Lucas Olivet is a photographer based in Switzerland and graduated from the Vevey School of Photography. He addresses issues of memory, loss and longing by way of his own life as well as through a wider historical and cultural frame. His photographs capture the living and intimate details of the everyday while inserting a touch of the supernatural. In Kopiec Bonawentura, Olivet’s debut monograph (Kerber Verlag, Berlin), the photographer capture scenes of Poland and the exiled lands of its diaspora called Polonia.
To start us off, instead of asking you about you early steps in the medium, I would prefer you to mention a major difference between back then and now in your art making or art perceiving in general.
The desire and enthusiasm are the same, doubts as well but no more romanticized the idea of being an artist!
I don’t think I’m in my prime now, or better shooter, but I trust more my intuition, as far as projects pile up, they’re talking to each other in harmony and disharmony. I realized over the years that photography wasn’t about obstructions but possibilities and a mixing of categories is not to be avoided but to be embraced, protected even.
What/who were the key elements to your photographic education? I don’t just mean photographers—I’m thinking of key life experiences or other forms of art, such as music/cinema?
After the Photography School (Vevey, Switzerland) I had a compass plugged in my eyes: nothing but the 4×5 was legit but I wasn’t patient enough, especially in the dark room. I still did a first series (Martisor) but my way of practicing was rigid.
But contemporary art was the big deal to me, my surroundings were more artsy, meaning that photography was kind of minor art as well, even though it would drive me nuts:
-Old f****** victorian idea! I had to distance myself at some point. Anyway, long story short, I took different jobs in art galleries in my hometown (Geneva) and closely observed artist studios; show displays, somewhere it between, it gave me in some details the best definition of what art is. At Blancpain Art Contemporain gallery, I encountered Sophie Ristelhueber and Eric Poitevin. Those two people brought the sparks!
About music, I’ve done years of drums and percussions and believe that it helps me a lot for sequencing images. Roe Ethridge speaks admirably about relationship with music and editing by the way. Otherwise, Photographing is very physical to me, can’t barely shoot with a tripod, I need to be in motion and for that reason I sometimes feel I’m on a movie set!
What is Kopiec Bonawentura about?
It takes its origin from a quote by french author Alfred Jarry from its play Ubu Roi (1896): Set in Poland, that is to say nowhere.
I build a multiple and transnational answer, somewhere between Poland and the exile lands of its diaspora called Polonia. I lets myself be driven by a Polish legend, the one of Andrzej Tadeusz Bonawentura Kosciuszko that historians call the last knight or the first citizen of the world. Kopiec Bonawentura examines the uncertainties of memory where photographs exist to contradict one another and to build a narrative that is elusive.
In the photobook you have combined images and text. Can you elaborate on this procedure which many photographers find quite difficult ?
I couldn’t be visual only with this specific topic, there were multiple voices, divergent subjects, eras,I had to do a bricolage to reveal unexpected relationships. Weaving a narrative mode through images and texts helped me to loosen up in term arrangement and sequence, allowing myself to the poetic without indulging in kitsch.
One of the main motto for this series was playing off with narrative to give new meanings to things and places. I felt comfortable writing short texts cause there was no other ambition than being vulnerable. Some are meant to jump over the supernatural fence, others grasping the subject content. And alongside, I carefully chosen some authors texts and songs.
At the end of the day, I wanted the images and texts interrupt each other, like fragments of different stories coming together to form a single, ludic and sometimes gloomy narrative. Seventy seven plates for twenty eight texts and believe me it took me a while! The oldest snap has been taken in 2002 during one of my first trip to Poland, but the project per se started in 2012. It includes 8 different countries and the whole process tended to become a book. The pictures were coming out easily, with my guts -shot now think later – but to assemble everything took me the slowest and most challenging attention ever. It’s has been a marathon who can’t really be considered in chronology. It’s more abstract. The final layout took place at a residency in a huge studio to stretch a maximum the image flow. Meanwhile, I was already modeling a solo show from the series fro Rencontres d’Arles so let me tell you it was schizophrenic!
Do you enjoy more seeing your work in a photobook or on the walls of an exhibition space?
Both! It is so satisfying to be physical with one image and yet the book form is so intimate. I was talking to a friend on the phone thousands of miles away, she had just taken one of my book and sat in the sun with coffee, that was her morning and this made my day! I love how you can have coarse images printed on a book that might never be on the wall. Or images that are hard to resolve somehow. John Gossage is the perfect example. And yet, time changes everyone perception, a photograph is magic, and you never know its whole path, could be full of surprises.
I still do feel more creative within a book, but it is healthy to extract a shorter nectar from a body of work with a curator or gallerist vision, for better or worst I think this would make your practice stronger.
In almost all of your projects we can notice the use of the same frame analogy. Why do you prefer it among others?
To be accurate it’s a 6×7 camera, medium format. Bronica, lenses are not amazing but it is the perfect fit to me, I got it when I was 20 years old and even though I sometimes switch to 24×36 or 6×9, I can’t help it. I guess I’m a one camera guy! I actually got the exact same one a year ago, still working analog only until now.
Could you reveal some things about you on-going work Medicine Tree?
Oh boy, the present project is always the most exciting! I had an imagery in my mind and have been able to execute it. The backstory is an unsettling reflection in Northern BC. The landscape there, both rural and industrial, speaks to a history of violence, of loss, as well as a longing for reparations. My wife is a writer and based a novel there, it got into me then. The West is such a myth in photography and I’ve been lucky enough to be driven in a very inspiring hub.There is a flimsy narrative but can’t be reduced as a single plot or a main character.
The title comes from a metaphor relayed to me by an inhabitant of Prince George, BC’s northern capital, about the resinous black spruce growing tall near his dilapidated trailer: I’ve never seen a tree make so much medicine. Maybe it weeps so much for all the poison here.
More on his website