Curatorial practice

15.05.2014 Eric Chenal interview

Interview with Eric Chenal

My first contact with the future house took place the day before the arrival of the contractors. The first in situ photograph is that of a wasteland.

On the site itself, the working space was very small. When I arrived at the site, many elements interfered with shooting. The reality didn’t meet my expectations. Suddenly, I felt a certain reluctance, a resistance to come on site. I finally have come only occasionally.

Although the work took longer than expected, I did not know how to approach this story, I felt that something was happening, but I could not identify and appropriate the place. A kind of malaise has settled. I committed, but I didn’t follow up regularly. I was in the guilt and the inability to make the pictures...

There was no overall structure. Today, I can find some kind of balance and order in a space transformation, it isn’t a problem for me anymore. But at the time I thought it was really a messy yard, I felt lost. I tested different devices, different styles. Actually, I didn’t know how to apprehend the site.
An “opening” took place a few weeks before the delivery of the house. It was during summer, contractors had cleaned up the area just before the holidays. I started to make images that were better suited to my expectations, I was more in tune with the site. The most interesting pictures are somehow in between. Since there was no finishing yet, the space was in a somewhat "apocalyptic" state. Apocalyptic, not in a destructive way, but something that precedes the lifting of the veil ... This series there has been important to me, in the empty space, not yet inhabited.

Then when the house was finished, there was a short period of time before the arrival of the family. The spaces were equipped in a house that had just been completed but that was not yet occupied by the owners. It was really in-between, the time of the suspension. But again something did not fit, at least internally. Something I did not understand, that wasn’t easy to grasp. I was looking for something that would expose itself and nothing happened.

I thought I was going to discover the house with the architects, that they would provide me with a reading grid. This project was to be a form of initiation, I wanted to learn to read architecture. But I remained unsatisfied until recently.

I then changed medium, almost in desperation. I made some small size Polaroid snapshots. I tried to establish with the place a form of immediate intimacy that I had not been able to find so far. I placed the snapshots in a box without looking at them for several months, until we have discussed the possibility of an exhibition.

A few months after the family moved to the house, I was invited to photograph the building for the "Our House” publication. It was much more comfortable for me because it is easier to meet the expectations of others than to be closer to an inner call ... While I had not been able to embody the place with my presence at the time of photography, the place was now embodied by the owners.

In the book, there are pictures properly "architectural", the house inhabited is with great taste and well organized. I felt like I was working for one of those great interior design magazines! There are also photographs of the couple and young children interviewed about their habitation. I worked as a reporter, turning around the subjects. I tried to make images that match the movement to life.

This is perhaps the most amazing architectural object that I had to photograph so far! Their remains in me a feeling of insubordination. Insubordination of the object in relation to the photographer. Having already photographed the models of the house, I had a pretty preconceived idea of what was to be the interior of the building. The model and the building site refer to a form that I would call the oblique perspective, “l’objectif oblique”.

The oblique perspective refers for me to the image of a defensive, protective shelter, to the aesthetics of the blockhouse, the bunker ... It refers to the work of Claude Parent and Paul Virilio and the idea that the body must be constantly in movement within a given space. This desire to be constantly moving fascinates me, because I'm rather obsessed with orthogonality. The “perpendicular” is the most important figure to me. I'm obsessed with this figure, and at the same time fascinated by what contradicts it.

This photographic work is about fighting against my obsession of orthogonality. I have a mixed idea of this building, that doesn’t correspond at all to my inner reality. From the outside, it is a highly distinctive object, very compact. It is the image of the shelter that automatically comes to mind. There is a very strong expressivity. Inside, the space that has moved me most is the great vertical staircase going up to the master bedroom. This place has stuck me.

The difficulty of photographing this house has less to do with the outside than the inside. Since I was unable to represent the space as a whole, I tried to reduce and simplify it. It is very difficult to grasp the "levels" of the different floors in their entirety. To deliver these images, I managed to impoverish the place. The best pictures of this place are the details, corners, colors, materials, lights arising on a wall... Light changes according to the season, time of day and the weather. I work in a completely intuitive way and I take what is given. For the snapshots, I have tried to lighten the spaces, the exposure times were longer.

For me it is the light that brings the oblique. The idea of movement, the questioning, the transformation is done by the oblique function of the light. It's less about the body as about the mind. When you live in an area like this, which is both a refuge, a place of protection and a place of “internalization”, the only thing that should be moving is the spirit. For this mind to remain awake with a quality of presence, there must be movement and this movement is provided by the oblique function of light.