For a few years now, Brittany has not only been the Stéphane Lavoué’s home, but also the subject of a complex series titled On the Edge of the World, which placed him as a finalist for the 2018 Leica Oskar Barnack Award. In 2020 it will be published as part of a book titled Les Mois Noirs and will appear in a number of exhibitions. In the series, Lavoué creates a cosmos of intimate images that illustrate life and traditions in this barren and windswept area. He not only shows portraits of his neighbours, but also landscapes and unique places of work. Past and present interweave in his series to form an impressive profile of the region. We spoke with Lavoué about his photographic approach, and about the special features of Brittany.
You found your new series almost on your own doorstep, how long have do you live in Brittany?
Yes, since 2015 I live in Pointe de Penmarch, that is located in the southwest of the department of Finstère, in Pays Bigouden.
Why did you decide to move to this region?
I was tired of Paris, after fifteen years in the French capital, working on assignment for national and international press. I wanted to focus on my personal projects. My wife is originally from this village. We already made L’equipage project (photo and sounds) in 2012 in the area.
How did the idea for the new series come about?
I left Paris to change my relation to photography. I wanted to concentrate more on long term projects. So I started to work on industrial side of my new environment: fishing industry. I was also integrated to the project La France Vue d’Ici directed by Images Singulières, the best French photo festival, in Sète.
In your opinion, what is so special about the landscape and the people?
It’s rough, remoted and not yet drawn by tourism. Fishing industry is still big around here. For the series I have now chosen the title Les Mois Noirs. It comes from the celtic language: Miz Du (black month, November). It refers to the start of winter and bad weather.
How do you proceed with the portraits – how important are the places, the staging, the clothes, the objects?
Thanks to my wife, I was linked to a local family. That helped a lot get access to places and people. My first stimuli is the light. Available light. It will impose the place and a way to direct the model. I am also trying to avoid any time-marker objects or clothes on the picture. And sometimes, when I can find the good light in the right place with a patient model, I can get a good picture!
Your portraits have strong art-historical influences – which artists have you used as inspiration for your work?
There is no real clear influence. I was graduated as a timber engineer. But I grew up in Berlin in the 80’. My parents forced my brother and me to spend all week ends in museums. We didn’t like it but I have to recognize that it might helped to create my visual culture. I discovered at the same period skateboard culture and punk music, hanging around in the American sector in Berlin. To be franc, I must say that Jean Gaumy’s incredible body of work on fishing and ocean was always in my mind.
Your landscapes also have very strong painterly aspects: how do you create them and which motifs have inspired you?
Landscape imagery is a very difficult discipline for me. I try to add a third dimension to the pictures; a kind of thickness. I spent a lot of time with my wife’s grandparents. They told me a lot of amazing stories about the old fishing times. The great era of the Pays Bigouden. My fascination with those times pushed me to try and create timeless pictures!
What equipment did you use to produce the series?
All the photographs were taken with a Leica M (240) with Summilux 50 and 35 mm.
You have been a Leica Oskar Barnack Award finalist twice (in 2016 with the series The Kingdom, photographed in the north-east corner of the U.S. state of Vermont on the border with Canada, and in 2018 with On the Edge of the World). What significance did participating in the LOBA have for you?
Yes, the nominations were helpful. LOBA contributed to spreading my work more extensively.
Is the series finished or are you still working on it? And will it be published in a book?
Yes, it is done! My new book, Les Mois Noirs, will be released by Editions 77 (the same publishing house as my last book The Kingdom) in April 2020 . At the same time, two important shows in two different museums in Brittany will present my photographs: Le Port-Musée in Douarnenez (starting on the 10th of April) and Les Champs Libres et Musée de Bretagne in Rennes (starting on the 2nd of June).
Many thanks and good luck with the book release and all further activities.
Stéphane Lavoué was born in Mulhouse, France in 1976. Initially he worked as a timber engineer in the Amazon region of Brazil, only sporadically taking photographs. It was the pictures of Sebastião Salgado that inspired him to take up photography as a profession. In 2001 he took a course at the Centre Iris Photography School in Paris, after which he worked for the national and international press. His pictures have been shown in numerous exhibitions at home and abroad.
In celebration of the 40th anniversary of the respected Leica Oskar Barnack Award, Leica Camera AG further heightens the prestige of the Award with a new nomination-based submission process. Further information about the nominators and the prizes can be found at leica-oskar-barnack-award.com.