S√ČBASTIEN TIXIER. TESTIMONIES OF THE CHALLENGES
by Klaus Fruchtnis


© Sébastien Tixier from the series ‘Allanngorpoq’

Tell us about your approach to photography. How it all started? What are your memories of your first shots?

Sébastien Tixier (ST): The very first memories I have date back from my early childhood. My father had one of those old Zenit cameras. Plain black, heavy, massive design, loud shutter noise. I found it fascinating, and I have grown with this fascination for the images, but I actually quite never took pictures back then. Only when I turned 24, I decided to buy my first camera and take my first pictures. I think that at that time the democratization of the digital cameras sounded to me like a great learning tool. I went to film later, only once I felt comfortable with the technic. For some reason, my first shots were mostly urban shots, textures of walls, and vegetation mixing with concrete. Nothing was really planned; it was much more pure intuition and a research of graphic patterns.

How did your research evolve with respect to those early days?

ST: I can remember that, about one year or so after experimenting with photography, I turned more and more impressed by some street photographs I could see from other photographers: I found it so hard to come up with a strong composition while shot at a much wider angle than my “close up” shoots. And that was the time when I slowly started to widen my frame bit by bit out of my comfort zone. Then finally I started working with film and it helped me slow down and focus. Beside these technical aspects, what has also evolved a lot along the way is the preparation of my subjects, trying to make pictures that speak about something, convey a meaning. In the end, on a project like ‘Allanngorpoq’ the time spent to actually take pictures is amazingly short compared to the preparations, documentations, contacts, discussions, etc. required to set up the frame of the project. And I realize that over time, the time I’ve spent on those aspects has greatly increased as my projects evolved.

© Sébastien Tixier from the series ‘Allanngorpoq’

What do you think about photography in the era of digital and social networking?

ST: I can see at least three aspects in it. One is the social media itself, which I think can be a powerful tool for artists to gain visibility, get in touch and share with other persons with whom it would not have been possible otherwise. Another aspect is the democratization of photography that goes with it, and I consider it a rather positive thing. It gives more people ways to express themselves and somehow force the artists to be not just “mass”-technicians but focus on the subject. And the last point is the tendency of the content on social networks to be more and more image-based (Posts with pictures get the most clicks, so over years we have seen full text statuses evolve into “catchy illustration image along with shorter text”, videos are used to have people listen to music, etc). In that last context, this can lead either to the risk of depreciation of the photographic act, or in contrary build an overestimation of its importance. Only future will tell! But I think that it’s also what I like about photography. The fact that it’s a young medium evolving quickly, and how it reveals a lot about how we live, in one way or another.

About your work now. How would you describe your personal research in general?

ST: My studio work is mainly introspective and very personal. In contrary, with the rest of my work I try to address subjects that question me, and that, I think, are testimonies of the challenges of this world as we know it. In these works I’m more interested in raising questions to the viewer, more than providing answers – which I don’t think I have. I am interested in the way people adapt to their living environment, and how this living environment changes and is shaped by various factors (economic politics, culture shifts, access to resources), how it brings societies or communities to change accordingly and adapt again. Whether it be how people once adapted to the hostile environment of the arctic and now deal with its change, or how housing projects shape the lives in peri-urban areas, or how men and women and families have settled in the over-urbanized island of Hashima, built their lives on this concrete rock before the operating company decided to close the island one day.

© Sébastien Tixier from the series ‘9288’

Do you have any preferences in terms of cameras, techniques and format?

ST: I shoot film for my personal projects. I like it for the large prints possibilities with larger formats. And though digital has improved dramatically recently when it comes to dynamic range, I still find that – for some reasons – film behaves with a nicer contrast with high dynamics scenes and “contre-jours”. But I don’t consider myself “film-obsessed”: for sure, I do enjoy the magic of shooting film and not seeing the image, but technically speaking I just find it more appropriate at the moment for what I do, and this can change. In terms of camera, my series have been made with a Mamiya RZ 67 medium format, both in the studio and in the fields. Or on the sea-ice! I’m really in love with this camera. I think it’s because it’s big and heavy enough to be constraining and it forces me to take time and think about the composition, and yet it’s also still possible to improvise a bit even hand-held. But probably one of my upcoming next projects is going to be made on a large-format 4x5.

© Sébastien Tixier from the series ‘Allanngorpoq’

Tell us about your series ‘Allanngorpoq’. I’m also curious to know more about your series Instants of Latency.

ST: ‘Allanngorpoq’ is about how Greenland’s society is changing in parallel of its environment. I have always been fascinated with countries and settlements of the very north, and especially Greenland as I was told stories of Inuits by my father when I was a child. As I documented on the project, I took the measure of how the current reality is very different from the tales of my childhood. The country is really at a crossing of paths. Its people begin to embrace Western lifestyles and modes of consumption. Supermarkets, cell phones are making their way into Inuit culture, and I wanted my work to capture how these rapid changes raise questions about society and identity. The documentation and preparation process took over a year, making contacts for my stays at different places in the country, from mid-latitudes to the very north, and included learning the basics of the Inuit language! This gave birth to a book that I recently released.

‘Instant of Latency’ is a bit older. I was working mostly on staged photographs at that time. In between sessions, I found myself shooting some very similar kind of urban/landscape images for a few years in a row, coming back to the same location many times with different weather and light until I was able to capture a certain mood. And that’s only later that I actually understood what they had in common and what felt important to me. So the series was then constructed later with the pictures from this period. It is about focusing on the beautiful aesthetics of “pointless” moments, but that are all around us.

© Sébastien Tixier from the series ‘Instant of Latency’

Is there any contemporary artist or photographer, even if young and emerging, who influenced you in some way?

ST: Of course! And especially as a self-taught photographer I’ve learnt a lot by looking at other’s work. Nadav Kander has clearly been a strong inspiration for the mood and composition of his landscapes, and for a very different aspect Gregory Crewdson and David Lynch aesthetics. And I could also list Erwin Olaf, Alec Soth, Zhang Kechun, Eric Beaudelaire, Alexander Gronsky just to name a few.

© Sébastien Tixier from the series ‘Instant of Latency’

Three books of photography that you recommend?

ST: There are so many! The two that have had the biggest inspiration on me – with no surprise regarding the above – are “Yangtze the Long River” by Nadav Kander and “Beneath The Roses” by Gregory Crewdson. More recently, if I have to pick just one more, then “The Epilogue” by Laia Abril.

Is there any show you’ve seen recently that you find inspiring?

ST: It’s not photography, but anyway I’ve found the various recent collective exhibitions in Palais de Tokyo very mind blowing. I have really enjoyed the exhibitions at Le Bal also, especially ‘A Handful Of Dust’ and ‘S'il y a lieu, je pars avec vous’. And the work of Juliette-Andrea Elie at Galerie Le Petit Espace.

 Installation view ‘S'il y a lieu, je pars avec vous’, Le Bal, Paris © Martin Argyroglo

Projects that you are working on now and plans for the future?

ST: I am currently experimenting in different areas. With ideas to enrich/extend some of my series of staged photographs, for which I am currently sketching, but I can hardly tell when it will all come together. I am also thinking and trying pictures on a more “abstract” project mixing film and digital, but for the moment it really is just a try. And finally I’m in the documentation process and setting plans for the next project. Not related to cold country this time, but dealing with the question of water and the political challenges it conveys. Hopefully during the course of next year… But I’m also still thinking hard about giving a follower to ‘Allanngorpoq’ in maybe a couple of years!

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LINKS 
Sébastien Tixier 
France