Emmanuel, tell us a little bit about yourself. What did you do after graduating from the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris? Where did you go and why?
After graduating from les Beaux-Arts in Paris, I stayed in Paris and after a short period of abstract painting, I went back to figurative art, asking myself about image and its reproduction. It translated into transferring images from catalogues and flyers onto enamel plates and glazed tiles. Then I moved to draw these pictures at their exact same real size – small formats – without trying to ensure that the drawing will be well represented. You can find some some impressions of my work from that period here. Then I transitioned to big formats by taking pictures of my own drawings, enlarging them to fit big formats. It was the beginning of my series around urban landscapes.What do you miss the most looking back to your time in Paris?
What I miss the most is the ability to walk cities and stroll. I used to do that a lot as well as spend time in cafes watching people. You cannot really do that in the US. You always know where you go, from point A to point B as the mapping of the city is built as such as it is effective and mainly organised around cars.
How long did you live there?
I was born and raised in Paris and lived there for 40 years. What I don’t like is the traffic, some many choices and things to do that you cannot benefit from in the end because of the waiting lines and so many people wanting the same things and the famous Parisian attitude which is not a myth.
Do you travel home often, where is home for you now?
I don’t travel home often, roughly every three to four years. I prefer using my ”vacation time” to discover new places, especially in the US. Home now for me is anywhere and everywhere. After leaving Paris in 2006, I lived in Asia for seven years before moving to the US.
Yes, you are living in Seattle now…
I moved to Seattle almost six years go. After leaving seven years in Asia, my wife has a job opportunity here so we moved with the two boys.
How would you describe Seattle?
Seattle is a city a bit different from the rest of the US, with an important counter culture spirit (music, political and sociological movements). It is not a city easy to discover or appreciate at first, may be because of the climate and the amount of rain. Also contemporary art is coming slowly to Seattle, may be slower than in other cities but it is changing lately – a good example of that is the first edition of the Seattle Art Fair last summer which was a great success.
“Contemporary art is coming slowly to Seattle, may be slower than in other cities but it is changing lately – a good example of that is the first edition of the Seattle Art Fair last summer which was a great success”
After living in Paris and Singapore, what is different?
It is a much quieter city than Paris or even Singapore. People are very fond of outdoors activities; the urban culture is not as important. It is as diverse as Paris or Singapore in terms of social Mel potting which I like but Seattle likes to keep a low profile compared to Paris or Singapore always following or trying to set the latest trends. People here don’t care so much about their look which is definitely very different from Paris.
“In the US choice is limited despite the first impression of diversity, there is the same mapping of the suburbs, the organisation at right angles, this sensation of cloning”
How is the US compared to Europe. What do you miss in the US and what do you think Europe should adapt from the US?
In the US, what strikes is the infinite space all around, that nature is stronger. There is also the standardisation of the society organised around a same model of chains, office parks. Choice is limited despite the first impression of diversity, there is the same mapping of the suburbs, the organisation at right angles, this sensation of cloning.
“In contrast, in Europe, trust is not given to people easily. In the US, very early, children are taught to be confident. It translates into a society with a lot of curiosity which gives a chance to people with strong projects”
American people are courteous, very accessible, with a lot of humour and a positive mindset you can feel in your everyday engagements. The American society seems in turn conservative and in turn very pragmatic – legalisation of cannabis in some states. With a very productive counter culture despite the lack of state support. There is also the question of guns, which is so ingrained in this society which makes it unique and very different from Europe. Also very unlike France where people never ask themselves about how they can get educated or medically treated, the system in the US is very hard on low income people.
In contrast, in Europe, trust is not given to people easily. In the US, very early, children are taught to be confident. It translates into a society with a lot of curiosity which gives a chance to people with strong projects.
Let’s talk a little bit about your work, which is connecting primarily to the idea of urban landscapes and expansion. You studied classical art, but chose photography. Would you consider yourself as an photographer? And why is it your medium?
I don’t consider myself as a photographer. I use photography as a medium, it is only a passage for me to produce a piece of work which can be associated to a painting, which is my initial background. I always had a closeness with photography and the image and its questioning, on the concept of representation. With maturity, it became natural for me to use this medium while I still consider myself a painter.
“I like the idea of the in-between concept. I am in between photography and painting, and I shoot places in-between, cities and suburbs”
Would you say you turned away from painting or is there a transition between paintings and photography or do you still paint at home?
Even if in my youth, I mainly drew or painted, very quickly I gave up the act of painting or put a distance with the act itself to choose to reproduce images with different processes. I like the idea of the in-between concept. I am in between photography and painting, and I shoot places in-between, cities and suburbs.
How would you describe your photographs in three words?
Soft, repetitive and silent.
Do you prefer digital or analog photography? Which camera do you use?
It is not for me a question of preference. I belong to the digital generation. Without this numerical transformation, I would not have become a photographer. As a consequence, I don’t really have an attachment to the camera I use, there are just a tool for me even if I take time to select quality cameras.
There are no people in your photographs. What do you intend with that?
People are here in my photography, it is true that you can’t see them but there are always human presence through the traces they left on the landscape – highways, billboards, etc.
What is your favourite photographer of all time?
If I had to choose one, it would be William Eggleston for the narrative of his photography.
Which other artists do you like and why?
I am fond of Edward Hopper. I feel a closeness with his work, the way he talks about the silence. I also love Giorgio de Chirico for his uncompromising compositions.
Do you collect art? If so, what is hanging on your walls at home?
Yes I do. For example artwork from Catherine O’Donnell, Daniel Bonnal, Patrick Joust, Nora Lowinsky, Attia Bousbaa, Jean Christophe Robert, Aranthell and Antoinette Ohannessian.
What was the most inspiring exhibition you have ever visited?
Interestingly, inspiration comes more for me from watching American movies or TV shows. Movies such as Take Shelter, Hell or High water and TV shows like True Detective, Twin peaks where the picture inspires me. I am not attracted to monumental or big piece of work which sometimes can emotionally overwhelm you and trumps the message. Monumental does not say it all.
“Interestingly, inspiration comes more for me from watching American movies or TV shows. Movies such as Take Shelter, Hell or High water and TV shows like True Detective, Twin peaks where the picture inspires me”
I met the owner of this gallery when I was living in Asia, loved what she was representing, and we stayed in contact. That explains why in Hong Kong. There is a lot of energy in this city, you could compare it to New York for the US.
How would you describe the art movements in Hong Kong?
There are very specific art movements in Hong Kong, based on dissidence and anti-establishment positions. It can be explained by the history of Hong Kong, its connection to China and its near future re-unification. Hong Kong wants to keep its identity and art is one of the medium for that.
What projects are planned next?
I am working on my next solo exhibition which should take place toward the end of 2017 with Private View Gallery in Torino Italy.
Sounds great! Let us know when you are ready to share the first impressions of this project with us. Until then I wish you a lot of fun and success with everything coming next.