“Walk in the Beauty!” (“Marche dans la beauté”) is an amorous correspondence between two photographers, Flore-Aël Surun and Pierre-Yves Brunaud. Pierre-Yves Brunaud, whose pictures and thoughts complete this three-part publication, is a French photographer born in 1975. He focuses on space, territories, and “inhabited architecture.” With this joint work, he also continues the underlying thread of his earlier works focusing on the body and matter. The first part of this series on Flore-Aël and Pierre-Yves collaborative project can be read here, and the focus on Flore-Aël Surun’s work here.
Q: Is this the only work you have undertaken with Flore-Aël?
A: Not exactly. We also experimented with projecting photos on our own bodies. It’s too early to talk about it, but it produces quite enigmatic images that I really like. In fact, I had wanted to work with projected images for a long time and Flore-Aël really motivated me to put the idea into action. If we pursue this line, perhaps certain images will enter into a dialogue with “Walk in the Beauty!” Who knows?
I already in fact explored this process in another joint work, during an artist’s residency with my brother, who is a painter and visual artist. Projecting images allowed me to create dreamlike universes close to painting, in which architecture and nature entwine in a quite astonishing manner.
Q: What connections do you see between “Walk in the Beauty!” and your earlier projects?
A: People are most familiar with my work on architecture and urbanism, but there are also a lot of landscapes among my first photographic experiences. One of my series when I was younger focused very directly on the body – the moving body this time – through the observation of several contemporary circus companies, and there were already naked bodies in that.
Also, someone who is familiar with my work told me that from the way I organize the natural elements in the frame, she had the impression of rediscovering something very close to the composition and rigor of my architectural images.
Q: You have also chosen to work in film and in color. How do you approach the space you are going to photograph?
A: Working in film is a clear choice. I really like this idea of the latent image you can fantasize over … As for color, I quite simply didn’t ask myself the question. I couldn’t have seen this subject in black-and-white. For both body and matter – whether mineral or vegetable – color, whether cold or warm, brings a lot to each of these shots. Restituting this richness in a range of grays would have meant adopting another kind of vocabulary.
As for apprehending space, when I find a place that inspires me, I first of all need to case it out, to feel it, to walk around it, to look, and not necessarily take pictures straight away. Before achieving what I want, I need a vision of the ensemble so I can make choices, find the best frame.
Using a panoramic format is also a deliberate choice, with its advantages and constraints. Initially, it was almost chance that led me to starting the series this way. At first I had some doubts, notably about how this format would resonate with Flore-Aël’s 24×36 format.
And then I rapidly seized this opportunity to tell a story in “Cinemascope,” with a vision close to that of the eye, wide open to the world and to its vast landscapes. Over time, I am increasingly trying to inscribe an action or a movement in this broadened frame, so that the viewer can let his/her imagination run free before the fragment of screenplay presented to them. I am trying to offer them a window to enter this frame and to perhaps project themselves into the landscapes.
Q: Apart from the necessary adjustments that a joint photographic project requires, were there any other questions in this work that you had to think about when tackling this subject?
A: Yes, there were lots more. For example, the challenge that photographing a naked woman in nature represents. It triggers a lot of references, in art history and the history of photography, of course, but also on a symbolic and societal level. When I take my picture, I always try to be very careful not to veer into erotic imagery or that of the female object conveyed notably in advertising. The same thing when editing. At times there are very beautiful shots that I automatically throw out because they use a vocabulary that isn’t ours at all and which can surface at times in spite of us. So, it takes constant vigilance not to fall into that, to find the right distance. I don’t know if I always succeed, but I think the same can be said for Flore-Aël too, because the symbolism of a man naked in nature is just as tendentious, even though it’s not of quite the same order.
On the subject of the gaze we direct at the other, it’s important to stress that, for me, there are several layers superposed in this work. In these photos, I am of course looking at Flore-Aël, but beyond that, I see a woman in the more general sense of the term and, finally, quite simply a human being evolving in a natural element. Taking this larger process of vision into account perhaps helps us avoid the pitfalls I’ve just mentioned.