INTERVIEW : Véronique Fel, Photographer

INTERVIEW : Véronique Fel, Photographer

How did your vocation come about ?

I discovered photography as a young teenager. I was taking part in a school photo club, led by a volunteer teacher who loved this art. It was the time of my first shots, with a camera around my neck. The adventure ! Since then, photography has never left me, or rather, I have remained faithful to it, making its technical evolutions my own. I was already contemplative. Looking at the world through the viewfinder of a camera gave me this amazing and great feeling of a great intimacy with the chosen subject. As if the world around paused ! This feeling is still present and vivid. Each time I have my eye glued to the camera, I enter the space-time of my viewfinder. I feel privileged because I am the only one looking. And the magic of photography is that I can fix this vision/sensation on paper and relive it over and over again, by memory, by looking at it… 

How has your eye been shaped by your ideas and travels ?

I did not travel until late in life. This attraction for the image, will lead me on the path of university cinema and video studies. This was followed by almost twenty years of a first career in the production of reports and TV programmes. The choice was difficult because I loved my job but photography had always accompanied me in life and in 2010, my teenage desire to make it my job caught up with me. I gave up everything to devote myself fully to the Photography. My photographs and portraits were quickly spotted. I have worked and still work for sponsors. But it is a fact that my studies and my first career enrich the second. Living for so many years surrounded by journalists and in an editorial office has enlightened me on the meaning of storytelling through images. I really started to make personal and photographic trips at that time. By the freedom of not having to go to a workplace every day.

Which photographer, artist, work or picture set you on your way ?

What feeds my history with photography is the photography of cinema. Jacques Tati’s graphic aestheticism in each of his shots, the light of Percy Adlon’s Bagdad Café sublimating the beauty and humanity between two women, the photography of Emir Kusturica’s film Arizona Dream, grain of madness, or very recently, William Nicholson’s Goodby filming a dramatic comedy, under this midday sun light that is so dear to me. These images and so many others, their light, their perfume, their history, have shaped my gaze since my adolescence. Painting too…

You base your graphic style on the midday sun. Why this particular light ?

The sun at the zenith. This light is decried in the world of photography. It is an unloved light. Blinding, overwhelming, ugly… are some of the unflattering adjectives given to it. I met it by chance, in 2012. It seems to me today, that there is no chance in our meeting but something more. I did my first series under this light, in Cape Verde. I had two hours of freedom to shot the story of a small town that intrigued me. I didn’t choose the time I was given. It happened to be between 11am and 1pm or so, in the blazing sun. I took it as a challenge. I had to bear witness to the present moment and the extra soul that this intense light gave to a place that was already full of strong sensations. I trusted my framing, my compositions and my feeling. I flirted with overexposure in my settings to respect what I saw. I wanted to make a raw observation and not interfere to change reality. Already in the eyepiece of my camera, I found the result surprising. It was while editing my photographs that I found it fascinating. The observation was there. The shadows were absent, the lines drawn, the colour palette multiplied and endless. The city was radiant, attractive and beautiful, despite its paradoxes and sadness. The photograph gave an impression of materiality. I wanted to touch it. Since that day, I compose with this light. Whatever the weather, its variations are infinite. I have made it my ally for my images. It is a particular light that plays an important role in my compositions. It affects my subject. My images remain in memory of those who look at them. The light of the zenith fully participates in the singularity of my photography. It is my colour palette with which I compose.

Tell us a little about the genesis of the series of photographs exhibited at the Sarto Gallery in Paris.The trip to Cuba, the decision to go to this land of fantasy and history…

In 2015, 2016, Barack Obama and Raoul Castro worked together to re-establish diplomatic relations between their two countries, after more than 50 years of embargo against Cuba, instituted by the United States. I had organised a trip to the island in the spring of 2016 to tell the story of this upheaval in the daily lives of Cubans. The relaxation of prohibitions, the opening up to imports, the mirage of the internet in the distance. I was finally able to leave only in May 2017. Trump had come to power and was engaged in a complete overhaul of the agreements between Obama and Castro, only to backtrack, obviously! I arrived in a country that had been turned upside down, a country that had nevertheless found a balance all these years and carried the international image of joy in its lands. A colourful, musical joy, welcoming to anyone who wanted to stay in Cuba. One thing had changed. Only two and a half hours away by boat, the new American tourists were making Havana their playground. I witnessed some surreal and disconcerting scenes. In the streets, the distress of the local population was palpable. I could feel a nagging, silent anger. As soon as I arrived, like everyone else, I discovered the multitude of old American cars, unavoidable and universal. They are the joyful emblem of this country, even though it has been flayed. I realise that they have almost all become purely tourist accessories, too much made up for me, by “marked” colours and guarantees of easy dollars. I wanted to pay tribute to their history and, by proxy, to think of the Cubans who have kept them alive despite the embargo and the impossibility of importing parts for repair. Mechanical goldsmiths for the love of their jewellery. Photographing these Habana « Women »… I knew that the exercise would be difficult because it had been done so many times. A “chestnut” subject.

Did you shoot spontaneously ?

Not really… My artistic approach is more like painting. This also contributes to the singularity of my images. For the Ladies, I spent two days wandering the streets without any compositional inspiration. No photographs, or almost none. I was annoyed with myself for not taking anything out. How could I tell them apart out of respect for their history? On the third day, only a few meters from my rented room, at the end of a street, my gaze landed, finally, attracted by green lines on the Malecón. Step by step I approached this vision. I had just found the picture, the setting, where I would photograph my “rolling models” as they passed by. It was quite early. I located my frame and sat on the edge of a low wall watching the life of this street. I waited for over an hour for the shadows to disappear. The Habana sun was dry and harsh at midday. Standing on the pavement several metres from their path, balancing on a modest stone to see and have that blue line of the sea, essential to the setting of their portrait, I photographed them as no one else had done. The series “Habana’s Old Cars” was born. 

Patience seems to be the key to your work as a photographer. How can you be patient in an age of spontaneous, almost frantic, snapshots ?

I would say more that it is my photography which calls for patience… My compositions by the real, this ephemeral light in a day which is my palette of colours, the sun which comes and goes, which a cloud can hide, whereas I need it to draw me a white line, against, on the outline of a cypress in Tuscany… I do not feel particularly patient, but rather concentrated and focused on my objective in the realization of a desired image. I can wait a long time and not let go. What is not spontaneous but rather instantaneous is my vision. When I find my frame, my painting, it is an instant that is close to fulguration. My eye sees and my brain knows that the frame will be that one. Afterwards I often wait for everything I want to happen and play in the painting for my composition. Sometimes this precise moment only lasts a second, the time of a single trigger. That’s why I speak of creating through or with reality. I can wait and nothing I hope for will happen. So I don’t release the shutter and I leave, serene for having tried. And this unrealized photograph remains in my head, which is already a lot.

Do you have a favourite object that never leaves you… a piece of jewellery, a bag, your camera ?

Oops, no… I don’t want to break the romantic image of the photographer who always has a camera in her bag. You will have understood that I am closer to the painter than to the reporter. I don’t have a fetish object as such either. When I go on a photographic trip, even if it’s a few places from home, I always have music. Each of my trips has a different musical colour that corresponds to the mood of the moment. I also very often have an inspiring book, because of the life of the author or the story of the novel. I went to Havana with Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I re-read it there. It was not the same book.

Where to find Véronique Fel ?

Véronique Fel is presented by :
Galerie Sarto, 3 rue de Solférino, 75007 Paris. France
Marc by H & B Gallery, Rue Blaes 32, 1000 Bruxelles. Belgium
The works of Véronique Fel are limited to 5 unique editions for sale.

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