Philippe Ciaparra



Fotonostrum Magazine No.6

We Photograph Who We Are

Philippe Ciaparra

When I look at my landscape work, time and again, I find a correlation between form and a balance of volumes. If questions arise, they occur by themselves over time. They are generated by our subconscious in relation to our creative processes. In addition to taking photographs in a permanent state of introspection, this questioning has an effect on my creative momentum not as a difficulty but as an enquiry into the atmosphere of a place. I have photographs in the making in me, with the certainty that depiction will always prevail over reality. My photographs do not have the sole function of showing reality.

What I try to express in my photographs remains enigmatic, the more I ask myself this question, the fewer answers I have. I believe the atmosphere in the places I photograph, the feeling of restriction through which I arrive at this mental inwardness, both of which are recurrent in my work, are ways of setting my inner world, focused on loneliness and thinking about the world around me and are distinctive of my personality. Essentially what I am looking for is inwardness, this innerness, I like letting it come into me; photography is my medium, it is also my receiver.

I do not remember being influenced by other photographers’ work, although I know one cannot escape entirely from being influenced by others. I do believe that New Objectivity as well as the Düsseldorf School were stimulants no doubt. When I travel, I think of Minor White and Paul Caponigro as often as possible.

Upon my return from my last three months long winter trip of 2016-2017 through the United States and Canada, I first spent ten days in my Paris dark room to develop my black and white negatives and make my contact sheets. I spent two more weeks in Marseille making a rough selection of some hundred and eighty photographs from the hundred and thirty films I exposed during my travels. From this basic selection, I scan the negatives and adjust the contrast and density to the reference values ​​for the final print. I point up certain areas of the image to refine the black and white values​. My print is accomplished once it attains a certain lyricism. I then make an inkjet print, as an archival and a reference print, and a mere step in the making of my final prints, be they silver salt or palladium salt prints; my exhibition prints are never ink on printing paper. They are precious prints, made according to the good old noble process of photography that I learned as a child, namely that of light interacting with silver in gelatin to modify its nature.

My choice of gear depends on my destination and especially on the season of travelling. I have a preference for an old Nikon F2 camera – with an exceptionally luminous 58 mm lens, like the one Larry Burrows used during the Vietnam War_, with its huge motor and automatic diaphragm preselection system, revolutionary for its time, that clips onto the body. I like this camera and the noise of its shutter release, it is heavy, it weighs close to 3 kg, it has a great look. During my travels I use Kodak Tri-X film that I have been using since my childhood. Locking myself in my dark room for three months has never been a problem for me. I love the smell of the fixer in the morning. I have always enjoyed placing the negative in the holder of my enlarger, an Omega B8 dating from the seventies, as majestic as an old Cadillac.

It is hard to say exactly how I arrive at my ideas. A way of thinking is complex to define and I do not think I can describe it with certainty. However, it is obvious that creative intentions are the fruit of a process of reflections that evolves over decades, from intuitive approaches to intellectual reflections that ultimately determines action. For me, struggling against the illusions of reality was and remains an ongoing battle. What is essential, is to know where to place your eye. Sometimes I think it is all about techniques, experiences and hard work. I hope I am wrong, for if not, what will remain of these remarkable thought patterns and of the mystery of creation?

My activity as a photographer is multifaceted and diverse. I am a fashion and portrait photographer but I have also researched and developed a body of personal work, namely landscape, portraits and nudes, or rather ‘corporal landscape’ For my commercial activities, I work mainly in the studio with artificial light or, more rarely, with the client in natural light settings for institutional portraits. For landscape photographs, of course I have no choice but to work outdoors, often during the short moment between the end of the early evening and the beginning of the night, to find that dark atmosphere so dear to me. For the nudes, I work exclusively in the studio, in privacy and with artificial light in the form of a large light box with constant diffusion.

Following the publication of my book, “Paysages & Transfiguration” (k éditeur, Paris 2020), I am now developing a body of work in color, as a furtherance of my twilight landscapes. I am setting out to discover the language of color, which is foreign to me. Color perhaps aims to reproduce reality or at least to modify the perception we have of reality. I am apprehensive about this experience, since Fuji Pro 400H film alone will not suffice to produce color photography, it is my very way of thinking about landscape photography that will have to be reconsidered. In the end, we photograph who we are.

Paris, June 2020

Translated from French by Rina Sherman