" Time plays a large part in my work, in the register of both fascination and fear. I’m so scared of not having enough time to do everything I want to do and paint everything I want to paint. I can shoot fast, but right after I take the photo, time freezes, and everything then happens in slow motion."
Artist: Eloïse Labarbe-Lafon
Book published by Cé Editions
Nicolas Blanchadell : What was your creative journey to find your own aesthetic today?
Eloïse Labarbe Lafon : I come from a family who transmitted me a huge sensibility towards arts, as early as I can remember. I’ve been attracted by analog photography since I was a teenager and never stopped shooting and experimenting ever since. Aside from photography, I studied art history and cinema, worked as a film restorer as well as in the film archive world, and I colorized war archives for documentaries. I loved being surrounded by ancient images (sometimes hand-painted) in my different jobs, of pioneer photographers and cinematographers. I’ve also always been a movie nerd. All these beautiful images have for sure nourished me all my life, and guided me towards my current aesthetic of melancholic hand-painted photographs.
NB : How does time relate in your work and your connection to it? Between the time spent hand-painting the photographs, and the mid-19th-century technique itself.
ELL : As a kid, the superpower I dreamt of having was the ability to freeze time. I thought about it over and over, and this was my solution to fix all the problems in the world while becoming extremely good in all the creative fields at the same time. I remember watching the movie Groundhog Day and thinking that Bill Muray was so lucky to live in a world where he could become extremely good at playing the piano without moving forward in time! This dream is still very relevant to me today.
Time plays a large part in my work, in the register of both fascination and fear. I’m so scared of not having enough time to do everything I want to do and paint everything I want to paint. I realise that I chose an extremely slow process, in a world where photography can be all about instantaneity. I can shoot fast, but right after I take the photo, time freezes, and everything then happens in slow motion: I need to process the film, scan, print, paint for hours with oil, wait for the paint to dry, scan the painting and then edit to remove dust. It makes me spend so much time (days!) with my images, that I become extremely attached to all of them. This time is precious, and by being slow it actually gives me the sensation that time finally froze. I’m always torn between painting huge amounts of photos, being extra productive, and also being slowed down by the process, and I think that’s a beautiful confrontation that forces me to self-reflect while thinking about time every day. The mid-19th-century technique fascinates me too. Just knowing that everything was made by hand, permitting the creation of incredible and phantasmagoric worlds of colors, static or in motion, is mind-blowing. Even though my work is different from those ancient images, it warms my heart to have a connection with such incredible witnesses of art, history and time itself.
NB : You just released your first photography book called ‘Album’, often picturing yourself, lover, or friends. Why choose to photograph your ‘personal’ life?
ELL : I guess I feel the need to document my life, always in this relation with time that I’d like to freeze. I love that through the use of photography and painting, my personal life becomes more of an array of little melancholic and dreamy tales, than something realistic. It makes me feel like I’m in control of the world around me, by giving it the colors of my thoughts. I don’t plan much before I shoot, I like to be inspired by the places I’m in and the people I’m with. You’ll find many self-portraits in the book and in my work in general, because I’m always down to experience things and I like being autonomous and not needing someone else to model for me all the time. I don’t see myself in the pictures anymore, I just see an endless face to use and cover with paint.
NB : Can you tell us more about the book itself, how did this come together?
ELL : Album is my very first photography book, published by Cé Éditions. We’ve been working on it for a year with my editor before it came out and I’m really proud of it. I love books and it was some kind of consecration getting to make one containing my own work. The book is built like a photo album, with mixed photographs I shot and painted over the last 5 years or so, whose association creates new memories, bringing the reader to a nostalgic world he never knew but that could remind him of something, like a tale whose story he would have forgotten. The book gathers more than 80 photographs taken over the years in France, Greece, Mexico and Japan. The book was printed in the south of France, using the technique of photolithography. I wanted to create a precious and intimate object, that’s why we chose this soft and bright red fabric for the cover, nice to hold and touch.
NB : How do you look at the world around you? Do you see it through hand-painted filters, monochrome or in normal colors? When do you first colorize a picture in your mind?
ELL : I’m very curious and I look at the world around me in its smallest details, all the time, and most intensively in nature. I think this curiosity also comes from when I was a film restorer, fixing all the little scratches and defaults on the films. Or maybe it’s the other way around, I probably chose to restore movies because I liked to stare at the details? When I colorized war archives as one of my very first jobs, I remember looking at the people and buildings differently, as if I wanted to see how they had been colorized, searching for the flaws in the contours. Now I’m way less crazy! But I do imagine what I see in the viewfinder with solid colors and different textures. When I compose the frame, I don’t always know the colors I’ll apply in advance, but I visualize options of the painted areas, I picture which part I’d like to highlight with colors, I see the skins changing into surreal tones of fake flesh and the cheeks and lips turning bright red. A few days -or sometimes weeks- later, I look at the print and dive into it with my oil colors, painting with my brushes as well as my fingers, trying to create a new texture in the image, a new universe, letting my intuition guide me according to the color palette I’m into at that moment.
NB : Are there any other creative fields you’d like to explore? Where do you project yourself?
ELL : Last year, I started to explore the field of stained glass. In the same way photography exists because of light, light enhances stained glass work in a sacred way. I’ve always been fascinated by stained glass in churches, especially the medieval ones, they make me cry every time. So I learned how to work with glass and lead in Mexico City to frame my hand-painted photos in the most precious way I could imagine. I’d like to keep exploring and practicing this technique. I project myself travelling around, trying to get better and better with photography and stained glass, shooting more videos, and keeping making books! Two new ones are currently in the making.
© Eloïse Labarbe-Lafon
Book pictures © Cé Editions / Eloïse Labarbe-Lafon
Editor and Interview : Nicolas Blanchadell