From being a dental surgeon to a photographer, Vincent Ferrané spent his first days being a photographer in the library, studying the history of photography, where he seems to have learned about the importance of relationships, as well as the importance of the voice and the silence that we can see now in his work. For him, reality is only a shapeless mass, and he questions the interpretability of images. His photographs study details and show us the flesh in an intimate yet crude way. We can live differently through his photographic world.
Why did you change your career path from science to photography? Can you explain to us your reasons? Were you interested in photography while studying science?
Rather, the question might be why I chose science studies instead of doing what I wanted most! It's a sad little story, but when I was 18, my father who was a writer, committed suicide. I was devastated and in the same year, I had to pass my bachelor degree, and choose options for my universities studies.
Undecided, I enrolled in both fine arts school and medical studies. Both fields interested me. But at the time, I followed what seemed to me, without doubt, the most distant from an artistic career and its vicissitudes; 7 years later, I became a dental surgeon. I started photography at the end of my studies and taking advantage of an opportunity I was handed, I started a series of photographs in varied hospital units for several months. I showed this work to daily papers and magazines which started offering me reportage and portrait assignments.
Who do you look up to in photography? Who helped build you as a photographer?
At the end of the '90s, the Maison Européenne de la Photographie opened in Paris. There was access for students to a library and a video library with very impressive funds. I think I spent my life in libraries either for school or to look at photo books and read about photo theory. At the time, I probably thought that life could be learned in a library: so I scrupulously revisited the entire history of photography.
One of my first emotions was undoubtedly the documentary series Contacts, initiated by William Klein who filmed contact sheets or prints with voice-over comments from their author. He said that from a very great photographer one would retain, at most, 250 images. And if we consider that, on average, these photos are taken at 125th of a second, then the life of a photographer is only 2 seconds.
For me, it was a deep dive into the souls of the authors I admired, I drank their word and their silence. I understood then why I could appreciate Nan Goldin, for her images of course, but above all, for her relationship to the world and to the human condition which she translated into her life and her photography.
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You work for French and international magazines such as Wallpaper, Elle, Grazia, and Vanity Fair or AD. In parallel to your work, you develop personal projects and, as I have read, you adorn the ‘real’ with signs, to open to symbolic and sensitive interpretations. Can you explain to us this approach?
In fact, my photographs often take everyday life as a support in that they are anchored in a well-defined reality, with a subject, an angle, etc.; however, what interests me is the openness it provides, sometimes the duality it contains. I think we often misunderstand the relationship that photography has with reality.
To make a photograph is to place signs in a two-dimensional frame so that their relationship gives rise to an image in whoever is going to look at it. The real is only a shapeless mass, like clay for a sculptor. So, what I try to do in my photographs is not so much to attach myself to reality itself as to the relationship we have with what is shown.
In 2015, you did a short film called Bienvenue, from which you draw photo stills to invent a new story, and then you did a solo exhibition in Les Rencontres d’Arles. How did this experience make you feel?
It was both an incredible experience and great frustration. It all started with an order, a carte blanche given by a private foundation. I then presented the project to Sam Stourzé, the director at the time, who associated it with the program of the photography festival.
On this occasion, I was able to implement these questions about the interpretability of images; in this case on their dual nature, both a portrait of a young woman wandering in a city and a revelation of subjectivity, a perception of the world
Could you tell us more about this?
The problem is that, in France, it is very difficult to produce projects like this one. The cultural photographic policy is very patrimonial and the works of young photographers or quite simply living photographers are not supported enough. Here the debate still turns on whether photography is an art in its own right or not. Photographers cannot claim workshops or means of production in the same way as so-called artists, for example, and there are no foundations or clear institutions to specifically support photographers as is the case of Anglo-Saxon countries, for example. And, at the same time, working commercially to finance personal projects, in particular for the press or the private partners is always frowned upon; it leaves little room for a quality photographic expression that allows their authors to live out of it.
Fortunately, we might see a new generation of photographers, who straightforwardly affirm their status as photographers, who will change the medium for good and who will not let themselves be taken in by obsolete categorisations to which one would like to reduce them.
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At this festival, you met the social media ‘it-girl’ Jeanne Damas through mutual friends. You were fascinated by her because you saw how she made a kind of mood board of her daily life. Can you explain your reasons for this fascination?
I would say it wasn't a fascination but I saw it as a far from trivial way of building a public figure through photography. A way of making images with its principles, its codes and standards to which a large audience adheres.
Then, you developed a project with her, Iconography – 25 figures of Jeanne Damas, where you wanted to create a series that looked like an investigation, close to a document or a quest for proof. You extracted her poses and objects before inviting her to be in front of your lens. Can you talk about this necessity?
The idea came to me to visually question the construction of a fashion icon, a bit like questioning in their time sacred images or Western religious representations conveying devotion. I asked Jeanne Damas if we could collaborate to create a series based on her codes, her poses, her objects and the relationship that her audience maintains with these elements. Maybe that's where the idea of fascination appears. It's a combination of the objectification of bodies, in particular female bodies, and a fetishisation of objects staged ad libitum by social networks.
What was the creative process behind this project?
I used precise images taken from Jeanne Damas' Instagram feed and I suggested that she replayed these scenes to sometimes draw a detail, a fragment, an emblematic element in order to draw up by touch a fragmented portrait of her public personage. I had in mind that in the expression ‘aesthetic canon’ which structures the standard of beauty, the term ‘canon’ refers to the idea of ‘rules’. These rules, however, inscribed nowhere, enact in a changing way the representation of beauty in its dimensions certainly aesthetic but also cultural and social.
Jeanne Damas is a so-called successful ‘it girl-model-businesswoman’ who embodies many modern facets of a feminine ideal. She enjoys a popularity whose global reach could never have been considered before the modern era of social networks.
Then the aesthetics appear, borrowing as much from the classic contrapposto, from the figures of Odalisque, from those of the femme fatale of cinema, as from Pop art or the presentation of the body in an e-shop of clothing.
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With this series, you wanted to explain, and question, the elements of a popular representation of feminine beauty, using black and white to confront the glossy and colourful qualities of common fashion editorials. The result is an enigmatic puzzle of flesh, objects and tools, with Irving Penn and Walker Evan’s references. I want to know more about the super intimate moment you both created to do these photographs. Did you feel like a ‘voyeur?’ I ask this because of the intrusiveness of your images.
Let's say that in this case, I confined myself to a lexicon made up of elements that a follower can see of his idol on Instagram. Laura Mulvey in the '90s dissected Hollywood and Nouvelle Vague films in Fetishism and Curiosity to show the underlying patriarchal covenate, invisible but constituting a collective unconscious. Here, Jeanne Damas is captured in a notion of beauty and feminine ideal conceived as a performance perfectly executed by her, a construction that she herself has patiently and strategically developed. For me, it was about integrating the voyeuristic side inherent in the role of an image producer with that of a JD fan who would collect everything from his idol.
I was talking earlier about integrating an ambivalence, here in the choice of fragmented images, the greyish black and white look enters into contradiction or puts at a distance the supposed sexy side of the subject. Everything seems to participate equally in this investigation, in these almost anatomical boards, the pieces of flesh, the tools like an eyelash curler, a lock of hair, identity papers, or smashed cigarette butts.
Now I want to talk about your series Visitor, where you went to the ateliers of artists. You were interested because these spaces are often secret, intimate and complex. You mention that artists are in a ‘mise en abyme’ situation, for them and for the piece they are creating. Can you explain more about that? And what about the ‘specific time’ you wanted to photograph?
When you enter an artist’s studio, there is a special atmosphere there, a mix of very intimate and very functional space very revealing of the artist and his practice. So photographing the artist at work in this space can create this ‘mise en abyme.’ The idea was really to build on the place as a whole thing. Studio photography has indeed largely developed in a way that sanctifiues the artist, reinforcing the idea of being a ‘genius.’ It is modelled on a vision of Western art history itself androcentric, where universal artistic significance has long been associated with the masculine.
But around me, I realised that the majority of artists were women, so I relied on Linda Nochlin's essay, Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists? to question the current situation in Paris. Can being a woman be considered as one element among others; sometimes essential, especially for the artists who have chosen to place it as the centre of their creation — sometimes secondary or incidental?
I was given a variety of responses when asked whether being a woman affected their art. One said that when she is in the studio, she is simply an artist, and her gender is irrelevant. Another argued that being a woman is an essential element of her work, and that she obviously puts it at the centre of what she creates. Others said that they didn’t have an opinion on this debate, but that they had often been asked to position themselves within it.
In Milky Way, you portray your wife breastfeeding your child. You were interested in the geometry that makes this specific moment, and the exchanges between two beings, where the milk becomes an element of the world under construction, as in the Greek legend. At this time, you were constructing yourself as a parent and maybe you were constructing a ‘new world’ for you three. Can this series be a representation of that?
That's right, the arrival of a child is a major event in life. We may think about preparing for it, but it is a real revolution. Breastfeeding seemed to me to sublimate these moments of world-building, moments of strength and emotion on one hand, but also difficult and sometimes harsh and tiring for the mother.
In Milky Way, I tried to keep this wonder at these moments, to understand how it places us in a larger human history, made up of myths and representations, but to include it in the constraints of everyday life. By delivering this photographic testimony over 6 months, in a way it is true that I was giving back an opportunity to live differently these moments which at the moment seem totally disorganized and that you enjoy little because things are happening quickly.
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To finish, I want to talk about your project Every-day, where you went to see trans non-binary people in their privacy, while they were getting ready to leave their homes. Why are you so attracted to intimacy? I mean, I am very attracted to it, and the way people construct themselves within the objects they live with, so I want to know what you think.
Indeed, in my different projects, there is something related to the concept of construction, of self-construction and of giving it a new representation. And if I explore places of intimacy, it is undoubtedly because there that this selfhood idea is developed, these arrangements making it possible to bring about a singular being. I try by focusing on intimate, individual stories to question what we think is the generality and by an abusive extension the norm.
In the Every-day series, I captured the rituals of getting ready to go out for Ava, Jackie, Leo, Mathieu, Matthias, Maty and Raya who identify as transgender and non-binary. The photographs depict mundane scenes, but they are significant: they provide a glimpse into the subtle, yet important, ways in which people can express their identities, evading the binary system of feminine and masculine that society attaches to so many of these gestures. But if they appear first as a group, finally many things lead you to see the great beauty of individuals with personal histories and interests.
Do you have any projects that can be advanced to us? What can we expect from you?
I am currently working with curator Ingo Taubhorn on Family affairs, a collective photography exhibition that will take place at Deichtorhallen Hamburg and whose inaugural room will house my Milky Way series. The opening is scheduled for April 2021!
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