Thank you for talking to me today. Where are you from Joel? And how did you get into photography?
I live in the northeast of France in a small village called Homecourt with 6000 inhabitants. I started photography at the age of 9 with a small Agfa pocket camera that used 110 film, it was a gift from my uncle, but I no longer have any traces of these first experiences. During childhood it was the discovery of the appearance of an image in the lab that fascinated me, a real magic in my eyes…
Around the age of 20, photography took up more space in my life as I began trying photograms, pinhole, degradation of negatives…
It seems to me that you are certainly not strictly a street photographer – so what role does street photography play in your life? How important is street photography to you personally and what motivates you to take pictures in the street?
Not actually, apart from the experiences mentioned in the first question, I worked in theatre and dance photography, an environment of aestheticism and photographic improvisation for me…I also worked on a series of large photograms of 120x240cm on average, some make half of this format, the models revealed with me this work with a brush. From time to time the pinhole, which I always practice sparingly, becomes part of my research, and now family and street photography inspires me in my daily work.
I have always taken photographs in everyday life and the art of street photography deepens my poetic vision of things. It is an extension of the work produced in the theatre and on stage in general. It is a mirror of the human comedy rich in coincidences not entirely related to chance. The importance and place of street photography in my life is linked to the wandering, always full of reverie, in a known place (Metz and its surroundings) and archi-traversed, in all its directions. The urban landscape offers me the vision of a world in the process of disappearing, a known world where I meet people; places with an ideal setting for atypical characters.
Participating in the street movement and being an actor/spectator in the front row of the street is a strong motivator for me. Like children, I point out what it is curious to observe or interesting to look at.
You also have a very unique style. I feel like I’ve been going back in time looking at your images. I also find them very serene, full of beauty and somewhat solitary. How would you describe your work or style? What do you hope to convey to your viewers in your street photography images? What do you expect them to see?
I like to play with light and the light meter is my best friend! This is what makes my photographs timeless. Moreover, I force myself to plant a particular decor; the choice of framing does not participate in randomness. I try to make it neutral so that I can project any time… and it works! Often the magic works and we no longer know in which time space the scene is located.
I don’t want to convey anything to the audience, only to offer them a vision. I direct the other’s gaze towards a possible proposal of the street, what it emanates, what it means to passers-by, and beyond, to the spectators.
What is your most memorable image or experience in street photography?
They are all memorable, but if I had to choose one, I would say the one of the old flea markets in Metz, rue du Palais, in front of their shop (now it no longer exists).
He is on a chair (an atypical character from Metz), has spoken with a potential customer and his wife appears at the door of the store… this trio alone represents a marginal story, a microcosm in a totally standardized universe that is out of the ordinary, an extraordinary present now outdated but that this photograph still makes relevant.
Another photo that contributes to the magic of the street: the woman who walks past the window with bear embroidered curtains. I had been looking at this set for 2 years and after several failures, I saw this woman walking in a hurry towards my set, I ran myself and this is the result… exactly the mood of the moment, taken in her run and returned to another sphere.
What has photography taught you?
We learn and unlearn every day, but photography offers me a moving knowledge that can adapt to my needs, my desires, my research. I master the technique, I now know how to tame light through practice, from the moment I take the picture, through the development of the film to the final printing.
Photography makes me understand that nothing lasts and that in the end, we have no control over anything.
Even with people, the exchange is free of words, it is an exchange of glance that gives rise to complicity or not.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about Joel and see more of his work, be sure to visit his Flickr account and his website. Joel was selected from our Flickr group (Street Photography Magazine), where we regularly choose photographers’ work to be published in our magazine.