Text and photos by Thierry Bigaignon.
Harder than pressing the shutter is probably to talk about why and how you did press that shutter! When Camera Obscura invited me to talk about my work, I got a bit hesitating but I was excited too. Is it not kind of scary to talk about yourself, not knowing if you’ll manage to get understood, not knowing who is going to read your words, if any. But on the other hand, is it not exciting to have the opportunity to describe your work freely and to explain your intentions beneath your work. Those mixed feelings are probably creative enough, interesting enough for me to try.
I started photography few years ago. It was a time when I was a little down. Entrepreneur, I had just lost 90% of my clients in a few days due Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy and because of the resulting worldwide financial crises. It was a tough time, very tough. I felt quite lonely at times and having almost lost my company, having lost my working office and fired all my employees, having had to go back home to work from there just like a beginner made me feel deeply sad. It felt to me like such a failure. It was like I had lost it all. All my life I had worked hard to rise, to somehow escape from my social condition and I had succeeded in many ways. But suddenly, because of some guys in Wall Street, here I was alone sitting at my little desk at home trying to “survive”. That’s when I knew I had to do something else, express myself in some other ways and free the other side of my brain, my main side, the creative side.
I went to New York and attended many courses from the famous International Center for Photography (ICP). It was a magical time that allowed me to calm down, to fade away my every day anxiety. I learned a lot about the craft of photography, I learnt a lot about people too. I met great teachers, and students alike, thanks to whom I discovered a lot about myself. I can mention Joel Meyerowitz, Harvey Stein amongst others, as well as great fellow students such as Russ Rowland, Jacque Foo, Lauren Gniazdowski, Mike Avina or Rodrigo Ramos.
Apart from that deep passion for photography, I realized in New York the type of images I wanted to make, or perhaps, I realized the kind of images I did not want to make. Street photography was not for me, nor was Landscape or wildlife, and even less studio photography. Instead, I realized I needed to master every aspect of my images, like a movie director would do. The same way I always tried to master every aspect of my life. My work had to carry some kind of messages too, some inner feelings, some of the things that concern me deeply, images well thought through. Impassioned by philosophy all my life, I also wanted and needed to connect those two passions together.
Back to France, I started to work on a first series which was going to be called “ergo vivo” (this I live in Latin. I’ve always (and still do) written down quotes from great thinkers. These inspire me a great deal, especially when I can totally related to a quote from my personal life. One morning, I came across a quote from French writer Albert Camus that said (in French): “L’angoisse de la mort est un luxe qui touche beaucoup plus l’oisif que le travailleur, asphyxié par sa propre tâche”, which could be translated by: “The fear of death is a luxury that only the idler can afford”.
Because I had spent a great deal of time totally idler, and thus had thought about death on many occasions, that quote and its inner truth amazed me, hit me, moved me. At that precise moment, I felt it was time for me to get out, do what I had learnt in New York and make a series based on that quote. However, the series had to be one with a positive moral to it. The title then came along: “Ergo Vivo” (an extension from the famous Descartes quote “Dubito ergo cogito, cogito ergo sum” (“I doubt thus I think, I think thus I am”).
The ergo vivo series
The series is composed of twelve images, some mysterious places, a heavy atmosphere and unanimated bodies lying down on the ground. The Ergo Vivo series presents some real strong images, each of them made in weird but carefully selected places where a non-identified unanimated body lies down.
But is he/she dead? Who is he/she anyway? Is that the author? Is he a representation of us? These images trigger several questions indeed. As a first answer, I provide that quote of French writer Albert Camus at the beginning of the series.
The Ergo Vivo series may look pretty dark and depressing at first glance, but it is in fact an ode to life!
Inspired by that great Albert Camus’ quote, I decided to base my reflections on our behaviors, our speedy lives and consequently on the fact that we can no longer afford to be idler and thus to fear death. But I do ask everyone: is it a good thing not to fear death? Should we not hit pause from time to time, should we not cease all of our undertakings and focus on the essential aspects of life? To this question, I try to respond with a strong “Yes” and I say: “If we could take the time to think about important issues, we would come out with equally important answers to our problems. It is sometimes worth to think about death in order to appreciate the real beauty of life.” That’s where the series’ title comes into play, Ergo Vivo, or rather “cogito, ergo vivo”… I think (about it), thus I live!
The composition of the images
Besides the series itself and its philosophical message, each individual image was made with care and attention and notably with long shutter speeds. I tried to impose myself exactly what I ask us to do: slowness!
The composition of my images is indeed well thought out and apart from the shutter speed, they share also a common feature: they all carry powerful vertical lines stopped by as strong horizontal lines representing the necessary times of pause, of quiet and floating moments.
With the use of intense colors for each image, I want to catch our attention. Even though theses colors reinforce the heavy atmosphere, they also act as a visual metaphor for life and make our second look stand out from the first. As we would have seen dark images at first glance, we then begin to see colorful scenery. I clearly want to make us realize how appearances can be deceptive, I encourage us to look further and think harder.
Ergo Vivo is in fact a twenty four images series, but only twelve of them are showcased on my website. Pretentiously, I’m saving the remaining pictures for collectors and others photography enthusiasts who will be able to discover them when I will exhibit.
For more photos and informations please visit Thierry Bigaignon website.