Antoine d’Agata Gives Interview to Nastia
Son of a butcher from Marseille, at 14, Antoine d’Agata dreamed of a career of a preacher, but he became a punk and an anarchist. He traveled the world, took drugs, and spent time in prison. At 29, he moved to New York where he took up photography. He learned from Larry Clark and Nan Goldin. Today, d’Agata is an influential European photographer and a member of Magnum Photos, and he continues to investigate the darkest sides of human nature.
This year, Antoine d’Agata was one of the members of Bird in Flight Prize jury. He came to Kyiv for the award ceremony and opening of the exhibition of shortlisted projects. We found one of the visitors of the exhibition who does not know much about photography who agreed to interview d’Agata. The girl who introduced herself as Nastia acquainted with his work several hours before meeting him and prepared some questions.
The first question that came to my mind is why most of your pictures are blurred? For example, in my daily life, I send pictures to my boyfriend, family or friends, but sometimes my hands are shaking, so I have a massive archive of blurred images. I thought that my blurred images are useless because you can’t clearly see the subject, but now I see that a famous photographer is using the same technique. So why are you using it? Do you have shaky hands as well?
The only technique I’m using is the technique of experiencing life, of generating and assuming my own position in the world, a method of living through gestures and actions, of being neither a spectator nor a consumer. I don’t put a lot of attention to the technical aspect of taking pictures, I’m more focused on how to invent my own existence and how to confront what I’m most scared of — that’s the process I am involved in.
That means that you are scared to take photographs, is that why your pictures are blurred?
No. I’m photographing when I’m scared of something, and when I desire it, too, but not scared to take a picture. When it’s possible I’m trying to take focused pictures of the chaos or the void I am facing.
The first picture that I found on the Internet is your self-portrait, why is it also a bit blurred? I think at least a picture of yourself might be a bit in focus and should attract people, instead of the opposite. I think it is a bit creepy, to be honest.
Maybe I’m a bit creepy… If that’s the way you look at me… Maybe you have this creepy feeling because this picture was taken in darkness, and it was taken with slow shutter speed. I was blinking while I was taking this picture. For me this interstice in time is interesting because it allows the viewer to see “inside” me and outside at the same time. But yes, that gives this creepy feeling to this image.
Most of the pictures that I’ve seen are b/w. Do you have any reason behind it?
No. When I started to photograph, it was very expensive to find and use color film, but I change film and cameras all the time. I always try to use cameras that I don’t know, I feel uncomfortable with. I don’t want to control the result, don’t want to be too clever. I am not trying to answer questions through a photograph. I am trying to ask questions.
My boyfriend is into film cameras and I’m looking for a perfect camera for him as a present. Do you have a favorite camera which you can recommend to me?
I’m not a fetishist.
I always try to use cameras that I don’t know, I feel uncomfortable with.
OK, let’s move from the technical questions. I have read few bios of some well-known artists and all bios start from the artist’s childhood. So, what was your childhood?
I’m a son of a butcher, my father, and the daughter in a family of fishermen. I grew up in a Sicilian family in Marseille (France) — a city full of drugs. I was thinking to become a priest when I was fourteen, I was an anarchist and a punk at sixteen. My intention was always to get out of any type of comfort zone, and to be as close as possible to real life, in its darkest corners.
How did you become a photographer? Did you have a need to capture this “real life”?
The most meaningful and intense time happened before I became a photographer. For 15 years, I traveled through the world, I lived without talking, writing or taking any pictures and then photography came as a compromise.
And how you were living moneywise, what were you doing at that period?
Well… it depends, sometimes I was doing bad things, or illegal things, sometimes I wasn’t doing anything you would see as tangible or meaningful, I was taking drugs, fell in love with prostitutes, always in countries where some type of social struggle was happening…
I was taking drugs, fell in love with prostitutes, always in countries where social struggle was happening.
Have you ever been in jail?
Yes, many times but always for short periods.
And what are you doing now? Where do you live?
The last few years, I’ve had a small 20 sq.m room in Arles, France, as a base, but I am almost never there. I guess I’ll keep on the move as long as I physically can…
Sorry for a bit of a direct question, as I understand you are a very famous photographer, why can’t you afford a house in Arles?
I am broke… Not enough money to buy or rent a house. Economically, it feels right to live on the edge, to stay at level zero. Less chances to get lost.
Economically, it feels right to live on the edge, to stay at level zero.
So, how do you survive as a photographer?
Sometimes I sell a print or make some books, sometimes I get paid a few euros to make an exhibition, I just need to have enough to keep going, I don’t need and I don’t desire saving money. My economic logics come from
Can you tell me what’s your monthly income?
I spend whatever I get, I try to get whatever I need for the very next step. No rules, no logic. If I have enough money to keep going I stop making compromises. I stop exhibiting, I stop selling, When I get stuck, I try again to sell my prints, and I teach a few days etc. If I’m able to get on with my life I get away from these compromises. To photograph is also a compromise, but it allows me to tell the rest of the world where I stand. What is important is not photography, it’s the way I choose to burn my life and the political position that’s mine.
You have also mentioned that you are teaching photography, where?
I’m giving photography workshops, it’s a way to keep on the move.
How are you choosing the places that you would like to visit?
I like to go to the place that I don’t know. I like to be lost, I like to be scared, I like to be challenged.
And now, as I understand you are also traveling a lot? For example, in my industry we are also traveling a lot and choosing some places depending on reviews from websites such as TripAdviser or Booking.com. So, maybe you can recommend some apps that you are using to get a bit familiar with unknown places?
I never do research or even look at this type of reviews on the Internet, I never do research about a place before I get there. It goes the same with relationships and physical places – I like to fall into places, I like to fall into situations. I don’t plan anything, I just put myself where I’m most scared to be or where I’m hungry to be.
But you never use new technology? It may help you with your life? Any applications?
No, only WhatsApp or email.
a French philosopher
And what do you think about our global future in terms of technological progress?
It’s quite scary. I think this contemporary technology was produced to manipulate people – to transform them into brainless consumers, so all those costumers can function the way they are expected to. New technology works as anesthesia. I see everyday people being the slaves to their devices, instead of the opposite. All those tools were produced to make people more functional and as passive as possible.
Contemporary technology was produced to manipulate people – to transform them into brainless consumers.
Do you think that new technology will collapse the world?
I don’t know about the outcome, but we are already living what I consider a nightmare because of the sophistication of economic logics. At some point, all technology will go out of control. I try to avoid connections with technology as much as possible and make my own decisions, I try to be autonomous, and I don’t need my actions to be supported by machines or generated through common habits.
And what do you think about robots, as technological progress?
I’m not scared of Robots. I am more scared of humans, in a way. But I don’t take this fear into consideration, I try to stay as empathic and fragile as I was as a young man, I want to stay close to my ideals, ideologies and emotions, and that’s why I explore a dark part of humanity.
But you can also explore the dark parts of robots, can’t you? In my opinion, robots are the perfect match for new technology and human beauty. For example, two of my colleagues bought robots who look like the beauty idol of the new generation – Kim Kardashian. What do you think about it?
I’ve heard the name that you’ve mentioned, maybe I’ve seen one picture.
I can show you more…
No, I don’t want to see more.
It’s not your type of girl?
It’s not my type of human being. For me, humans are not about specific types, it’s more about specific individuals and situations. I am against hierarchies. I find difficult to connect to anyone who accepts the rules. I look for inedit places and positions – being lost helps me to communicate with others.
I find difficult to connect to anyone who accepts the rules.
In your pictures, there are lots of people, especially girls. Did you count how many girls did you photograph?
It’s not about the numbers, it’s about the accumulation, the compulsion, the effort, it’s about wasting and not producing. Every time I’m photographing a girl, I’m losing her.
Have you ever lost yourself?
To stay on the dark side of life you have to lose yourself all the time.
Photos: Valentin Bo