Damn but do I love the photography of Julien Mauve. His range is immense, discussing everything from the future of our society and world in his ethereal and haunting abandoned cities, to the lost innocence we seem to have forgotten, to the darkness of the world and the futility of our attempts to drive that darkness away. Check out his interview:
In Back To Childhood, you have a series of photographs of adults playing with children’s toys, what do you miss from childhood? Children imagine so easily and marvel at the whole world, but we lose that as we age, many people lose that ability, have you managed to hold onto your sense of wonder? Your photos for this series are so serious, there’s little of the childish glee that we see kids have when they play, how did you decide the emotion you wanted your subjects to have?
From childhood I miss the innocence, the simplicity of things, the easy way to built relationships with others,… and especially the imagination that makes your create epic stories with just a bunch of toys. I don’t know how I managed to keep this part of childhood in me, I guess it depends on a variety of factors, especially the conditions in which I grew up. All I know is I still have illusions, dreams, faith in humanity, all those things, I think, help you move forward, be creative and not fall into depression or pessimism.
The emotions of the people on the pictures were meant to be this way to accentuate the paradox between them and the toys they were holding. Seriousness is a common aspect of what separates adults from child, I wanted to emphasize that.
Where did you shoot the series ‘What’s Left Of Utopia’? You mention in the description that the project discusses the loss of space, what space is being lost? Nature? What is your connection to the ‘impoverished landscape’?
The series has been shot in random places around Paris. A lot of those buildings were built between the 70’s and 80’s in an Utopian project called “Les grands ensembles”. It was supposed to become great living areas for people working in the city, a social symbol of success. But it turned out to become poor and insecure neighborhoods where no one really wants to leave anymore. The loss of space is what we have chose to do to replace what was there first. Fields, forests, rivers have been removed so that we could built those buildings. Can we consider this a great achievement or a failure ? Even if the intentions were good in the beginning, when we look at what we have sacrificed, was the supposedly progress worth it ? That’s what I mean by ‘impoverished landscape’ and it can also be seen as a symbol of what happen today on Earth on a larger scale.
For Snow Of Memories, you discuss how our identity is potentially being subsumed by our digital experience, do you believe the utility of digital media is worth the price of constant connection? In What’s Left Of Utopia, you discuss the collapse of the world, due in part to industry and the insatiability of the human experience, if we were to print out every photo we took, it would generate a grievous amount of waste. Do you think the ability to take so many photos has diluted the intent and execution of photographers? How has the changed access to our memories and the artifacts of times past changed the cultural zeitgeist, has it made us more attached? More free in that we don’t have to try and remember anymore, the computer does it for us?
Digital media is a great thing. But like all great things, it comes with a price. We now have easy access to almost everything we want : information, photographs, articles, books, music, movies, … Internet and the technologies have brought the best and (sometimes) the worse. I won’t say that things were better before, in fact, I think it is a really exciting time to live in. And it seems there is nothing we could have done to stop it from happening anyway, the march of technological progress is too strong. Therefore the debate is not “is it good or not ?”, but rather “how do we include it to our lives (and still remain happy) ?”. The constant connection is something we can’t really avoid (due to social pressure), it is something we have to learn to live with. And we also have to learn how to protect ourselves.
Regarding the amount of photography nowadays, it’s a vast question and a great subject for many artists. I love Erik Kessel’s installation in Arles in 2013, a room full of pictures which represent the amount added everyday on Flickr. Today, I bet an entire house would barely be enough to store everything that is uploaded on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat everyday. It’s more easy to take and develop pictures and photography has become something else. It has become a language, with it’s own codes. People are now using it to express feelings (I’m enjoying my meal = picture of my plate, I’m enjoying my holiday = picture of my feet on the beach, …). The time we were carrying a picture of our loved ones in our wallets now seems very far away. We now have hundreds of pictures stored on our smartphones instead.
So yes, our relationship with pictures has changed. And I think that for photographers, it’s a good opportunity to learn how to make better pictures that will emerge from the mass. And I think it also values the work of photographers and artists more than ever because people needs to have curators to point out what is relevant or not, what has value, what is worth being considerate.
Coming back to memories, the human brain doesn’t record everything, it recreates the story you’re trying to recall, adding things that were not there, removing others. Pictures triggers our memories, helping us remember things more clearly and yes, we recently have externalized our memories and stored it on hard drives. So we now have thousands of pictures of family, friends, holiday,… But did it really change something until now ? Besides the pictures that we shared online, in the end it could be seen more or less like an attic : we store lots of things compulsively but don’t really have time to look at them, except on few exceptional occasions (when we decide to clean the attic). But it will surely raise some issues in a near future. In a Black Mirror episode – third of the first season – protagonists have a chip implant behind their ears, recording everything they see and hear. They can visualize the recording and move back and forth afterward to analyze everything they saw during the day. Just like in Blow Up from Antonioni but in a modern way. Such a tool could be great for helping people losing memory (like Alzeihmer) but it could also be a curse for others, who would become obsessed with the past and become unable to experience the present and the reality.
After Lights Out, like What’s Left Of Utopia, is a vision of a future where the things we as humans have brought into this world, has disappeared. Why do you think it important to meditate on all that we have brought into this world? Do you meditate on all that we have? Have you ever backpacked? Or gone without your cell phone or computer or any of your digital accouterments for an extended period of time? How do you regard the privilege that is afforded you, living in the Western World?
After Lights Out is a project about technology, which is seen as the indicator of our evolution and the only way to improve the human condition and push the human race forward. Our civilization is obsessed by the idea of progress and those two projects (What’s Left Of Utop) aim to relativize this materialist myth.
Everyone has it’s own sense of reality, its own way to deal with his/her consciousness. Living in the Western World does not make you automatically happy but it allows you to grow up, develop your own thoughts and express yourself more freely.
I don’t remember the last time I have been away from Internet for more than a week. I use my computer to edit pictures and watch movies, my tablet to read newspapers and books and my phone to share everything with my friends and family. I’m eating a lot of information everyday… And I like it but I don’t feel the need to go offline, even thought I sometimes feel a bit overwhelmed. So sure, smartphones bring you out of the reality, but I think it’s just like TV or video games, you have to find the right balance and dedicate a limited amount of your time to it everyday. So no, I don’t consider myself a digital addict (I guess every addict would tell that). But I can see and feel the danger that come along with it.
In the explanation, you mentioned the series Headland Of Dreams is an attempt to explore the world of dreams through photographs. Where did the series take you? Would you say your exploration was successful? What did you find that you did not expect?\
Every pictures of the series are real, they have not been digitally manipulated. I just made choices with the lightning and what I wanted to include in the frame. This are places or scene that seems possible even if it’s hard to connect them directly with reality. They’re in the boundary of two worlds, one is familiar, the other is made of darkness, shining lights and fear of the unknown. With all those pictures I tried to create a mental landscapes close to what a dream might look like but it’s not exactly an exploration, more an attempt to convey feelings and emotions and create a kind of narrative that echoed the sensations you feel while dreaming.
There is a great sense of melancholia in your work, it is both beautiful and sad. Where does this emotion come from? What part of you finds it meaningful, what part of you holds onto it? Will you ever lose it?
I’m not exactly sure where it comes from. On the one hand, I really enjoy life and the period I’m living in. It’s a pretty exciting time in a lot of aspects. Science and technologies are growing fast, the possibilities for the future seems endless. But on the other hand, there are so much threats : global warming, wars, financial crisis, artificial intelligence, virus, overpopulation,… The limited resources of the Earth are threatened by human greed and our visions are blinded by short-term benefits. I guess this is where the melancholia comes from. And photography is a great art because it allows me to freeze time, to get the illusion that I can hold this present (with it’s hopes, expectations and fears) for a little while.
What are you currently working on? Do you have any shows coming
I’m on the edge of finishing my first photo book and I’m currently meeting some publishers to help me produce and distribute it. It’s about self-consciousness and the fundamental questions of life. Why is our universe made in such a way that we are able to understand it ? Why are we here ? Where do we come from ? We’ll probably never know. Carl Sagan once said : “If we ever reach the point where we think we thoroughly understand who we are and where we came from, we will have failed”. I tried to express those feelings through photographs. I hope it would be released beginning of this year.
I have no definite show plans for now but it will come really soon.
What is the last thing you saw that caused you to marvel?
I love nature and I like to go hiking in wild places. It makes you feel insignificant, humble and happy at the same time. Last time I felt way that was last year in front of the Grand Canyon.