Cary Benbow (CB): Can you please explain the idea behind your portfolio images in this issue?
Pauline Rousseau (PR): The Would be Me, is a series I completed less than one year ago. I reconnected with all those men who has been part of my life at different moments. After convincing them, I staged with them – sometime with their families- hypothetical futures, the ones we would have had together if the story had happened, the relationship had evolved, become official, continued. Each image is the result of a performative experience. For the duration of the shoot, the models and I live these imaginary lives. It’s tender and ironical. It’s emotional and distanced at the same time. The work lies between a past that is long gone, the present moment of the camera’s shutter release, and a future that will never exist.
My work always questions gender, maleness, relationships between men and women. At the same time, I am always wondering about what it is to be a woman photographer, staging people, directing models.
For years and years men were creators/artists/active/photographers and women were passive/muses/models. I am interested in what happens when the equation is reversed. When women are shooting men. All those reflections are present in my series The Would be Me too.
CB: What made you explore the possible lives you might’ve had in the series ‘The Would Be Me’? Where do you get your inspiration for ideas?
PR: About this project, I’ve always thought about this idea of “as if”. It’s crazy how super small choices can totally change life especially when it has to deal with love life. Once, I was supposed to go to a party with this man I met three weeks before. We had just started a romance and I planned to tell him I was ready to get involved in something serious. My phone was dead and I was tired, so I never joined him at the party. This particular night he met the woman who is now his wife. I still wonder: would our lives (the three of us) have been different if I had a charged phone on that day? In general, my ideas come from many different places, but it always takes time to mature.
CB: How did you get started in photography?
PR: I became a photographer quite late. I started photographing when I was 23 years old. I took my brother’s camera and I went to my boxing club. The idea was to get inside the men changing-room and take pictures of the exhausted, sweating boxers after they trained. It was amazing.
CB: In your opinion, what makes a good photograph?
PR: For me it has to be meaningful for the person who took it. I mean, even if it’s not the kind of photography I like, if I feel a need, an urgency, a real desire for the person who took it to take it, it’s a good photograph.
CB: Who are your personal photography inspirations?
PR: I have very different inspirations depending what project I am working on. For this project, The Would Be Me, I get inspired by Sophie Calle’s work for its performative aspect, and the really thin border between reality and fiction, intimacy and personal exposure. Also, I’ve been inspired a lot by Olivier Culmann’s project The Others. The way he totally changes his appearances for this work really impressed me. As I have an art history background, I staged my different pictures based on my knowledge of painting genre scenes. It’s very ironic, those genre scenes in classical paintings are supposed to show archetypal and model situations whereas all the “The Would be Me” situations show lives that I want to run away from.
CB: How would you describe your work to someone viewing it for the first time?
PR: For “The Would be Me”, it can be humorous and easy to understand at the first sight. But it also deals with deeper things like this idea that all the small choices we make impact, the social pressure about relationships and families, and the way women are represented in our society…It is also a reflection about the bitterness, doubts, regrets or nostalgia we can have about our past romances.
I photograph because I feel the immediacy of doing it. I love organizing, setting up things, directing people. When I have a camera in my hands, I feel like I am free to do everything I want to. I am not thinking about what people are going to think about me, or what is good to do, or not. I do it because at some point I need to do it. I feel the necessity of catching or taking this reality… which is not true ‘reality’, but sometimes my own created reality… and to show it, to exhibit it, to share it.
CB: What work are you currently working on? Any new projects?
PR: My first solo show opened few weeks ago in Toulon, in the south of France. I presented my project (dans) leurs lits – (in) their beds in English – which is about nudity/intimacy/erotism and love stories.
I asked twenty young women to tell me in their own words about their most significant encounter with a man. It could be a one night stand, their worst break-up, or a very cheesy love story. Then I went to each one’s room, to take picture of them, naked in their beds and I wrote texts about what happened when I shot them.
The exhibition shows the process and the result at the same time. I used different mediums, such as sound, text, photography and installation with negatives and glass.
I am currently working on a project about Love encounters and meeting apps, it’s called Tinder Lovers.
Also published on Medium.