of a house at night. Then, a few months later, I saw some pictures from an arrest and new images popped into my mind. I’m always determined to make photographs from the latent images in my head.
Over the course of four years, the images kept on coming and finally, I had a collection of them. I began to see links between the separate pictures. For example, I realized that I tend to stage my work rather than looking for subjects in reality. I’m captivated by the idea of making a “perfect fiction”—that looks like reality.
LC: On your website, I was surprised to see that besides “Index,” the only other projects listed were titled “Portrait #1” through “Portrait #4.” What drives your fascination with portraiture? What questions are you trying to “answer” in this related series?
TC: My portrait work is derived from a fascination with the influence that a photographer has on his subject. The questions I’m examining are, “What happens in this meeting?” and “What does it mean to take a picture of someone?”
In the first two projects, I tried to make a sincere portrait of a person without me taking part in this situation. I didn’t want to influence the model. I wanted to be out of the frame. So I took pictures, with a flash, in complete darkness. The models couldn’t see me at all.
Later, I asked performers if I could take their picture when they were caught up in their performances. I hoped to catch them at a moment when they were focused on their own physical experience rather than their appearance. But eventually, I was forced to conclude that no matter what, the model always poses in some way for the photographer…
So, this led me to try the complete opposite: I created projects where I would have as much influence on the model as possible. I hoped this could show something more sincere. For example, I shot a project with hundreds of pictures in 10 minutes, using a harsh flash. Then, I let my models sit motionless for 40 minutes, looking for something behind their pose.
What links all of my work is that I try to make the invisible visible using the medium of photography.
Whether I’m using color or black-and-white, I’m fascinated by the tension between seeing and hiding. I continue to take photographs of situations that haunt me—and try to evoke some sort of emotion in the viewer.
LC: In the same year, you were selected as a FOAM Talent and for the Prix Levallois. What can you say about the importance of prizes as a way to begin a career as a photographer? What did they mean for you?
TC: The attention that my work received gave me confidence to make new works. Along the way, I had many conversations with other people about my photography, which helped make my own thinking clearer.
Most of all, winning a large grant, like the Prix Levallois, gave me freedom. Freedom, which is probably the most important thing of all as a young artist.
—Tom Callemin, interviewed by Alexander Strecker
Editors’ Note: You can learn more about the Prix Levallois on their website, available in both French and English.