› Schwarzweiss - n°110 January 2016 / Le Temps des Grenadines
Interview with Patrick Brakowsky, Editor in Chief
P. B - As a photographer you took the route from artist´s portraits via social photography through to this very personal project “Le Temps des Grenadines”. What was the trigger to start this long-term project and tell this story about childhood, time and memory?
Unconsciously, the trigger was the birth of my first child, watching him grow and bringing him up. The series gradually crept inside me. Then it materialized, like a need to analyze my own background, childhood and past.
I thought about how I could, with the help of photography, tell a story both personal and universal. An intergenerational story evolving through past, present and future, with childhood as a common thread: a space time continuum very well suited to photography!
Those three periods are not airtight: situations, characters and chosen objects can move from one chapter to another thanks to their timelessness.
I realized very quickly that this series would be a long term issue. I would need to wait for my two sons to grow up to show the influence of time over things and people.
Three intentions for three periods and three chapters:
1: Our memory protects our childhood from the past and oblivion.
2: In the present, it is our children who bind us to our youth.
3: This childhood is what patterns our own future.
P. B - The series is a game of symbols, metaphors and dream-like sequences. Did you have these images in your mind before you took them on camera?
I have two ways of working.
First, in a creative and reflective spirit of mind, with a precise idea for every situation I am to photograph. Finding a place fitting my idea is essential. I go on location several times to study the light changes. I have a predefined idea of what I expect from the model, who, for this series, is mainly my son. Nevertheless, I remain open to his suggestions and I wait for chances to bring me interesting opportunities. This exchange between me and my son enhances the present moment, thus the chapter heading: “Nous Sommes” ("We Are") the object photographs enable us to travel across the three periods. I am influenced by cinema, literature, and of course by my personal experience. Most of the photographs come from this first approach.
The second approach consists in seeking other happenings or places related to childhood, possibly leading to more photographs. In these situations, I follow my instinct, and lie in wait for an appropriate moment, to add a new picture to my story.
Although seemingly opposed, when these two approaches are associated, they produce, in this series, a coherent set.
P. B - Most of the images were taken outside in the woods, at a lake or other places that seem to be far away from urban centers. What part did nature play in your own childhood and what does it mean to you today?
If I were taking photographs in urban zones, this series would soon lose its freshness and its timelessness. Cities change very quickly. Buildings, cars, clothes and technologies mark a period of time.
Going back to my childhood, I grew up in a small town. So my relationship to nature is mostly connected to my summer holidays memories, toan idea of family bliss in this conducive period. Some threatening shadows nevertheless float over this series...
Coming back to today, I've been living in Paris for thirty years. This work in countryside and forest surroundings is a way out, a breather, a tribute, and probably a regret of being so rarely among natural elements.
P. B - Although this is a very personal work you capture some universal topics that most people can relate to in a certain way. What kind of reactions do you get from the audience?
Reactions to my work can be contradictory, but I like being told if it arouses a new feeling. I never caption my photographs, thus leaving room for freedom for the spectator. Some photographs have a particular meaning in the story of my life, and if I'm asked to give explanations, I do. Nevertheless, the notion of mystery is important to me. A photograph that asks questions is remembered longer. An exhibited piece of work must win back its independence. Each spectator is different: his past, his cultural background, his scars, his joys, his life, make him interpret and feel in a way that is his own.
So I do hope that my photographs raise questions and provoke debates.
Surprisingly, my pictures trigger opposite feelings: they are hard and tormented for some, sweet and nostalgic for others. Our childhood belongs to us...
P. B - One recurring element of the series is the mask. What function does it have in your story?
The masks enable me to prevent my face from ageing, so that it travels across time without any alteration, and remains eternally young. In the three chapters, according to the different periods, thanks to this accessory I become my sons and they becomes me. The interpretations are multiple. Like in certain rituals, it enables the representation of someone else, a change of personality. The choice of the mask depends on the feelings I want to express. A "masked" photography translates mystery and anxiety. The white mask photograph reproduced in this folio is the only photograph of the series taken indoors. It is important and is a conclusion to the sixty photographs. It was taken at an aged cousin's house, where I played a lot as a child. This house had been abandoned for 35 years. I'd never gone back there until the day of the shooting. It was demolished two weeks later. My entire childhood was waiting for me behind that door, for a farewell. The white masked face is its ghost, dehumanized by time, and smoothed by oblivion.
P. B - You said in an interview that this series is not about nostalgia. Is it rather a feeling of timelessness that you want to emote?
The feeling of nostalgia is probably due to the use of black and white, to the choice of the printing process in a dark room and of the shooting material. I don’t regret the past, nor am I sad. I'm fascinated by time scale: past, present, future. I have a lot of admiration for Philip K. Dick, a social science fiction writer for whom one of the favorite themes is the influence of time over beings and objects. It is impossible to be nostalgic over the present or the future!
My work is about playing with the passing of time. Time flows over man and his memories, but not over his environment. It is an interesting contradiction. I won't exist anymore, my sons won't exist anymore nor their children, but this natural environment, even if it is different, will still be there. I choose situations expressing games and simple values in a natural environment. Water, for instance, is an important element: when in contact with it, children, adults, and elderly people feel the same universal and timeless sensations.
P. B - Technically you are dedicated to analogue black and white photography whereby you mix the high end Hasselblad and Pentax medium format quality with rather unpredictable low end Holga cameras. Which camera did you use for which situations?
Until now, I've always worked in analogue.
Following the "Temps des Grenadines", I started a new series on adolescence, "Fire Game", in digital and color. That's a major turn in my approach, because with the analogue, I entirely control the production of my photographs, without any help or outside influence. With digital, I will have to step down on the printing process.
As far as photography material is concerned, I don't have any precise rules, I choose it according to technical constraints. The Holga have the advantage of being very light. I use them for quick shootings. Their specific rendering illustrates very well blurred memory and the approximation of recollections. They tend to take us back to our dreams of the past.
For landscapes, I prefer using the Pentax 6x7. It enables to change the sometimes too narrow compositions of the square format. But because of its weight, it's impossible for me to go hiking with it!
As for the Hasselblad, it enables me to get as close as possible to my subject.
When I choose my material, I also think of the printing format I'll be doing in the dark room. Because I still work with film.
› Réponses Photo Hors-Série- n°11 November 2010 / Le Temps des Grenadines
Interview with Jean-Christophe Béchet, Editor in Chief
J-C. B - Why is the set called "Le Temps des Grenadines"?
When I was a kid, grenadine meant for us Sunday’s refreshment and it was also a synonymous for family outing. Nowadays, despite the large diversity of drinks, my sons still drink grenadine with water. It is a timeless drink which symbolizes childhood.
J-C. B - A timeless cycle also linked to a period of life, childhood…
The 3 chapters are voluntarily timeless thanks to the use of the outside natural element and the use of black and white. They are subject to time variation through details. As a result, they describe an unfailing value for time and generations such as games, flavor, sensations, behaviors, beliefs, and emotions. The entire set is made of about sixty pictures. The set has been evolving for the last six years and I hope to close it by editing a book when the grenadine glasses will be definitely empty.
J-C. B - Was working with black and white an obvious choice?
Whatever the subject, my personal work has always been in black and white. It is my vision of the world and my passion for photography is based on it too. My bookshelves mainly consist of black and white photography books. I’m 50 years old and I grew up with black and white TV. It has had a cultural and sociological influence on my photographic approach. It is also a way for me to produce my pictures from the beginning to the end and to be the unique interpreter of the light, contrast and tone of my prints. Contrary to what one might think, black and white is not a vision of the past. Contemporary authors renew photographic writing with talent.
J-C. B - Do you print yourself?
Yes and I really seek the unique interpretation of an image. For a photo limited to 15 copies, I try to shade differently the masking of each one. This is the difference with limited series produced by machinery. Eventually, the only concession I would make is to go beyond a 40x50cm format. I don’t have the necessary logistic to produce it so if necessary I would rely on a professional printer who would understand my requirements.
J-C. B - How do you work to sell your prints? (Which sales channel? Are your prints numbered?
My pictures are limited to 15 copies, all of them printed by myself, signed and numbered. They are treated with selenium to improve conservation. Thanks to Dominique Charlet, who represents me, I will exhibit for the 2nd consecutive year at the Pyngiao International festival in China. This year it was “le temps des grenadines” on a theme of connivance.
J-C. B - Your work leaves a great margin for chance and photographic accidents. Can you talk about this appeal for imperfection?
I take some of my pictures instinctively and randomly. In these situations, I use a low end Holga camera that has unpredictable and oniric results that I have learned to tame with time. I like this risk-taking, the uncertainty of the results and the excitement of the discovery. Of course, there are some disappointments, but we need luck and imperfection to energize our lives. The wearing of time and light is also a good definition of the presence of these accidents in my work. Others sessions are prepared with a precise idea, a choice of situation and place. On theses cases, the Hasselbald and Pentax 67 are my partners.
J-C. B - Isn’t there a part of nostalgia in your work? Do you claim it?
I am not nostalgic. I may regret at the most the beautiful summer evenings of my Grenadine youth. Those were the 70s, full of hope. Today, the future of our children is a lot les simple to consider. If "Le Temps des Grenadines" inspires a nostalgic mood, why not, but it is more than anything the description of a set of values that we must keep through time slipping by.
J-C. B - Which photographers have marked you? Who do you feel close to?
My first passion is Henri Cartier Bresson, particularly until 1936 before he created Magnum: the surrealist period. With regards to portraits, Richard Avedon and Auguste Sander have always fascinated me. Some books have marked me more than entire Works of a photographer. "New York 54-55" from William Klein or "Mala Noche" from Antoine D’Agata. I also discovered the marvelous "Sound of running summer" from Raymond Meeks.I would also named: Keith Carter, Magaret M Delange, Juan Manuel Castro Prietro, Debbie Flemming Cafery, Mickael Ackerman and above all Klavdij Sluban for the purity of the silence in his image.