Our work is not about pleasing, nor is it about harming anyone
(Albert Londres, foreword of Terre débène)
Every photographer must feel responsible for what he produces
(Raymond Depardon, interview in Le Monde, September, 1997)
I produce social and documentary photography. I am a researcher and humanist photographer following in the tradition of Edward Curtis, August Sander, and Walker Evans, as well as being a responsible human. My work is centered around making photographs and witnessing the condition of the world around me. This work is a conscious construction intended to be far from mass consumption photography. I try to show a certain reality, which matches my vision and my emotions.
I am a photographer of the human heritage in all its forms and I work to create a significant vision of my environment. Before the multitude of images that surround us, I want my work to be viewed as the opposite of simple aestheticism, superficial and easy to read, and far from photographic truism.
My desire is to show the contradictions and paradoxes; the counterbalance of a world in progress which is impossible to deny. I am interested in the reality we dont see.
In Europe, Asia, Africa, and South America, I endeavored to produce images in which the effects of style and anecdote have no importance. I desire to show the inside of someone rather than their superficial exterior. I dont pray to the deity of photographic authenticity, but rather I keep an arms distance from the subjects I choose to photograph.
My portraits are observations of the world around me before it disappears. I dont try to make either natural or pretty photos, nor try to produce images that flatter my subjects. Above all, I desire my subjects to exist in their own complexity within their every day situation. My photography is homage to their presence.
For these series, I worked with a photographic process adapted for large format photography. I used a 4x5 folding camera on a tripod and had my subjects pose for me. I choose to use black and white instant film in order to capture only the intrinsic qualities of the individuals I am working with. Using negative/positive film allows me to immediately give a print to my subjects while I retain the negative. As I take a photograph and give back the image, my subject and I are engaged in an important ceremony. The splitting and exchange of the negative and the positive renders our unspoken bond into a material presence, symbolic of what we have shared. This ritual linking human interaction to the photographic act is essential to me.
All shots were taken at a low shutter speed (one second to 1/8 of a second), a more human speed with which one can capture a breath or a heartbeat. Eager to avoid photographic voyeurism, I select my subjects during my strolls through villages in each of the countries I visit. The tools that enable me to convey an understanding through my photos are simplicity and objectivity. No photos are taken furtively; there are no stolen images. Although I am the one who ultimately depresses the shutter, there is always a dialogue with my subjects. I explain what I would like to do and how I work in order to allow each person to participate in this social exchange, thus creating a collaboration between myself and the subject as a human being. The posing is done around the activity of the subject and his gestures which symbolize him. None of my portraits are anonymous.
My desire is to show the contradictions and paradoxes, which are the counterbalance of a world in progress that is impossible to deny. While in China, I was interested by the environment, in everyday life on the streets, in the countryside, in the factories and at home; the reality that we dont see that exists beyond the beaten tracks and the archetypes of modernity that constantly feed our vision. I show a reality which may be blunt, this being far from the reality of what we are generally presented with.
The traditional Tibetan culture will shortly disappear because of the new economic conditions in the world and in China particularly. The economic and tourist exploitation of this area will obliterate ancestral cultures and impose a new political and cultural order. These social, artistic and religious traditions will become consuming folklore organized in attraction areas for Chinese and western foreigners. I wanted to record those people with my photography before they disappear.
I have traveled to Tibet for two reportages, in 2004 and 2006. During this time I have seen the impact of the evolution of the development of both Chinese and western tourism in many ways, particularly with the introduction of train passage into Tibet. The Chinese colonization is apparent in both the cities and countryside, bringing with it the development of increasing transit infrastructure. This country, until recently feudal, is entering the 21st century, repeating all the mistakes made by the western world both unrealistically and culturally. The traditional Tibet, very cherished in western phantasmagoria will disappear in the coming years.
I am committed to producing images that speak for themselves. I photograph and fix the reality of my encounter with the objective of enabling a later audience to view the images while examining themselves. I offer the images to my audience so they may look into the eyes of these men and women before they disappear, culturally and physically destroyed by the occidental model. It is a time to view their dignity, as that is all they still possess. I allow each of my viewers the opportunity to self-examine or look away.
Gilles Perrin, 2007
China, Portraits of Tibet