Jean Yves emailed me last November, inquiring about the website, who I was and if I wanted to meet. It was very straightforward like the French can be. I knew his work a little bit but never imagined we could actually meet in New York. We finally did weeks later, talking about his work, his New York experience and his fascination for bodies (from athletes to dancers).
Jean Yves’s photographs successfully tell simple stories whether describing our antics (Human Project series) or romanticizing urban landscapes through dancers (Urban Bodies series). The traditional landscape photography is momentarily subverted for narrative purposes offering us new points of view. As I was looking at his work and being more curious, the desire to learn more and share with you became obvious.
There is always something paradoxical about your work. Your technique (large scale photography) embraces its tradition revealing everything (locations, bodies, details, movements) but yet there is something completely unreal about your images. Our eyes scrutinize every single element getting slightly confused and drowned into this new reality…
I am really interested by the relationship between the human body and the space (urban or natural). For the Human Project, I removed every sign of human body and created this more generic human/universal body in a public space. Using a lycra suit helped me shape this project and give the conceptual approach I was looking for. Surprisingly, it also allowed me to work alone. All, those little black human beings are me and my clones!
I also carefully picked my locations, focusing more about an idea of tourism, on a graphic shape or texture than on a specific place.
You constantly play between spaces and portraits, anonymity and identity like they can’t really coexist altogether in the frame…
My work is all about bodies. I like to lose the identity of the dancer (or the identity of the athlete) to focus more on their expression and its relation with the surrounding space.
I also like to choose very simple locations, even abstract if possible. It becomes more universal and timeless. Sport venues are also very interesting with some equipments being very close to art installation. Fields can be transformed into something strange sometimes. We are so used to see them in a specific way that I feel the need to redefine them.
Your recent series Urban Bodies offers an elegant take between intimacy and large scale photography with dancers photographed in uncommon places. How did you meet them and develop this project?
I decide to work with two different kinds of performers: dancers and parkour athletes. I try to push the dancers towards something less classic and choreographic to meet parkour athletes’ effortless body language. This mix of bodies and attitudes brings a more interesting result.
There is constant tension between the your subjects, your frames and the delicacy of your photography (your lighting especially). Did you specifically request movements or was it a more organic collaboration?
I spent a lot of time looking for locations, the right walls, the right textures, or the right urban elements that could be interesting to photograph with the dancers. I always try to plan a few movements but there is always unpredictable elements showing up at the last minute. The dancers and parkour athletes are so different that I am always surprised by the result. It is more about finding the balance between preparation and improvisation, looking for the little accident, when the dancer lose his perfect position. All these little details create an interesting photography. I truly think perfection is boring. Imperfections always create an interesting moments.
It goes the same way about lighting. I’m always thinking ahead, keeping in mind how the sun interacts with the location. But again, NYC is really unpredictable with sometimes ray of lights lasting just five minutes. So when I see one, I’m catching it!