HORVATLAND - THE '80s - PROJECTS - ENTRE VUESGO TO HOME
Entre Vues (“Between Views”)
Interviews by Frank Horvat, about photography, with photographers Édouard Boubat, Robert Doisneau, Mario Giacomelli, Hiroshi Hamaya, Joseph Koudelka, Don McCullin, Sarah Moon, Helmut Newton, Marc Riboud, Eva Rubinstein, Jeanloup Sieff, Joel Peter Witkin. Work published by Nathan, Paris, in 1990.
Between 1983 and 1987, I had serious problems with my eyesight. This gave me the idea of “photographing with my ears”, i.e. exploring reality with a taperecorder, somehow as I had done with a camera.
I decided that my first subject would be photography itself – as a creative process, more than as a technique. Hence the idea of “talking shop” with a few fellow photographers whom I admired. The hardest was putting those records on paper – which in my analogy was the equivalent to editing and printing.
In the following years, my eye problem was treated and my eyesight sufficiently restored to allow me to return to the camera.
The result of this experience has been a book, “Entre Vues”, published in Paris, in 1990, by Éditions Nathan. Translations into japanese and chinese came out in the following years. The french edition was sold out, but not reprinted. An english publication never took place (don’t ask why, publishers have their reasons).
In spite of this relative commercial failure, “Entre Vues” had a certain impact. Antiquarian copies still pass from hand to hand, and people approach me in the hope of finding one. Unfortunately I cannot be of any help – which is why I decided to publish this work on the net.
I wish to remind the reader that fifteen years have passed since these interviews. Édouard Boubat, Jean-Loup Sieff, Robert Doisneau, Mario Giacomelli and Hiroshi Hamaya are no longer among us. My other partners have evolved, one way or another. My own ideas and my own style of photography have changed. Last not least, photography itself has gone through the digital revolution and has become very different from what it was.
The attentive reader will take these circumstances into consideration.
Frank Horvat, November 2002.
Translation into english: Charles Martin, Department of Comparative Literature, Queens College – City University of New York, April 2003 firstname.lastname@example.org
When someone asks me my profession, I answer “ photographer ”. That is easy to say, not as if I had to announce “ I am an astrologer ”, or “a tax inspector ”. It is, however, less simple than to say “ a sculptor ” or “ a plumber ”. It seems to me, each time, that I should be more specific and add something like “ but a photographer is not what you imagine ” or “ but what is understood by photography has to be defined ”.
Of course, I don’t add anything. That would be useless: people think they know, they all “ take ” photos (or let themselves be “ taken ” in photos). When they talk about it, it’s to say “ If you take ten rolls of film, there will automatically be one good photo ”, or “ I took exactly the same photo as you, on the Brooklyn Bridge, only without that person on the railing.” (a comment reported by Édouard Boubat). Theorists of photography write things like “ The act of photography does not so much consist in seeing‚ as in having been there ” (Roland Barthes) or “ There is no such thing as a bad photograph— only less interesting, less relevant, less mysterious ones ” (Susan Sontag).
For a photographer, such propositions are absurd. Our daily experience shows us that to press a button is not enough to assure that what was in front of the camera ends up inside it. And even if one believes that he has “ captured ” it, one doesn’t necessarily have a good photo. A good photo is a rare thing, almost miraculous, and even the bestamong us only succeed a few dozen (or a few hundred) times in their lifetime. How can thinkers such as Barthes and Sontag see it as no more than the by-product of a technical process?
We feel misunderstood. Sometimes that irritates us, other times that gives us a sort of satisfaction, as if we were the holders of a secret, the members of a sect. We recognize our fellows from far off, even when they don’t carry a camera, simply because of the way they let their eyes wander, and move on padded feet, like cats stalking. I remember an outing on the slopes of Etna, in the car of a fellow photographer whom I hardly knew. His hesitations in the turns, his lightly touching the brakes at the sight of a tree or a rock filled me with joy: we were two, looking at things in the same way.
Perhaps it is the same for plumbers and tax inspectors. Or maybe not: the photographer’s solitude may be a case apart, since the photographer is essentially alone while looking through the viewfinder and making the decision to press the shutter release. Of course, the result of his search, the moment that has been called decisive, will be shared by the viewers of the photograph. But all the other moments, all those millions of non decisive moments, all the unfinished searches, gather in us like sediments and make us feel the weight of our solitude.
The need to share this solitude is the motivating force behind the present project. Not being a writer, I used a photographer’s approach: I chose some people who seemed interesting to me, I had them talk and I recorded their statements. Then I worked on the recorded tapes as if they were contact sheets and negatives: noting the strong points, pruning the repetitions, giving emphasis to what seemed to me characteristic. Of course, the people I interviewed had the chance to read these extracts and make corrections.
Those who collaborated on this project are photographers whom I am a little envious of. When I look at a photo, I always wonder (consciously or unconsciously) if I would have liked to have made it. In most cases, my answer to myself is “ no ”, either because I don’t like the image or, on the contrary, because it is too similar to an image that I could have taken. But it happens that I see photographs that I would have liked to make – but which I know I wouldn’t have been able to make: they are the result of a way of working and, more than that, a way of being, that are not mine. It is of those images that I feel envious – and it is the photographers who have made them that I wanted to talk with.
Some of them I had known personally since my youth. Boubat used to visit us on Sundays and amaze my children with his magic tricks. With Sieff I had shared a studio in New York. With Riboud I often sat at a café table at place Saint-Philippe-du Roule, talking about Magnum business. Newton allowed himself to be convinced, in the course of a memorable conversation, to try the 35mm format. Sarah Moon used to come show me her model portfolio, that I would look at with admiration and return, saying : “ I cannot photograph you, you know the ropes too well. ”
Others – Doisneau, Giacomelli, Koudelka, McCullin, Rubinstein, Hamaya, Witkin – were familiar to me through their work. The hours spent with them (and the days spent listening to their tapes) brought them into my life. Since then, I cannot look at their photos without hearing the cadences of their voices. This is perhaps, for me, the most precious by-product of this project.
Regarding Henri Cartier-Bresson, I don’t feel the right to call him my master : at the end of the 1950s, when I met him at Magnum, he criticized my fashion photos (“ You have to make a choice ” he said “ one cannot do reportage and staged photography at the same time ”). I did not take this advice and persisted in the direction that seemed right to me. Even worse, I launched into color photography, which he disapproved of. Nonetheless I believe that while overstepping his limits, I never quite abandoned his territory: the rules that I have always followed remain, fundamentally, those that I learned in listening to him and looking at his work. Cartier-Bresson did not participate in these interviews, because he thinks he already has said what he had to say. But he is present in all these encounters, in the sense that it is hard to speak of photography without referring to him.
There are some absences that I regret. Irving Penn, one of the photographers I most respect, spoke with me at length but did not want his statements recorded or published. Richard Avedon preferred to keep his thoughts for an autobiographical book. Diane Arbus and Ernst Haas, both of whom I knew well, have disappeared prematurely. I could cite other photojournalists and fashion photographers whom I admire, but whom I chose not to interview, in order not to delve too often into the same issues.
Other absences can be explained by a personal standpoint – or bias. There are photos that have been successful, but that I can in no way identify with. There are contemporary trends that I reject altogether. The choice of those that I wished to interview has been an expression of my standpoint: among the selected photographers, even if they are very different from each other, even if their voices may at times be discordant, I can see a line that connects them and that seems to define a border.
The border of “ true ” photography? I would not presume to go that far. But perhaps the frontier of a “ golden age ”. I believe that the photographers that I have mentioned (with some others such as Robert Capa, Eugene Smith, Robert Frank, Werner Bischof) will be considered one day as classic masters. Just as other classic masters, of other golden ages, they went to work with the naïveté of artisans, simply because the technology of their era allowed them to explore some aspects of the world which had not yet been explored, because there was a public interested in these aspects and because the media were eager to reproduce their images: a meeting of circumstances that lasted a few decades and that may never recur. I had the luck to work in that age and to meet some of the photographers who contributed to its brilliance. I wish these interviews to testify to this luck.
||Joel Peter Witkin