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Renowned French Photographer Bernard Plossu : The non-decisive moment

Live Intervieuw by Editor Vicente Dolz 

Bernard Plossu is one of those people that you like to listen to. His calm, simple and friendly tone makes you feel at ease.

Born in South Vietnam in 1945, Bernard has made numerous trips to Mexico, India, Niger, and the West Coast of the United States, always accompanied by his camera.
As a renowned French photographer, he held many exhibitions in well known places, such as the Museum of Modern Art in Strasbourg, Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, Centre Pompidou in Paris, National Museum of Modern Art in Paris, and the Valencian Institute of Modern Art in Valencia, Spain. He has also published numerous books: Le Voyage Mexicain, L'Integral, African Desert, Forget Me Not, and Europa.

I met Bernard at an exhibition at the Railowsky Bookshop in Valencia many years ago, and we have crossed paths in several exhibitions since then. Whenever possible, he holds a press conference at the opening of  exhibitions. These are very special moments for me as I am enthralled by his words. Sometimes I am not even aware of the questions he has been asked. I simply enjoy listening to him.


I have a story I would like to share about a photograph by Plossu. In my bedroom there is a photograph on the wall that I took of my daughter and my wife 9 years ago. For me, it is one of those photos that was not technically difficult to take but captures a unique moment of tenderness: An intimate, emotional and very personal moment. 

Looking through a book by Plossu, I discovered this photograph by him.  The one on the right is mine ;-) 

I was very surprised because I thought that this very personal scene was unique.

Bernard, do you think it’s an extraordinary coincidence in the content and characteristics of these two photographs?
Yes, extraordinary coincidence! How wild: what more can I say? Probably the same feeling in both our hearts, that´s what it is, and thus translated similarly in a photo!

I know that from a very young age you have been taking photos, but at what moment did you realize that you wanted to be a photographer and dedicate yourself to that profession?
I really understood that I wanted to become a photographer immediately after I came back from Mexico to Paris. I needed a job and  all that I knew how to do, was taking pictures! But I had no idea that my photos of Le Voyage Mexicain would become a famous book!  I did it all for fun!Once in Paris, I knew that photography had to be my life and I mean as a photographer, but in no way as an ‘artist’! Such a concept didn´t exist in our generation!  It was a job, and not an ego trip!


If the photographs had a nationality would you say that yours are French?
Yes my pictures are French because my culture was dominated or mainly influenced by all  the Nouvelle Vague movies like Truffaut , Godard, or "Ascenceur pour L’Echafaud " de Louis Malle, with music by Miles Davis!  At 20, I had no idea of who Cartier Bresson or Frank (Robert) were!


Do you still carry your camera around with you wherever you go?
Most often I do carry my camera with me, READY. I am still very fast! But sometimes tired, I just don’t do it - it is my age.


You are a regular and loyal user of 50mm. Have you ever used angular or wide angles?
Yes I did use telephotos and wide angles in my early commercial life as a pro photographer. But in Niger , its natural beauty was so powerful that I gave up using lenses that lied and didn´t show REALITY. Only the 50 mm does not alter the eye’s vision, the rest is just too spectacular.
But I did use a 24 mm when I photographed the rough parts of Mexico City when I returned there in 1970.  And this series, I have kept anyway because the subject is just powerful .
I burned many other wide angle negatives, although I did keep the color slides with wide angles of Sadhus in India and of Haight -Ashbury in the 60 's.


I know this is a typical question, but  which photographer do you admire the most? From whom have you learned the most?
I love ALL photographers , because I think that just trying to understand the world is in itself a phenomenal thing to do!
I love Max PAM, Luis Baylon, Françoise Nunez, and so many others! Historically I love Frederick Monsen who photographed the Hopis with a snapshot camera at the end of the 19th century!


I am intrigued when you say that the bad photos of Cartier-Bresson are more powerful than his good photos. Can you explain this to us?
I didn´t say that, I said that less good photos of Frank bring more poetry than perfect pictures by Henri Cartier-Bresson - this is the correct quote.


Are you still a loyal user of  the analogue process?
NO to digital for me.


Which of your photographs  are you most satisfied with?
The pictures I took of my children, Shane, Joaquim and Manuela. See my book "Avant L'Age de Raison", editions Filigranes.

When I was a child, my father took this picture. Does it bring back  any memories?


Yes, I also have a picture of me as a cowboy, but with a small camera in hand!

Are you a fan of cropping or enlarging photos?
No cropping or enlarging . Mostly regular size prints, and also often real small prints!


You have never used big brand cameras like Leica for example. Have you ever been at a disadvantage because of it?
When I could have afforded a Leica, I preferred to buy a plane ticket to travel to faraway places! No need at all for a Leica. What for?


How many books have you already edited?
Many books, some in Belgium, Italy, Greece, UK, Mexico, USA, Spain, and Portugal! But I didn’t count them.


If you had to choose only one, what picture would you say made you well known?
No idea, and anyway, I hate the words ‘well known’. My grandpa said, "names of idiots are written large everywhere".


Your biggest photo production is in Black and White. Do you use colour? On what occasions?
I often use also colour, and from the very beginning. Many Mexican pictures of the 60's  are in colour!

Do you think the composition is more difficult in colour or in Black and White?
Composition? Same!  No difference .


Is there a photo or photographic subject that you would have liked to do and have not done?
Yes, go to the Sudan’s pyramids of Meroe, and to Djask in South Balouchistan.

How is the workflow with the laboratory? Do you give any specific instructions for developing or printing?Darkroom, the key is NO DRAMA : Black and White must be GREY.



What do you think a good photograph should contain?
A good photo?  Well, a bad one can be better sometimes than a good one !



Do you have a project in mind?
Projects? I have many ideas. What makes this possible is that I have a huge archive with many topics.
But I keep doing crazy experimental pictures which are not published. I never stop going  wild.


By sharing this live interview with Bernard Plossu, I hope to have contributed to getting to know a little more about this excellent photographer. - Vicente

Great photo. Excellent interview that gave me great pleasure. Big thanks Vicente. Big thanks Yvette.
And a big thanks to Bernard Plossu who was so kind to do this live interview ;-)
Of course, dear Yvette, of course. This is my omission. In addition to the wonderful photos, the personality Bernard Plossu itself caught my attention, which often contributes to a better understanding of the master's work. :)
Thanks Vladimir.
Timeless images ... superb!!
Thanks, Jacob! Bernard Plossu (72 years old now) is a real "old school" photographer and analogue adept for the rest of his life. Glad he accepted to do this interview led by Vicente.
Thanks Jacob!!
Great LIVE interview, Vicente! What an opportunity. Thanks for your contribution to know a little more about Bernard Plossu. Cheers, Yvette