by Pygmalion Karatzas
Emanating from his imaginary world, Fabrice Silly’s works are aesthetic proposals calling on our own imagination. He does not intend to make us travel, but to carry us away. Revisited megalopolis, becoming illusions at the risk of wounding the pride of the highest tower, reminding us that man is ephemeral in a floating world. In his work the tireless quest for an uncluttered style, formally ideal, persevering and, though still discreet, easily recognizable, enables Fabrice Silly to be acknowledged as a true artist.
Pygmalion Karatzas: Mr. Fabrice Silly thank you for accepting the invitation to discuss and show some of your work with us here at arcspace. Could you tell us about your background and how did you start being involved with photography?
Fabrice Silly: I was lucky to have a father whose all-time passion was photography. Back then, good cameras already existed and he passed hours in his lab, so darkness and the smell of acid are wonderful memories for me. So it was thanks to my father that I discovered photography, but nevertheless did not immediately become a fan, I enjoyed it for sure, but only practiced from time to time, without any precise research, more as a hobby and above all to bring back holiday souvenirs.
As the years passed, I was only involved when travelling. However, when Christmas was nearing I always spent my time in more or less specialized bookstores searching for a “nice black and white photo album” for my Dad. One year a friend recommended The Gardens of Le Nôtre. I immediately found the book amazing, never having seen that type of shot before, finding it revolutionary, modern, pure, in one word a masterpiece! From that moment on, but still unconsciously, my yearning for photography had come back, and the more I contemplated images, which originated from long exposure, the more I wanted to create that type of shot myself.
While spending time researching that technique, photography gradually turned into a real passion. You must understand that creating a long exposure is a pleasure not to be equaled in any other field, starting from the optical capture and continuing until finalization of the image in postproduction. Shooting time often takes place under necessarily difficult climatic conditions, alone, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by sense enhancing elements; and you feel fully alive, privileged and fragile!
Pygmalion Karatzas: Could you describe your overall photographic vision and approach?
Fabrice Silly: To tell you the truth the way I go about it is fairly simple! I’m open to all sorts of photography. I can really appreciate any of the photos created by artists such as Michael Kenna, Josef Hoflehner, Michael Ackermann, J.P Witkin, Sarah Moon, Christopher Thomas, Lili Roze, Ellen Kooi, Robert Tuschman, Sally Mann, Vincent Munier, Masao Yamamoto, and Nick Brant.
I feel just as much pleasure when contemplating a limpid minimalist image or one that is dense and dark; so my idea of photography is fairly basic – the image has to please me! So let’s say my vision is above all aesthetic, I mean when referring to artistic photography as opposed to street-photos and journalistic work. So my prior approach is the same, I enjoy creating photos in completely different styles, sometimes even contradictory! When I go off to shoot I do indeed have an idea of what I intend to take and the way I’ll go about it, but then I take advantage of this idea to create a multitude of shots on the subjects of interest I may use later, to create a photo for which I had no idea when on the spot. In this way, my creation of an image takes place half on shooting and half on post-production. I rarely leave subjects taken on the spot as found, I like to replace them in a universe I consider more aesthetic, often I say to myself “what a pity to place this here, better go for a change”, that’s where my reconstruction job starts, a sort of reorganization of space and urbanism matching an extremely personal vision, corresponding to my own aesthetic criterion.
Pygmalion Karatzas: Many of your photographic subjects focus on the built environment. Could you tell us why you gravitate towards these subjects and how did your awareness towards it change over the years of photographing it?
Fabrice Silly: It is true that for some time now I have been attracted to big cities and their dense modern architecture. When I first really took up photography it was to go for long exposures, to attempt to create images like Kenna, uncluttered, on the seashore or beside big lakes, where there is not much to be seen, so as to obtain a minimalist result. So I hung around Europe to be able to make images like that wherever there was water to be seen. Then, after a while, I had to recognize the subject was worn out, seen again and again … even if a shooting session is always a real source of pleasure, nevertheless the final result always turns out more or less the same. That’s why little by little I left natural environments for big cities like New York, Chicago, Toronto, Shanghai, Singapore, Hong-Kong, Dubai, Doha, Abu Dhabi… and others, which seemed fascinating and impressing. This increasingly concentrated taste for urbanism is admittedly purely aesthetic. However, it is difficult to shoot there when there are no human parasites around! Hence, it is better to prefer long exposures, so you can make any figures disappear or just leave spectral traces of them, enhancing these urban groups and turning them into real pictures. On the other hand, I often re-organize this urbanism to suit my taste, so as to turn it into a more aesthetic ensemble, move a bridge, erase or add a building… constantly for aesthetic reasons, but still attempting as much as possible to keep the “spirit” of the site. For the NYC series, for example, I had to assemble quite a few photos so as to construct a new vision, but one still allowing for recognition of the city.
Pygmalion Karatzas: Could you tell us about the ‘Timeless’ project?
Fabrice Silly: Well, first of all, I love photos, but I am also just as fond of paintings. In both artistic fields all styles conflict and yet complete each other, giving us unique emotions each time. I would have loved to know how to paint but believe I’m not gifted for it, so feeling frustrated about that I took to taking an interest in photographic procedures approaching those of paintings; Having learnt that certain Nikon cameras could handle double exposure my interest was awakened, having seen several shots taken using this technique and admired the result. I felt much emotion contemplating their modernity. So having been able to acquire this type of camera I experimented the technique consisting of superimposing several shots, without really knowing what I was expecting. After much trial and error, I ended up obtaining a pleasing result. I was painting without a brush using the only technique I knew: photography.
The aesthetics of this series developed gradually in the course of research into post-processing techniques, colorization, and image building. I wanted to show an out-of-focus image if possible like that of the impressionist painters, pointillist or better expressionist, these artists being the ones I most admire. So I had to work on the post-processing side, after having acquired a shooting technique for this type of image. I’m fond of color, but it has to be half tone, and be declined in cameo shades. So I followed this idea to define the aesthetic profile of the series, hard to assimilate into a precise time frame, modern and yet timeless, named “Overtime”.
Pygmalion Karatzas: What photographic gear do you use and what are your thoughts about their role in the creative process? Could you also tell us about your post-processing workflow and editing process?
Fabrice Silly: I worked for some time with the Canon 16-35 mm mounted on the same 5D Mark box, for long exposure I think it is the ideal pair. For the past 2 years I have turned to Nikon with their D800E paired with the 14-24mm or the 16-35mm, the results are good, and their 36 million pixels lead to interesting blow-ups! But I must admit that the results of long exposures using this new gear do not perfectly satisfy me. I’m planning to turn to Sony in the near future, they have brought out a revolutionary camera, the A7R 2. The idea of leaving for a trip with just 2 or 3 maximum kilos in a small bag instead of the usual 6 or 9 is most appealing! For post-production, I use mainly Photoshop CC, and sometimes the Nik Collection line, but just in small doses.
Pygmalion Karatzas: Your ‘Hong Kong’ project is a departure from your previous style and technique. Could you share with us your thoughts for this project?
Fabrice Silly: First of all it wasn’t a project! A brief call to Hong Kong on return from a trip to Thailand …. just 2 days to discover the town, clearly I had no idea or photographic plan for this brief passage. I just wanted to wander round the town without any real goal. In any case, any photographic project requires a minimum amount of scouting and at that point there was no use even thinking about it! – so while walking around with my camera over the shoulder I took some shots, what’s more without stopping most of the time, and without even looking into the viewfinder, to avoid spending the short time I had to discover the town. On the first evening on my arrival at my hotel, I found the experience quite interesting, far removed and even opposed to the long exposure approach, which requires scouting, adequate weather, a tripod … and much time! So the next day I decided to go on shooting like that, walking, or through a porthole, a bus or a tram window, whatever, constantly moving, without specifically focusing my subject, with the camera at stomach level most of the time. I considered these pictures to be a perfect match with the swarming life in HK.
On my return, examining my images on my Mac, I found they were interesting. They had to be enhanced using an adequate method, so as to obtain a smooth and aesthetic sequence. I tried several ways but found I was always getting something “dirty” , once again opposed to the results you obtain on long exposure. Having been taken while moving, my pictures, not really being in focus, became meaningful with textures and calques and were a good interpretation of that fascinating city in which you lose all your cultural bearings. I might indeed create that type of picture by chance during a future trip or for a much more specific project – right now this idea is tempting.
Pygmalion Karatzas: From your experience what are some key points about the business aspects of photography?
Fabrice Silly: For the time being, I haven’t much time to take care of the business side of my work. A small gallery in Paris and another one in New York shows some of my photos. And sometimes I sell directly on requests via my Web site. Right now, this is not among my primary objectives, and as well, I have not shot anything over the past year, so I don’t have any new projects to show. I hope to be able to do so early next year.
I must admit that the photographic business is not simple, and making a living from it even less so. So for the moment I prefer to postpone the possibility of doing so!
Pygmalion Karatzas: How would you define fine art photography and what are your thoughts about the issue of a personal vision/style in relation to the broader movements in fine art photography?
Fabrice Silly: It’s difficult to call photography art, it represents so many styles, some choose to express it in a very conceptual, intellectual way, and others prefer to express feelings, suggestions, mystery, while others prefer to prioritize aesthetic elements. As said before, I believe there is good and even much good to be found in any discipline. Currently the most obvious problem with art photography is simply to get recognition as a form of art, at a time when everybody has a mobile phone that can be used as a camera with a host of applications to recreate all types of pictures. Everybody considers “nice photos” easy to make and does not see any difference between them and art photography. Moreover, no education is provided in art photography, at school you have to learn about painters, sculptors, composers, but rarely about photographers! The art photography world is a small milieu almost unable to cross the barriers to reach the general public, just check the collections in museums… very few photos! We live in a world of pictures, we see thousands of them every day, our contemporaries can’t see clear to make a difference, especially since at a time when we are fond of “vintage” many ads display art photos. We have reached a point when photography having become essentially digital is going through a real technological revolution, and this is only the beginning, this form of art will continue to evolve, will become more and more spectacular in all aspects, but will still be drowned in the profusion of images around us… what a pity! If our society doesn’t rapidly include education on photography as an art it will completely disappear, and will be confined to snapshots. Photographic technicians will replace photographic artists!
As for me, I create an image I find good and display it as it is, leaving to each visitor the ability to appreciate it based on his own references, feelings, and emotions. I never give any explanation, because I can’t work with the intellectual aspect of a photo, leaving anybody to feel whatever he sees personally in it. And, I have no one single style and like to explore different worlds, so some will appreciate my long rather minimalist exposures and will not like portfolios such as Hong Kong, or vice versa. And then since every image reflects a state of mind on its point of creation, some making you feel like listening to Schubert, others to Rammstein… so I believe it’s the same with photographs. The mood reflects the art!
Fabrice Silly Photography