Salvador Update interviews André França

June, 2010

How long have you been involved in photography?

I've been enjoying photography since I was 8 or 9 years old. From that age I really enjoyed looking at photographs in books. I also took photographs as a child with my parents' camera and continued to do so throughout my teenage years - I bought my first camera when I was 14. From adolescence onwards, my relationship with photography also became one of study. Since 2002, I've been photographing, starting with the conception and development of projects that result in photographic series. The first of these is from 2003 and some of its photographs took part in a group exhibition that same year.

What are your influences?

I answered this question in an interview in January 2009; as the answer is still valid, I'll repeat it here. The most conscious influences, at different times in my formation, are these: Edward Weston (for his delicate interest in the field of objects, nature, natural materials); William Eggleston (for his work with the color palette and also for his interest in objects); Edward Hopper (for his representation of solitude, silence, the difficulty of communication); Michelangelo Antonioni (for the same reasons); Helmut Newton (for desire converted into sensuality which, for me, returns again to desire - for photography); Cindy Sherman (for the staging procedure and the reference to the cinematographic image).

What strikes you about photography today? Which photographers would you highlight?

What draws my attention and what I appreciate most are the expressive possibilities we find in photography today, derived from the assimilation of contemporary art processes, especially since the 1960s: the strategy of staging, of performance, of arranging the scene to be photographed; a renewed interest in the field of objects; the perspective of the "intimate diary", which results in a kind of photographic chronicle of the life of the artist, their friends or family; a new documentary perspective, which prioritizes a more distanced, cold and objective image; the processes of appropriation and reconfiguration of pre-existing images, of other media and artistic formats; among other poetics. In all these approaches, we have seen some very interesting and consistent works in recent years; but also those that seem to be being made on "autopilot", in a very artificial, repetitive, empty and tedious way, pretending to present themselves in a well-recognized "contemporary format".

Among the artists working in these various perspectives, I can mention some whose work I admire and with whom I feel an affinity, whether exclusively at the level of appreciation or also of making: among those with productions in the last 2 or 3 decades: William Eggleston, Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin, Helmut Newton, Jeff Wall, Vik Muniz, Thomas Struth, Sophie Calle, Miguel Rio Branco, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer; among the names that have gained visibility in recent years: Simon Norfolk, Izima Kaoru, Miriam Bäckström, Thomas Demand, Frank Breuer, Kelli Connell.

Have you ever been in a dangerous situation while photographing?

Only the "danger" of not being able to continue photographing. One day, when I was out taking some photographs for the "art world (NY)" series, the temperature outside was -10 degrees Celsius and this caused my camera to stop working. I was alarmed because that was the last day I had set aside to work on this series. Fortunately, I had a second camera and was able to continue working.

What equipment are you using (camera and computer)?

More than 90% of the photographs I've taken so far have been made with an analog camera, including the photographs in my latest series, "Quintal" ("Backyard") and also in a new series, which is still unpublished. I'm going to buy a new camera soon, but I haven't yet decided whether it will be analog or digital.

I use the computer to process the photographs digitally, which in my case only involves cleaning and making minor contrast adjustments. Or I use it for sequential photo montage operations, as in the composition of the triptychs in the "Nightswimming" and "Dr. Freud's Vacation" series.

Do you think your work has evolved with digital photography?

The evolution of my work owes nothing to digital technology. On the other hand, I could also say that if I had always used only digital cameras from the start, I could perfectly well have made the same photographs and series that I have made so far. I mean, then, that in relation to the approaches I have adopted so far to create my work, the use of analog or digital media when capturing the image makes no difference to me.

About this digital invasion in all areas... Today photography is much more accessible, everyone is venturing out to take their own photos. What do you think of this situation? Has this contributed to or vulgarized photography as an art?

The fact that everyone today can take photos is wonderful, as people now have the opportunity to communicate and express themselves through images they have made themselves. However, in order to really make the most of this possibility, which is currently widespread in our society, it is necessary to overhaul primary and secondary education to include specific subjects where students can learn to read and interpret images and also to construct them in a more conscious, intelligent, critical and reflective way.

The advent of digital photography - with digital cameras and image editing software - has undoubtedly brought new and unprecedented possibilities to artistic approaches in photography. Different ways of manipulating and interfering with images have led to many interesting results that simply weren't possible before. So of course this is a significant contribution. But digital processes are by no means solely responsible for recent advances in photography as a means of artistic expression. The set of processes I mentioned above, as well as others, are even more influential in shaping the spectrum of poetics in contemporary photography. And most of them can be done with analog photographic equipment.

Finally, digital technology has not vulgarized photography as an artistic expression. There is no direct relationship between the two. You can make a vulgar photograph using analog or digital equipment.

But the most important factor in the impact of digital technology is that it has literally destroyed photography (as it has been known for around 150 years) and transformed it into something else entirely. It is no longer possible to look at a photograph taken today and take it as a "true" iconic representation of a scene or situation that actually took place in front of the camera. The disappearance of the direct relationship between iconic representation and referent has transformed photography into painting.

Is aesthetics a natural instinct for you or do you feel you've acquired it over time? Do you think beauty is fundamental?

I don't doubt that some dimension of what we call aesthetic sense may be encoded in our DNA. What I can say about my journey is that, over time, my aesthetic sense has developed, based on my appreciation of the photographs of many authors, my own photographic practice and also reading texts from the photographic field.

I believe that the beauty of the experience we have when enjoying a work of art is fundamental. And I also think that this dimension of beauty is, a priori, the only one that needs to exist on the artist's horizon.

In your "Quintal" series, you tell us that this was the beginning of some of your earliest work. Why did you want to go back and photograph it all again? Is it just a run-down of images or a re-photographing?

What I say in the introductory text to the "Backyard" series is that I took some of my first photographs there, in the backyard of the house where I grew up and lived until I was 14.

For this recent series, I didn't want to "photograph everything again" and I didn't do that. I wanted to develop a photographic series in that space because it is very important in my subjective field. This is a project that combines personal memory, affections, fantasies, the reconfiguration of memories, my interest in the field of objects and, on a "historical horizon", some of my first exercises and experiments with photography. It is also a meditation on the flow of time, which unfolds as a support for our lives.

Your production is very marked by its black and white aesthetic, in the series "Sight for sore eyes", why this B&W capture?

Whether I choose to work in color or black and white depends on the conception of each project. About half of the series I've done so far have been in color. Black and white still retains its ability to enchant today due to the immediate artificiality it gives an image in relation to our natural perception of the world. In addition, it has the ability to make the image "simpler", more organic, filtering it from the frequent noises of chromatic complexity - while at the same time enhancing shapes and shadows, giving the image strength and structure. And there's also a certain vintage atmosphere associated with the image.

In the series, "Chorus of an old song", you take an external situation that is not normally seen as a cohesive form or mass and create a perception of its essential elements - volume, edges, height, length, width - through the specific act of photographing found objects from different distances? Can you talk about this series?

In this series I used the found objects approach. Natural and man-made objects were photographed on a beach. In both cases, the interest focused on the fate that Time itself has reserved for these objects, subjecting them to conditions of physical wear and tear, spatial arrangement and rearrangement, until this moment when we find them and they can surprise us by their shapes, the delicate aesthetic balance in which they are found, the fragility that reminds us of the "time of things" and the human condition itself.

Do you have a project in mind? Can you tell us about it?

I'm working on two projects at the moment. The first is already finished and is just waiting for the text to introduce the series. The second will continue to develop over the coming months. I'll send you an invitation when each of these new series is on show.
Copyright © 2011 André França