Interview, Fabrice Hébert -
The Poetic Glimpses
Fabrice! What does poetry mean to you?
Poetry, in my view, has this ability to give more intensity to ideas and feelings, through the clever and beautiful use of words, than other types of literature. I do not consider myself a poet, not even remotely: I am a terrible writer. If you look at my texts, they are actually quite the opposite of poetry: short, basic, and - especially with the Japanese translations, almost robotic. If any feeling of poetry arises from my work, I believe it has to do with the combined use of texts and photography, as the images hopefully provide the intensity that my texts would be lacking by themselves.
I have known poetry to be meditation in its deepest core. You told me that this current work is a form of therapy for you. What brought this change to you- which allowed poetry to happen?
Yes, this work is definitely some sort of therapy for me: I feel better now that it is done. It has its roots in a painful personal experience which I went through almost 10 years ago while I was living in Japan. For many years after that, I had been trying to tell that story but never could find the proper words to describe what I wanted to express. In the end, I gave up trying. A year ago or so, I turned to photography as a full-time occupation, and I believe this is what made the project possible because I knew all of sudden how to express my feelings differently.
If I collective look at the stories you have been telling through your photographs and words, I see a broader story unfolding of a man and a woman. Is there any relationship between the ‘he’ and 'she’ in your stories, and is it from your own personal feelings?
Of course, there is a love story behind, and a very trivial one at that. But somehow it struck me, and pained me, more than anything else that ever happened to me in my life, and this not at all the worst thing that happened around the same time.
This is a story that I have told myself over the years to the point of exhaustion. I am today completely detached from it emotionally. The texts are the remains of that story, like tiny bits of a distant memory, which explains their very short form and lack of intensity. They are dried, emptied from their emotional content. On the contrary to the texts, the photographs have nothing to do with the reality of that relationship, they are totally disconnected from my past. I made them last summer, many years after that relationship had ended. It was certainly a way for me to put some kind of final closure to this process of exhaustion I am explaining above.
Is there more to what your poetry is concerned with?
As I said before, I do not pretend to do poetry. I think that I am merely trying to express what I have inside me with the means that I have at my disposal: no talent for writing, maybe some talent for photography. I merely hope that I am making myself understood.
I can understand that expressing how these words come into being can be difficult. But, can you tell us about your process into the making of these photographs? How and in what settings do you usually shoot?
As it appears, these photographs are the result of a thought process that spread over many years. I got serious about photography only very recently. I am unknown, unpublished, even my friends are still surprised that I could be a photographer, as they’ve known me doing completely other things before. This is the first work I can present. When I started photography, I had this initial idea that I would do Photojournalism. I tried that a bit, only to realize that it seemed very arrogant for me to pretend I could capture the truth of a situation or a person that I don’t know that well. So I turned to a topic which I can safely say I know quite well: myself. I am very inspired by the works of Sophie Calle, the French artist, so I decided that I would use photography to do something in that direction.
I took all these photographs last summer, during a month-long trip that I did entirely by myself, in remote corners of Japan. I lived there for a few years in the past, I speak the language a bit and have many friends there, but this time decided to go to places that I did not know that well and did not meet anyone I knew. I went to a different place almost every day, shooting all day, from early morning to late at night, with the only camera I had with me: a Leica Q. To be honest, this kind of photography is easy in Japan: everything is beautiful, and people don’t give you too much trouble when you take a picture of them.
Are you sometimes using your imagery to highlight the contrast that there is between aliveness and a mechanical life?
Yes, in a way. What fascinates me, and what I am trying to get across in this series, is that notion of a fixed point in time and the stillness of a photograph that captures it, in contrast to the flow of emotions that are hidden behind that stillness. I think this concept is very fitting for Japan: there’s so much going on below the surface that the foreign eye can’t see. To give you an example I was in Tokyo on March 11, 2011. Right after the earthquake, I could not notice that anything had happened from the people around me, in the streets.. everyone seemed to go about their ordinary lives as usual. Then I went to a Combini (specialty store) to buy water and discovered that all the shelves had been emptied: people had indeed panicked, but it was not visible.
I see that you are a man who focused on the now, but simultaneous is bringing about stories that can rather feel nostalgic. What’s more important to you; living in the moment or a flight into imagination?
My daily life requires me to be focused on the now, and actually on the future as well: I am the father of two kids that I am raising by myself. However, I’d say that my creative side, the artist in me, is focused on the past because I feel that the most interesting things I can speak about in my work are in my past. This is not an easy balance to maintain.
Are you afraid of not being able to fulfill the potential that you have within you?
Potential speaks about ambition, and this is something that has considerably changed for me over the last few years: I do not have the same ambitions; Not that I have lowered them, but they are just different. Potential is also in the eyes of others, the way they look at you. I used to be very attentive, almost obsessed about that. I believe I have learned how to protect myself from other’s people expectations, and am now more focused on my own. I am more self-confident.
Before I ask you the last question, Can you share some of your stories with us? The ones that shaped you.
Not to sound pretentious, but I feel that I have led a very rich life until now and have some interesting stories to tell. I am hoping I will be able to tell them through my art, just like I did with this work in Japan. In the near future, I’d really like to be able to speak about my experience as a father, about kids, family, my parents too - these are very important themes to me. I’d also love to find a way to talk about the corporate world, which is a world that I’ve known very well and left behind for some very clear reasons.
Lastly, What would you suggest or share with other storytellers?
I do not pretend to have much advice to give. I am learning myself to be a storyteller. I think it is incredibly difficult to get one’s story across in this day and age, to get people’s attention. Everyone has an interesting story to tell, and we are many, many wanting to share. I am personally interested in the most ordinary ones, unfortunately, these are not the ones the most easily heard or seen, as there seems to be this premium given to the most exceptional or dramatic ones in all the media, social networks, etc. I guess one has to keep believing very hard in their own uniqueness.
Interview with Fabrice Hébert