Interview: Jean-Vincent Simonet

The young French photographer wants to “disturb conventional life”.

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At a time when mundane, everyday life photography is swamping the world, the work of Jean-Vincent Simonet displays the uplifting idea that the banality of our daily surroundings can be elevated to the poetic. Through a highly personal approach to the medium and the swapping between old and new techniques, the French photographer slash alchemist works instinctively to “disturb conventional life”.

“My pictures, whichever one you pick in this exhibition, they all start from what surrounds me: all the people that you see here are my friends,” Lausanne-based artist Jean-Vincent Simonet says of the images that surround him at Foam photography museum, where he’s showing at the moment. “The places too… my dad’s printing house, the statues that I encountered when I was in Paris, it’s all me!” And while Simonet’s images seem staged, they all come naturally, he says: he grabs his camera, calls some friends to join him and lets them fool around so he can take his infrared photos. Adding a touch of magic at the processing stage, Simonet is perhaps as much alchemist as photographer: manoeuvring between traditional darkroom techniques and innovative, bleeding-edge practices, he explores conventional approaches to reach new interpretations of the ordinary, giving birth to absurd yet sublime, surrealistic situations.

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It soon becomes clear that Simonet has no real script; it’s all about creation. “My process began with some Skype screenshots that I found really cool. But I didn’t want anyone to know that I took them from there, because  of the contemporary aspect of these phone calls.” And because anyone can make a screenshot—you don’t have to be an artist for that—Simonet looked for new ways to “break” the digital aspect. “I first did some photograms with the screen printed on photographic paper, but that was too simple. What I did next was boil the chemicals that I use to develop photos. This gives the sort of colour effects, like something was spilled on them. Then I added some contemporary techniques: I scanned them to add chrome and intensity,” he explains.

Simonet infuses a poetic feeling into violent and lugubrious atmospheres, just as his hero Conte de Lautréamont did. Based on the French poet’s work The Songs of Maldoror, written in 1868, Simonet’s Foam exhibition encapsulates the poet’s spirit through a series of photos. It doesn’t literally follow the text; rather, the exhibition plunges the public into a disconcerting but sublime aesthetic. Just as Lautréamont was calling out to his young readers to feel free, think for themselves and stand up against normative standards, Simonet forces his visitors to be irreverent. Inspired by what the Surrealists did with The Songs of Maldoror in the early 20th century, the photographer updates the work as a manifesto. Lautréamont spoke up against God, religion and morals back then. But what of Simonet? “I’ve always hung out with outsiders, people that disturb conventional life in some way. I don’t really like narrow-minded people. So this exhibition would burn their eyes!”

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By Doria Arkoun

Photography: Jean-Vincent Simonet

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