Mårten Lange: I first came in contact with your work through your book Landmasses and Railways. I was fascinated by the structure of the book; it is built very much like a novel, divided into chapters. Have you ever worked with text? How do you think the narrative of your book relates to that of a novel?
Bertrand Fleuret: I was more focused on creating an imaginary world and make it coherent and believable than I was with creating a narrative. People looking for a story in Landmasses and Railways might end up disappointed. There is a progression through a fictional landscape but it is very linear and basic, a crash landing, a journey towards a city, the exploration of that city, then an escape and fading into nature. It is up to the viewer to imagine his own story and meanderings through that world. There are some ideas, moods or sensations I wanted to put in there, for example a feeling that as we go further into the journey we cannot go back, a certain timelessness of the place with a clash between medieval and futuristic aesthetics etc.
My original idea was to illustrate a science-fiction novel with images of our world, and then I thought it would be more interesting to do something purely photographic. When I started with no text at all I couldn’t make it work, it was impossible to edit things into a comprehensible book. I would have lost the viewers too. The chapters and their titles where necessary to give 'readers' a ground solid enough to step on. The Paul Bowles quote at the beginning was also necessary I think, to spell out quickly what my aim was.
On a different level there is no language within the photographs, I pointed the lens away from any billboard, traffic sign, branded T-shirt or anything that would have language on it, any trace of language brings you back to a specific country and time.
ML: At your website you show a selection of books, graphic novels and films that inspired the project. Among them are Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris and Chris Marker's Sunless. These two films are both concerned with the idea of exploration. When making photographs, is exploration important for you? Do you consider the editing process an act of exploration or explanation?
BF: I don't know if exploration is at the core of these two movies, I think their main concern is memory and how past things influence the present on an individual or universal level. In any case, watching both movies it is their aesthetics and their use of imagery, more than a story or a theme that hits me.
At the beginning of Solaris Tarkovsky manages to throw us into a science-fiction world with very unspectacular things, a horse, a field and a farm become unfamiliar and futuristic with some details like for example the two boxer dogs, they look like fantastic creatures. Our imagination is called in to make that leap.
Sunless is so complex, the flow of the images and the narration are hypnotic. There is a sense of infinite curiosity of Chris Marker for things, be it a bird, a park, a gesture. He is not blasé. I hope there is a sense of wonder in Landmasses and Railways. The role and the nature of the narrator in Sunless are unique too; someone reads letters to us, who exactly is the narrator? The one who reads or the one who wrote? The writer of the letters is fictitious; the reader speaks like a friend of his, which makes her fictitious too. And we get carried by this voice and a constant flow of strange ideas and facts.
I don't know what to call the moment of editing, I guess it should be a moment of explanation or resolve. But it is also maddening because of the possibilities, I set myself some kind of frame and a number of rules before I even start taking pictures to limit options. One could edit for ever. In a photobook the layout is also part of the edit, I try to settle for a layout early and stick to it.
ML: The photographs in Landmasses and Railways seem to have been made during a long period of time. Did you know what kind of story it would be from the beginning or did you realize that later?
BF: I had a very precise idea of what I wanted to do; I shot pictures for over four years looking for a specific kind of images. Things evolved of course and there is no absolute planning possible but I knew what I wanted to get. I had even made lists of things that would fit or not fit, things that would be OK and not OK, for examples trains were OK but cars and planes weren't, porcelain was OK, plastic wasn't, all this was very arbitrary but defined the nature and texture I wanted to give to this world.
Before that, my habit was to keep a photographic diary. My first book The Risk of an Early Spring was a distilled version of it. When I shot pictures for Landmasses and Railways I put this diary format aside, but in the end it still works like one. It is a trace of those years especially because I didn't travel purposely for the book, I took pictures within the normal course of days.
ML: I have a friend who says he finds it very hard to make pictures in the city he's living in. He says that he associates photography with travel, be it physical or metaphorical. In a way, I agree. I can make photographs in my apartment, but I still need to get into a certain mindset. The feeling of waking up in an unknown place, a state of heightened perception. Do you know what I mean? What do you think?
BF: I think we all feel strongly that way.
Photography pushes you out of the house. I've spent the past twenty years away from Paris my home town, I lived in London, Amsterdam and now Berlin, after all this time Paris has become foreign too, all this unsettles me but at the same time I must have wanted it that way, and I must have wanted it that way partly because of photography.
ML: Have you shown Landmasses and Railways in exhibition form?
BF: I haven't done a show of Landmasses and Railways, I would like to. I don't know what it would be like, I would want to have some kind of impact that a book cannot have, big prints.
ML: I'm also curious about the REMORA project. Could you tell me a little about it?
BF: REMORA should not be taken too seriously. When Landmasses and Railways came out I felt a bit tired with it and also pretty lost with what to do next. So I started to do this to force myself to come up with 16 images every couple of months. I shoot whatever in the most spontaneous way possible, here everything is OK. It also goes back very much to a kind of diary.
I Xerox 100 copies, place them in transparent envelopes and glue them in the street. It is anonymous so the people who find them have no idea about who does it etc. I often see some copies torn apart on the sidewalk as if someone had been really irritated.
Only once I witnessed someone looking at a copy carefully and taking great care to put it back in the envelope and then in his bag to take it home, it was nice.
It works a bit like a blog, except that it costs money, I have to go out in the cold, it's anonymous, Google can't find it and people cannot comment. It's done in pure waste but I enjoy it.
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