Welcome to the fantastical world of Christophe Kiciak! A photographer with wonderfully imaginative ideas and the technichal skills to fullfill them. Thanks to Christian Roustan for conducting the interview. You will find more photos in the end of the interview.
Briefly tell us about yourself, your hobbies and other jobs.
I am a 37 years old man, married and a happy father of a little girl a few months old. Professionally, I am leading a hacking team based in Paris where we work with many companies in order to check and improve their IT security. Being creative is quite useful in this job, as identifying security holes is much related to thinking about what has been forgotten by system and applications conceivers.
When it comes to photography, technically I am a hobbyist. However, I must admit that I take this hobby very seriously (probably too much!). Just like for my regular job, I try to imagine concepts and find outside of the box ideas, that hopefully draw some interest.
How has your history and life experiences affected your photography?
I grew up surrounded by music. My mother is an opera singer, and I studied music extensively for years myself. As a result, I have an educated ear, but until 2009 I was a total stranger about visual arts. My dear wife Marianne really changed my life in that regard (and obviously in others too): as a kid she spent a lot of time wandering in museums and reading art books, and her explanations and opinions dramatically helped me in acquiring a better eye. She literally taught me to “read” an image, to understand its composition, tones, shapes, and overall feeling.
What first attracted you to photography?
As a musician, I have always been fascinated by the relationship between art and science. When you try to dissect why a given work is so beautiful, you often end up with maths, psychology and neurology. For example, when one listens to some counterpoint work from Bach, it just sounds wonderful: it is like multiple voices singing from everywhere, asking questions and answering to each other, all in harmony. When you start looking at the technical side of it, you quickly realize how incredibly complicated it is to create such a thing, and you are just humbled by the genius involved. I personally tried to write some simple fugues, or even much more modest musical work, but listening to them was simply frustrating: despite my hard work, it was too much of a task given my personal abilities, and the result was at best boring, when not embarrassing.
Later in my life, when my wife started to explain me the technical side of various paintings, I found many similarities with my musical knowledge. This is how everything started: since writing good music was beyond my skills, I decided to try translating my ideas using images instead.
Describe your overall photographic vision.
Obviously, I am not into realistic nor documentary photography. While I do love looking at such photos, I don’t feel the need to start taking some myself. However, what I do feel is a need to create. I am not sure I have a photographic vision as such, but I do have an overall vision of life, just like everyone. This vision has many faces: it can be opinions about cultural or political topics, personal reflection about some subject, my own doubts, a situation I see in the street, a book, a movie, a random sentence I hear somewhere, anything that crosses my mind really, that I want to express. From there, I try to translate my feelings into a concept, which I try to explain through an image. In the end, most of my creations are in fact nothing else than expressions of my thoughts.
Why are you so drawn by conceptual photography?
What I like in conceptual photography is the virtual dialogue it creates between the artist and the viewer. The concept supports an idea, a story, an opinion, which the viewer is able to analyse, understand, agree or disagree with. Conceptual photography creates unspoken communication. This is really what I search for through my images: I love when the viewer feels the need to “answer” something (even if this only happens in his head). As a relatively introverted person, this is my way to express myself.
What is more important to you, the story behind an image or the technical perfection?
The story is by far the most important to me, of course. If an image is “simply” beautiful or technically perfect, it usually is nice to look at for a few seconds, one could even say a few words like “wow, great!”, then it is quickly forgotten, and replaced by the next similar shot. Don’t get me wrong though: there is nothing wrong in doing “only” beautiful photos, of course! It can be extremely challenging, and the process to create those can be incredibly enjoyable (for example, I would love to experience some serious hiking in the mountains to shoot one of those stunning landscapes, but it would be much more for the personal experience itself rather than for the resulting picture).
That being said, a very good concept can be totally ruined by poor execution. This is why, in my opinion, working hard on the technical side is mandatory. If you have a fantastic scenario but all you have is a webcam and poor actors, chances are the movie won’t be good. Same goes with stills.
What generally is your relationship to your subject matter beyond being an observer?
I really can’t create an image about something I don’t care about. Most of my pictures are in direct relation with parts of my own life, experiences, I feel the need to “talk” about. I’ve had some people who asked me to create an image to support their own opinions (for example, for an album cover) but it was very hard for me to do so. I just refuse to force myself to work on concepts I don’t believe in.
What is your most important advice to a beginner in conceptual/creative edit photography and how do you get started?
The only important advice to always keep in mind at all times is: “do not listen to any advice”. What really matters is what *you* want to do, never lose track of it. For example, I am often told that I should “stop all this Photoshop crap”, and “do some real photography”: what would be the point? To get into the line and do what many others will do much better than me? Why force yourself into doing something you’re not fond of? It may be a bit arrogant, but I think that everyone has the perfect right to live the way he wants, and use his creativity as he pleases. Your own art starts in you, just you, period.
Of course, as long as you keep in mind your own goal, do your homework! All the technical stuff is extensively covered on the Internet: there are tutorials and extensive explanations available about everything. Getting the technical knowledge is only a matter of time and will, but no tool is going to replace your own mind. So decide what you want to achieve, then give yourself the means to get there.
Who are your favorite photographers and more importantly, how has your appreciation of their work affected how you approach your own photography?
One of my first influences was Max Sauco. In my opinion, his work has everything: incredible stories, often very provocative (in all senses), and technically perfect. Most of his pictures are masterpieces, which stick in your brain forever once you've seen them. Some would call him a demented mind; I would call him a genius, no less.
Then of course I cannot quote the grandeur of the “Ddiarte” duo. I was fortunate enough to meet Zé Diogo in 2014, and it was extremely interesting to discuss with him the ways their projects are prepared and carefully constructed, step by step. Their quest for perfection is a great example to me.
I would also like to speak about Storm Thorgerson, whose mindboggling concepts are universally admired. His music album covers are now part of History (Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Muse, etc.). Again, he took great time to come up with incredible ideas, organized everything to make the shoot possible (even when it defied the laws of physics) and never let any compromise ruin a photo. Simply stunning.
Is there is any specific photo taken by another photographer that has inspired you a big deal and why?
When I started photography, one of my first real project was an homage to Philippe Ramette and his “Balcon II” shot. I tried my best to reproduce it with my own means: I constructed a wooden structure, transported it to a lake near my home, installed everything and posed for it, all of this in just one day (the result can be seen here. Of course, the processing was way overdone, and I would probably get a better result today, but I am still happy with it because it was the first time I understood what kind of images I wanted to create. It really lit a sparkle in my brain.
Are there any specific directions that you would like to take your photography in the future or any specific goals that you wish to achieve?
These days, I am quite torn. I believe most photos that are successful in popular challenges are way too shy, way too clean. Obviously, it is not easy to include more “mature” content (i.e. nudity, blood, weird and disturbing views) without losing a vast part of the audience (most websites flag such images so that they are not seen too easily, and even without that, most people tend to naturally avoid what they consider untasteful). However, I still feel the need to talk about problems in our society (for example terrorism, religion, homosexuality, education, greed, and so on) and doing so with nice sunsets and colourful flowers is simply not going to work. As a consequence, I am trying to find ways of saying what I want, while not losing every single viewer (which would end the “discussion” I am trying to create through my images). It is a bit frustrating.
Describe your favorite photograph taken by you and why it is special to you?
“Liberté d’Expression” is quite special to me, because it is the first time so many people agreed to pose for me. The whole project was achieved in 5 days, as a reaction to the terrorist attack that occurred in Paris at the beginning of the year. Usually, I don’t involve other models other than that of my family and I, but this project asked for more characters, and my coworkers spontaneously accepted to help me on it: I am very grateful, and happy that they permitted this image to exist.
Is there anything else you wish to add and what do you think about 1X as a home base for your work?
I would like to thank my dear wife Marianne once more. Without her, I would probably have never started photography in the first place. Also, her advice and help on creating these images are immense. I am extremely grateful.
Regarding 1X, it is such a great place. I absolutely love the underlying concept: every kind of creation is welcome (including composites and other various experiments, that are still rejected by many others), as long as it is good. I couldn’t ask for more. Open-minded, interesting, beautiful, aiming at excellence: I am simply flattered to be part of it. Please keep it this way, there is no other 1X out there!