In one week’s time, on Wednesday June 6th, a select group of press and collectors will be the first people in the UK to witness the final installment in Gérard Rancinan and Caroline Gaudriault‘s epic Trilogy of the Moderns. Situated somewhere between comedy and tragedy, this vivid photographic tableau and accompanying texts paints a picture of a confused humanity, groping blindly in the darkness, obsessed with the cult of celebrity and guided only by an absolute desire for generalised, prescribed happiness.
As committed witnesses of this metamorphoses affecting society, photographer, Gérard Rancinan, and writer, Caroline Gaudriault, have engaged in an ongoing dialogue over almost a decade, delivering their dual observations on a generation seeking relentless progress at any cost.
We took a few minutes out ahead of the exhibition to chat with Gérard about his own ideas and experiences that have led to this landmark body of work.
Ed Bartlett: It’s clear from your work that you have a very different approach to most fine art photographers. What was it that led you to become a photographer originally?
Gérard Rancinan: I started quite young, probably around 15 years old. I didn’t particularly enjoy school and my father knew we needed to find something creative and challenging to engage me. I started as an apprentice at a newspaper, and straight away I knew it was for me – always outside, always able to use my imagination. It was exactly what I needed, and still today it’s what I need. I count my blessings every morning.
EB: And what eventually inspired you to make the leap into fine art photography?
GR: When I started my dream was to see my work in the biggest magazines all over the world. After 20 years of hard work and eventually becoming successful, with features and magazine covers, it was still my dream but it reached a stage where I felt restricted – by the magazines, by the PR people, by the people guiding us on location in the war zones – I wanted to start to show people the world through my own filter. Gradually I began to introduce this idea more into my work, which started getting the attention of people like Pierre Cornette de Saint-Cyr (chairman of Palais de Tokyo) and Pierre Cardin, who encouraged me further in this direction and even organized exhibitions with my work in Paris.
EB: When you are conceiving a new composition do you consider the viewer’s eventual reaction from the start?
GR: It’s a mix of everything. It has to be. Working for so many years at the big magazines, I learned a great deal about the importance of making an immediate impact. When you turn the page of a magazine you have two seconds to explain the message to the viewer, otherwise you’ve failed. They shouldn’t need to have to sit there for 10 minutes trying to post-rationalize for themselves what your ‘high concept’ might have been. This is the essence of the work I’m producing today, yet I’m still always talking about contemporary issues. It’s still editorial work.
EB: What would you say defines a Rancinan image?
GR: Strong, simple, efficient but also sensitive and above all, sincere. Always borderline-kitsch, and always a risk!
EB: You’ve photographed a lot of artists and other photographers, and your recent Metamorphoses series was inspired by reimagining famous paintings. Do you take special inspiration from working with artists?
GR: I’m very lucky to meet so many great people, and of course to shoot so many great people, and yes a lot of them are artists. With other photographers it’s always slightly different because of course there is that unspoken competitive aspect, but also a lot of mutual respect. Artists are always great to be around because they tend to have a different view of life, and when I’m shooting a portrait of an artist I try to put them into the scene like a painting.
EB: Do you feel that photography is being taken more seriously by fine art collectors today?
GR: Definitely, but there is still a long way to go. It has always been collected by specialists of course, but photographers like Gursky and La Chapelle really changed the game. With photography I think some collectors worry about the fact it can be reproduced in a way that paintings can’t, so it’s crucial that the quality is always exceptional and that there is strict controls on editioning, but also the collectors themselves need to learn more about photography to understand it better. What’s interesting with photography is, yes there may be an edition of 3, or 5, or 10, but the moment a photo captures is unique. The people, the time, the world all change, but everything in a photo stays the same forever, and that’s a big responsibility.
EB: I guess the ultimate question, then, is whether you consider yourself a photographer or an artist?
GR: I’m a photographer! That’s what I do. I stop time. If other people want to call me an artist, that’s their choice, but I’m a photographer.
Artist or photographer? Come and see for yourself and make up your own mind. The show opens with a public reception on Thursday June 7th, for more details please see here.