Thanks to his technical skills and intimate perspective Guillaume Amat could likely become one of the new ‘enfants prodige’ of French photography. He works especially with long-term projects and on-going visual research, focusing on topics like perception and memory. Large and almost inhabited landscapes, mirrors, and traces of human presence form the visual poetry of Amat.
References to art and photography history are not unknown to the French photographer, who is able to translate his sources of inspirations into personal views over nature and human life. Looking at his curriculum it’s easy to find many prestigious names among his publications, such as Le Monde or Times. Furthermore his works have been included in many group and solo exhibitions around the globe, from Paris to Taipei and Bogotá. We met with the artist to discover more about his creative process and how did he discover his passion.
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When did you start taking pictures pictures and why?
When I was sixteen years old, my father offered me my first camera. And from this moment I started shooting everything, testing angles, different compositions and points of view. It became rapidly my favourite way to express myself among others. I was literally running to make pictures. Nowadays I am more interested in making a picture rather than taking it.
In your works you seem to investigate the possibilities of the photographic representation itself. How would you describe your approach to this medium?
I dedicate myself to long-term personal projects, which produce photographic narratives. I aim to adapt the camera to the subject and the way in which to narrate a story by using different types of cameras, formats and sensible surfaces. In the construction of my pictures, I'm interested in creating a new perspective within the context of the image by blurring the boundaries between reality and fiction, what’s real and what’s invented. There is a question about the superposition of shots and the fragmentation of spaces to create new perceptions, which you get by playing with the perspectives and the picture frame of the site.
Through various technical procedures and oneiric scenes, I propose an area exploration as well as a visual one. I am thinking more and more about using pictures as a raw material for installations as well as video, which are some other doors to enter the image works. In fact, like other photographers, I believe that we are explorers, researchers using past references of every art discipline to modulate our own creations.
Your photographic series La Profondeur des Roches seems to recall the poetry of the Arte Povera and artists like Giuseppe Penone or Jannis Kounellis (who recently died). Do you feel close to this art movement?
I am glad you noticed that! This series, which is still a work in progress and in research, have some connection with Arte Povera movement, Land Art and the Romantic art period (specially the paintings by Caspar Friedrich where characters are represented in tormented and wild places). For instance, the painting entitled Wanderer above the sea of fog has gently haunted me since my childhood. All of the pictures that have been made in the Spanish desert of Bardenas Reales are the result of long preparation and hard work with assistants in-site. This desert became the first role, an outside stage and the set for the photographs. The character – the silhouette – is a space of the viewer’s projection as well as a scale reference for the hugeness of the landscape.
To come back to your question, the work of Giuseppe Penone is a connected influence insofar as he was using raw materials, installations in-site and the contrast of scales in these masterpieces. I feel close to his work indeed as well because his self-portraits with mirror contact lens were one of the first references for my previous Open Fields series. So I might say that we have certainly some common concerns in terms of representation.
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Your work appears to be quite conceptual. Especially the series Open Fields, where the different fragments of the pictures reflect and frame each others, creating a completely new reality. What message do you want the viewer to grasp?
The viewers take with them what they want from art, which is a good thing. When you exhibit a series of pictures to the public, they don’t belong to you anymore. I hope that they appropriate the images for themselves and add their own stories to them. I try to do oneiric and contemplative images so they can travel through the viewers’ minds and become part of their ‘visual library’. And if some pictures stay in their minds and arise emotional thoughts, that’s an achievement for me.
The first idea of Open Fields was to put in resonance two landscapes. The mirror reconstructs the landscape and creates a double reading by reflecting the off field in front of it. The mirror is like a window questioning the illusion of reality and its mechanisms. In those images, the viewers see two chosen parts of the space. The rest of the work for the viewer is to invent and rebuild the missing parts to envision a volume instead of a two-dimensional picture.
In this two series – as well as in Nébuleuse – the landscape is wide and often uninhabited; the few human figures in the pictures are pretty small and surrounded by a huge and uncivilized nature. What is your relation with the natural elements as an artist and how do you see the relation between humans and nature?
I like to be overwhelmed by nature and ‘silent’ landscapes. Uncivilized nature and huge landscapes help you to take the measure of time. The years have shaped the landscape you see and more years to come will keep changing it. Scrutinizing a piece of land is like watching eternity. You feel relative eternity when you see man-made structures like bunkers on the beach, as in the Nébuleuses series, that are vanishing slowly but surely, digested by the rhythm of the waves on the shore. So for me, nature contemplates humans’ scars.
In Nébuleuse and especially in Espace Mémorials – where you juxtaposed archive images of the I World War to your own pictures – you explored the topics of memory, heritage and the relation between space and time. Why are you triggered by such themes in your artistic production?
The common denominator of both series is historical memory. I find history important because it usually helps me understand the present time.
For the Espaces Memoriels series, I was searching how to tell a story about history. Because when you go on the WW1 warfare landscapes you are not connected to the history. The land is beautiful and well shaped, full of green grass that has grown again. So you feel that it has suffered and is shaped by war, but history is below your feet, unreachable. You see huge cemeteries full of white crosses everywhere so you can understand the tragedy’s magnitude. When I went to these historical places I couldn’t make the link between the war images in my head and the land. Therefore, in those places I had a strange feeling that soldiers were whispering memories and stories through the haunting wind. You wander in a time that is not yours.
So I focused on pictures of soldiers depicting moments of wait, work, and their daily life. I started a long research on archives and bought old stereoscopic glass photographs of this period as a starting point. And then I made the link between the soldiers’ pictures – that had been taken a century ago – and current warfare landscapes to substantiate the feeling I had there. The trigger to explore these themes was how to represent a time that doesn’t belong to us in the present day.
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Two of your series are set in Spain: Justo Gallego and Bardenas Reales. Do you feel some kind of connection with this country?
I feel I have a connection with the people and the places that inspired me, so it could be anywhere in the world. Some of my projects have been crystallized in Spain, you are right, but large part of my actual work in-progress takes place in other parts of the world, such as Taiwan, Italy or the United States.
Speaking about Bardenas Reales, this series is marked by a sense of surrealism. Was the place itself that inspired this specific style? Or did you know in advance the kind of result you were looking for?
The series Bardenas Reales is the first one I realized in that arid place. As the landscape is impressive and photogenic, I grasped it little by little, starting by a small area very representative of the place. I was interested in scale contrast and optical illusions, so all images were carefully planned and pre-sketched on notebook. I knew what kind of images I wanted beforehand; they were well delineated. As a general rule, it’s easier for me to have a clear vision of what I want to produce and then break the self-imposed limits if I feel it’s necessary.
Bardenas Reales is a setting suitable for my imagination and for building stories. The series La Profondeur des Roches takes place there as well. It takes time to understand a place like that, and to get rid of the first breathless beauty you find in order to go underneath the surface. It took me some years.
Since the end of 2016 your works have started to be shown internationally in Taipei, Moscow, and soon Bogotá. How are you living this new stage of your career?
Yes, I am delighted, it’s important to have visibility. Images are made to travel and I am very glad to find new audiences and see how my work is received abroad. Hope 2018 will be as good as 2017 for my projects.
The Open Fields series travels a lot as it is part of a collective photographers’ project called France(s) Territoire Liquide, which is a huge young French collective that has been working in France for three years. A large part of these works, alongside with the famous DATAR photographic project, will be shown at the Bibliothèque National de France (French National Library) in Paris in November 2017, in an exhibition called French Landscape: a photographic adventure (1984-2017) co-curated by Héloïse Conésa and Raphaële Bertho.
What is going to be your next project?
I am currently working on several projects. One of those will hopefully take place in Taiwan, where I wanted to work on the issue of identity, which is being very talked about. Another one of my projects is related with some certain kind of paintings as the starting point. I am focused as well on the second part of my work in-progress, La Profondeur des Roches, on which I’ll be working on folded paper prints, which requires heavy post-production. The ultimate goal of this work would be the edition of a book, which to me is the very best way to propose a photographic series.
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