JONATHAN CHERRY: What gets you out of bed in the morning?
CLARA PRIOUX: I’ve always thought sleeping was a waste of time, especially as a child… and I haven’t changed much! As soon as I get back to myself, my mind tickles me out of bed.
JC: Are there any emerging photographers inspiring you at the moment?
CP: Recently I have mostly been looking at the works of contemporary American photographers and at typology works. They are not emerging artists but this is what I am learning from right now… the differences in their approaches of the photographic medium, the approach in the constitution of a series or body of work, is something I find really nourishing and questioning for my own practice.
It seems to me the art education in general is really about disintegrating the assumptions you had before entering art school. At the end of it, you should know very little about “how things are done”… none at all really. The less you rely on, the more you are truly in control of your work. The form that a project takes (not specifically in photography) has to come out of necessity… it’s what makes a project relevant. So, getting more aware of the approaches of other photographers helps me understand how I use photography in my work…
And about emerging photographers… I’d say seeing the work of my friends being made is great, as is discovering the works of new people, often through Tumblr and then through their respective websites. In general, I would think it is important to feel that you are (at least loosely) part of a group of fellow artists and friends (whom you value the work of) and that you’re getting there together… and know where you’re standing and want to be standing. It’s more mutual emulation and support than inspiration, but it’s also important.
JC: What initially drew you to photography?
CP: I got my first camera when I was 8-ish… but as a lot of people do, and although it felt natural to take photos, I don’t remember what I precisely liked about it… so I guess that’s not really a reason for still going on with photography today! I got into art school with drawing in mind more than photography, and I think it’s only when I got a Mamiya 6x7, just 3 years ago that I started really considering photography in a more conscious way and making my own photographs a part of my work, as opposed to what I had been doing until then: using photography in my work, but not directly as the “final product”.
Going back to using a film camera was actually determinant for me, it forced me into a new attitude, which went along with more intellectual rigor. And there’s some kind of humbleness that goes on in the process of shooting with film that I had don’t get with digital cameras. Not that the camera absolutely matters, but it does affect the way of taking photos, so working with a camera that feels right for you does matter… I also use digital cameras but for specific uses.
Before that, I only used photography for its obvious “recording” aspect: photographs of our travels, special occasions, things I thought looked nice… recording memories I guess. And that’s still true of every photograph but it’s not the aspect that I am interested in exploring in my work. Today, a photograph stands less as a document than a fully made up image to me… I don’t think a photograph ever exists in the concrete reality. Although it looks like it does (it shows places, objects, people… that do exist, and were there before the camera) but a photograph only shows a selection of elements and the atmosphere that those visual elements provoke is something that only exists in the photograph. Although it’s not a conscious thought when I shoot I find this conflict in the images very exciting. We create images that are “real” but that are also in a way, metaphors of a more general environment or condition.
JC: What is your current project all about?
CP: I’m in the middle of several book projects, and also have a lot of photo editing waiting ahead…
I just finished a book called America For Sale, in which I gathered photographs I selected from Ebay classifieds. I spent a lot of time on Ebay examining the photos, and was struck by the visual power of the images, the different layers of lecture that were entangled in them: taken out of their commercial context, the images could be seen for what they were as photographs, no longer as objects to be potentially bought. The objects put up for sale are photographed in their original environment, in a home, but are specifically photographed for the sell. Some codes of professional photography, a sense of display and esthetic are also visible but reinterpreted with domestic equipment… I’m thinking of some puppies being photographed next to flowers, or objects being laid on bath towels to serve as a uniform background… there is a visible awareness of what a photograph “should be”. It often creates eerie scenes and a sense of loss that is quite powerful. All of these objects are anonymous and yet there is something utterly intimate about the photographs. I also liked the idea that they come from a multitude of different homes and yet together, form one sole American home in the book. I chose the images for their photographic qualities, and organized the book as I would have done with photos of my own.
You can have a look at the book on my website here.
JC: Any exciting plans for the rest of 2011?
CP: A few trips coming ahead, yes! I’m going to spend a few days in the south of France with a friend in the coming weeks… our plan is to drive around and take photos… so we should have a great time! And I’ll be spending the whole month of November in the USA, starting with South Carolina and hopefully traveling in different parts of the country. I would like to go on with my Shapes of the common dream project, which I started last year, so I’ll be looking out for more model homes to photograph. The rest is open for whatever will come my way in terms of photographic projects.
JC: Advice to recent photography graduates?
CP: I will only be graduating at the end of the coming year, but as far as my experience as an art student goes… it seems that the only thing I’ve ever been taught is simple enough but categoric : no compromise. Be truly sincere in your work and be honest with yourself…. I really think that’s the only thing that makes our existences even relevant.
For those just starting school, I would also say, don’t expect too much from it… know from the start that it’s all in your hands: art school/university… whatever… are only a place and a time where you are allowed to grow.
I also think it’s important to have someone with whom you have a real and sincere dialogue about your work, not only the finished work but everything that goes on before that and during that… Reach out to the artists you feel connected to. I’ve found invaluable support in corresponding with a great photographer who became a great friend as well. Writing about what you’re interested in and about your work is also important and rewarding. And maybe even more for photographers… I see something similar in the process of organizing thoughts down on paper in coherent order, and in editing single photographs into series or projects… maybe one can help the other.
I’ve also been taught that it’s wise to be patient… although it is tempting (especially with the internet so close at hand) to put things out as soon they’re on the computer… take the time to think about it, take distance and let things happen and organize themselves. It took me quite some time to actually believe in this, but yes, we have the right to take our time, even as students.
JC: Other thoughts?
CP: Read books, watch movies, listen to music! Everything you love matters, and will eventually be useful for your work… so it’s even okay to spend your life on the internet if you feel like it. Yeah.