Philippe Lavialle: French Photographer and teacher of Visual Arts
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by Christian Roustan (Kikroune)
I have admired your photographic work for several years Philippe; could you describe your work and introduce yourself in a few words to those who will discover it today?
I started with photography when I was 17 years old, through sports photography and portraits, then photographs of nature, wild animals and insects — because I was an entomologist from a young age on! It had been already my desire to photograph these little creatures, to portray them, when I was 15 or 16 years old. But, alas, I didn’t have the means.
Beginning in 1974, I studied three years at a school of photography and audiovisual media to become a professional photographer and director. Meanwhile, I was taking courses in drawing and painting, and I began taking my first nudes.
After 1977, I began to work for the Documentation des Musées de France, an organization attached to the Louvre. A place at the Ecole polytechnique allowed me to start almost immediately in what at the time was called “computer images”... In the second half of the ’80s, out of interest, I turned to the production of scientific images at that same institution.
At the same time, since 1979, I have carried out creative work and produced personal and collective exhibitions in France and abroad… Most recently, in 2012, I presented several works at the “Art Revolution Taipei” in Taiwan.
Who are the photographers / artists who most inspired you during your career?
I had the opportunity to have many influences that played a significant role in my evolution and development, and that is due to meeting excellent photographers, especially during the first half of the ’80s. First, Andreas Müler-Pohle, who I was following in 1982 in his workshop at the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie in Arles. He was a very demanding, German instructor, and at the time, I needed that in order to progress. I was a bit lost, and still far too locked in to the technical performance demanded by my recent professional apprenticeship! He taught me to detach myself, and to go elsewhere. That same year, I was also working with the famous American photographer Barbara Crane, who is also an outstanding teacher, and who I’ve always liked immensely! , In 1983, the following influences were of importance: Alain Fleig, a French instructor who I met in Paris at Studio 666; a photography theoretician and critic, and editor and teacher at Paris VII. He propelled me, during several years of very rich exchange, to a more thoughtful and thorough approach to my personal photographic work. Finally, I believe that I ought to talk about the American Marc Power, who I met also in Arles in 1983. He later brought me a long way in the formulation of my own approach to pedagogy,as did the French philosopher François Soulages, and Jean-Claude Lemagny, the general curator of prints at the BNF, an enthusiast and lover of photography, who I would see from time to time in the Bibliothèque Nationale àParis, as I would Roland Fischer a bit later and some others as well.
In terms of painting, many influences have also helped to shape me... And I will not speak here of contemporary music or electro-acoustic experiences, for which I have some affinities.
Over the course of your diverse career in photography, you have completed numerous projects in the scientific as well as artistic domain. Is there one in particular, which has brought you more satisfaction, and why?
I can probably say that my first sets of contact sheets, made over a very long period in the ’80s, with my favourite model Pha-lê, are great memories for me. Memories of the pleasure that I had, rightly, at discovering the laboratory and then at constructing the sequences of Movements de Jupes (Movements of Skirts) that we were making in the beginning. Totally extravagant sequences compared to what I was doing professionally!
I think at that time, my model and I shared this pleasure and confidence that propelled us forward and allowed us to invest and continually enrich our work with new photographic experiences. It had been a very, very rich and exciting time. I hope to be able to make a retrospective book one day, about all this work accumulated over those twenty years of sharing, for we were living in true sharing.
How would you define — in a few key points — “creation”?
The artist develops and builds up with the intention of deepening and improving the very foundations of who he is in himself: he builds himself. Being an artist is a life-long task, one that can be deeply challenging at times, but also very often rewarding! There is something unfathomable in creation, when it is developed by a clearly poetic mind, because it is the same that is being recorded there!
You teach photography at the most prestigious engineering schools in France. What are you trying to prioritize passing on to your students?
Some listened to me and came back to see me several years after their studies. They had since become entrepreneurs and told me that they had done so — and that it worked. I was delighted, of course, because they had successfully transposed their artistic experiences and personal photography to their own fields.
What advice would you give to someone starting out in photography?
Currently, you can see how photography often attracts ardent enthusiasts, precisely because of the ease that digital technology offers to everyone. However it does not give to photographers what it takes to make this art.
The majority of your work is in black and white. Is there a particular reason for this?
With digital, it’s very different from the traditional film I mentioned above: we can do absolutely everything ourselves. It’s really fabulous, but at the same time it leads to extravagances if we have fun with colour in a way that is too free. Unfortunately this does not serve the photographs, since a photograph must be simple in order to convey an essence. That is where the difficulty lies.
You’re still very attached to film photography. In your opinion, what is unique in silver film that we cannot recreate digitally?
What interests me is the silver process, and I have always maintained that the traditional image (silver and others as well: charcoal, collodion, bromoil, etc…) has its specificities, and so does digital!
Is there something that is important to you and that you would like to achieve in the coming years?
I think that Europe is currently aging and is mired in political questions and sunk in a great global economic slump. It had better taken interest in diffusing the culture of the different people that compose Europe, because they don’t know themselves! How do you build cohesion among people who sometimes feel so distant from each other?
I would also like to keep up some of my personal photographic projects, like “Chromophotographies” or “Lumigrammes,” which are sorts of photograms of fractals in volume (sometimes presented in to form of a sculptural relief with the help of a special stereoscopic technology). I am far from having exhausted all these questions, such as the outright exploration of time or light: experiences already addressed but still always on-hold and never fully completed. And I also have some side projects.
And then there are the really big projects. There is the “Water Theater” designed in the ’80s, which is an ensemble project on art and design related to water and the ecological environment, integrating ethical pedagogy and scientific research.
There is also the “ Underwater Photo-Musical Exposition,” developed in collaboration with my friend the contemporary composer Michel Redolfi, waiting to see the light of day for over 30 years!
Finally, I’m also thinking of one last, more recent project: “The Museum of Common Photography Conservatory,” which is a project created for the preservation of traditional European photographic heritage, for research, teaching, and creation in this specific area. A vast project for which I am always searching for help and collaboration! A word to the wise.
Before this interview, you didn’t know about 1X. What were your first impressions of when you saw the site?No, I did not know about 1X until you told me about it quite recently! It seems to me that there are innumerable things to see, and there also seems to be a great diversity! That’s what is interesting, because at the same time the quality of the works presented to me seems excellent. The only downside is the language! I would like to see a navigation and texts in several different languages (in French, for example…). But, I understand the difficulty, take my personal website as example. It is all in French (laughs)!
Philippe Lavialle's website
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