My aim is to photograph cinemas in city centres throughout the world. With the arrival of video and television, the very existence of these cinemas is under threat. I started the project in West Africa where, with the exception of Burkina Faso, nearly every country has seen its cinemas close down one after the other.
A cinema is made up of a screen in canvas, plastic, or even in concrete (and not always painted white either !), and of a projection room. Its architecture is governed by optics. Television tends to provide a cold and solitary emotional experience, whereas cinema provides the warmth of shared emotion. Each has its own character : « Ciné-Oubri » is an outdoor cinema in Ouagadougou ; « La Roma » is small, intimate and modest and is the only cinema in Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic ; « The Liberty » is a large and noisy cinema in Mumbai, swarming with crowds that make it hard to even get in the door.
Once the lights have gone down (or the sun has set over an open air cinema), the screen bathes the viewer in its glow. The rectangle becomes a bustling horizon where your imagination is invited to roam. Bathing in this unnatural light, the audience lives and breathes the story that is told in 24 images per second. The screen is then forgotten, and only the story remains.
Photography also comes to life with light. But cinema is the art of the moving picture, as well as a space shared by the audience. When the dialogue involves on-screen and off-screen shots, everyone is present in the audience’s minds, even when all the characters can’t be seen. A decision in photography however is final : off-screen no longer exists. The static image is a means of commemorating and celebrating the heritage of cinema. Of becoming attached to the people who work there, the audiences that fill them and of showing their architecture. Of capturing this part of our lives that is under threat.
The cinema defines the neighbourhood it is in as much as the neighbourhood defines the cinema. When a cinema closes down, the whole soul of the neighbourhood is amputated. Producing a body of work on cinemas contributes to the refusal of this fate. Bearing witness to this loss helps the memory live on, even if it is only in the mind of what was once the audience. Photography provides not only a visual record, but stirs up memories of a time in the past, of a cinema that has closed down. This helps us understand that memory doesn’t film, but it photographs.