Sébastien Tixier and Raphaël Bourelly are two self-taught photographers based in Paris. Their respective work focuses on space and urban issues. Together, the two French draw our attention to our relationship with the environment, as their photographs expose the shaped landscapes of China. The series Shan Shui is the result of their trip, an exhibition to be discovered at Le 247 gallery in Paris until June 30th.
How did you get to photography?
S: I’ve been fascinated by the camera of my father (a Zenit camera) since I was a little child, but I haven’t come to photography before turning about 26. As a teen I had drawings and paintings lessons for a few years but I did not feel like continuing for long. And when I’ve grown older, photography appeared like the most interesting way to express myself. I liked the fact that it captures a reality, but yet it is not possible to know if it accurate or staged.
R: I discovered photography in the laboratory of a photo club, when I was in secondary school. But what interested me at this time was essentially the magic of the chemistry, and not really the act of shooting. When the photo club closed, I only shot occasionally a roll or two at that time. Things accelerated when I was about 25, I started taking more and more pictures and discovered something new, and way of expression that suited me. I am self taught, just like Sebastien.
Introduce us to Shan Shui. How did you start to work on such topic?
R: I’ve been interested in eastern cities for years. My previous work on South Korea was a first look in that direction, focusing on the urbanization, and I had started to think about China as a next project.
S: At my end I had ran into newspapers’ articles about the “South to North water diversion” project taking place in China. It consists in redesigning the water routes in the country in an attempt to balance the water supply with the demand. But at that time my interested was mainly about curiosity, and not meant at first to be a photo project. It built into a project bit by bit.
R: Sebastien and I know each other for many years, as photographers and as friends. We have a very similar approach of photo aesthetics, framing, colors. We work with similar cameras and film, and we also had the feeling that we could bear each other in situations of tiredness or stress. So we started talking about a collaboration but things were not very precise at first.
S: During our researches, we also went in the “new silk road” project. And the impact that such booming development plan had on the mountains around, leading to their flattening. That’s only then that we started thinking of it all with a more global view, and that the “twist” with “Shan Shui” painting popped and offered the articulation for the project.
What does Shan Shui mean?
S: Shan Shui is the name of a style of traditional Chinese painting, made with brushes and ink, often on long vertical canvas. It literally means “Mountain Water”, and pays tribute to water courses and mountains. It is still a contemporary style and plays a role in Chinese culture.
As we look at all of your photographs, it is very flowing and homogeneous. How did you work together, feeding each other’s approach?
R: We worked with two cameras. But we knew our approaches are so similar that we were not too afraid that the images would not fit together. We had common efforts in the preparation process, spotting the areas of interest and some possible locations. Then, we either worked appart in order to maximize the covered zones and points of view, debriefing every night, or worked together for crucial locations where we could not afford to miss the shots or needed common efforts and support to reach them.
You worked with medium format camera and tripods, a heavy and imposing equipment. Has it always been easy to take these shots? How did the locals perceive you?
S: The back hurts but you get used to it haha! We’ve always worked with such cameras in the fields, towns, mountains or sea-ice, so yes I guess we’re used to it, even if the RZ is an heavy beast.
S: I believe it brings interest from people and locals. Working with such cameras that look out-dated probably is intriguing for non-photographers, and in town we sometimes had many curious observers around us. I actually believe it is a good way to make eventual connexions with people. And if authorities are inquiring at least it’s a good proof we are not trying to hide!