Joséphine Michel / (Un)Frozen Improvisation
December 2011 Interviewed by Roy Exley
Joséphine Michel was born in Paris and is currently living in London. She studied philosophy at the Sorbonne University and photography at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie in Arles. In 2007, she published her first book and DVD, Lude (Filigranes Editions). Her work has been exhibited in France, England and Spain, and represented in various publications. She is currently undertaking photographic assignments and completing an MPhil by project at the Royal College of Art. Below, Roy Exley interviewed Joséphine for Photomonitor about her recent series, (Un) Frozen Improvisation:
Roy Exley: In your photographs you focus on the ordinary, on the everyday objects and scenes that we daily pass by without our noticing, these photographs effectively elevate the peripheral, the marginal, and you seem to be re-inventing the subjects that you find there.
Joséphine Michel: In ‘Sinister Resonance, The Mediumship of the Listener’, David Toop recalls that Marcel Duchamp once asserted: ‘One can look at seeing, but one can’t hear hearing’. The fundamental investigation of my photographic process could take the form of the following interrogation: Can one see hearing? The photographs that compose my series, (Un)Frozen Improvisation are all attempts to negotiate a tension between acoustic impulses and visual shapes.
Suffering from hyperacusis, I tend to be invaded and overwhelmed by sound, and it even gives an important relief to microscopic sounds that compose what is commonly called ‘silence’. My photographic practice acts as a counterbalance to this gentle or harsh invasion, as I feel I have to react visually to compensate the sonic presence. My hearing experience both impels and shapes my images. They are all infused by the acoustic qualities of the surrounding space, and I am always searching, as Paul Sharits suggested, for ‘operational analogues between ways of seeing and ways of hearing.’
The very act of photographing comes from these cross-roads of tensions between auditory experience, the matter of visual reality and the sensations and states of mind they impel. What stimulates me photographically lies in the realm of the subvisible, in unexpected and unforeseen aspects of reality. I feel I am not so much re-inventing my subjects, as testifying to their enigmatic existence.
RE: With these alternative realities that you present in your work are you hoping, maybe, to transform the perceptions of the viewers of these images – give them a new perspective on the ordinary by elevating it to the extraordinary? Or is your strategy more complex than that?
JM: There is an attempt at expansion of the experience of the viewer through restricted spaces, a polarity ot this kind at work. This passes through a process of reverberation of a space: the word, coming from the Latin verb reverberare, literally means ‘to strike back, to reflect’. While in French the term reverberation is employed both in optic and sonic domains, in English it designates in a literal sense the persistence of sound in a specific space after the original sound is removed. How can reverberation be specifically photographic? I am not so much interested in the actual and concrete representation of sound than in its visual equivalences: abstraction, mirroring, and an attention to the atomic qualities, the seismic waves which are never better visible than in small details and microscopic areas.
RE: There is nothing of the nature of memento mori about your images, they don’t document or preserve their subjects, on the contrary they seem to transport them into alternative realities, they might even convey the idea that nothing is ever spent, merely converted – it’s identity shifted. How do you react to such an interpretation?
JM: Advancing in my practice allows me to realize that its driving force is less and less an exclusively conceptual inquiry, the necessity to document the social and historical configuration of a place, or as you call it ‘a memento mori’.
However, the recursive presence of dust, for example, signals it is not so much an ‘alternative reality’ I try to convey, but the actual and concrete material of our world. Within photographs of details of spaces, my concern is before all, through the realm of the subvisible, to document sensations.
It could almost be qualified as a seismographic practice, where the reverberations and interferences of a space diffract and polarize in a multitude of manners, which undermine the frozen and static planarity of a photographic image.