Zum Wochenende stellen wir Euch einen Fotografen vor, der mir vor einigen Jahren auffiel, durch seine auf leise Art gefühlvollen Momentaufnahmen des Lebens. Zwischen Alltag und besonderer Begegnung schwanken nicht nur sein Porträts aus dem Pariser Viertel Belleville, sondern ebenso A short Story, das Buch über eine kurze, schicksalhafte Liebesbeziehung, cineastisch erzählt. (Erschienen in limitierter Auflage, erhältlich signiert und nummeriert bei Walther König).

Thomas Boivin. Eine Einführung und ein Gespräch.

Born 19/06/83 near Paris and graduated from the Ecole Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs de Strasbourg in 2007, Thomas Boivin first started working as an editor at les éditions La Cinquième Couche while working on a life of Saint Anthony, in drawings, that, as he says, were never finished. Instead he became a photographer on 2010 and published four books so far: Marseille/Mer, Portrait d’une jeune femme, Floating and, most recently, the aforementioned A Short Story.

Rarely exhibited, his work was shown in Canberra at Huw Davies Gallery in August 2015 and the same year in the Museum for Modern Art Palais de Tokyo in Paris for the event 10 Visions of Paris.

The Random Noise: There are 20 arrondissements in Paris. Why Belleville?
Thomas Boivin: I chose to photograph where I lived. But I don’t know if I would have chosen my own area if I’d not be at this very place. To me, Belleville has unique qualities: everything is very organic, and you have empty spaces which aren’t used or which have not been built for any particular (commercial) purpose. This is very rare in Paris, a city where every little bit of space is usually organised and dedicated to a specific activity. People of various ethnical backgrounds are wandering around more than aiming at a specific task, between the many trees and the little cars. It’s a place both relatively quiet and complex, and because it’s less organized, less busy, it feels to me that there is more space, not only to take photographs, but also to feel the area and the people.


When people wander through the neighbourhood, you do the same. You meet them, you encounter them. Then, sometimes they become the subject of your work…

I walk the same path every day, according to a pattern which varies from season to season. I try to have an attitude and a certain rhythm that makes it possible to encounter people.

What will define or trigger these encounters is not clear, but often a certain mood is at play: people have to be willing to meet, or at least open enough to agree for a photograph. Still, the moment in which I enter into the communication with my subject, I try to rely on words as little as possible. That’s the tricky part, that I always ask and I take picture quite close to whom I photograph, often with the eyes looking directly at the camera – yet I try not to break the mood of the person I photographs: The idea is that this look retains something of what was there before I came with my camera.


You mentioned you are drawn to what is beautiful. What, being concrete, is most important in what you seek to capture?
I do not like to employ the word ‘capture’ that much, as it often suggests a relationship of power between the photographer and the subject. Too often, portraits are made with a predominant sense of predation from the photographer. I don’t like that. The portraitists I like the most seem more accepting someone’s image inside the frame than taking it, and I try to do the same.

In a photograph, what I look out for at first are the eyes of the person I photograph, the light and the composition. The eyes reflect an emotional state, and I am looking for people that are not psychologically removed, if you know what I mean. People whose eyes reflect some kind of meditation, an openness, or maybe who are just deeply in their thoughts, contemplating, or encountering emotions.

It’s the opposite of the blank look’s portraits that I was referring to earlier.


In the ages of technology enabling anyone to take and fake great images digitally, you chose to work analogous and in black and white.
To me, it feels like digital technique forces you to work with a tool which is much more intelligent than yourself. It corrects you, it suggests artistic features based on a code that somebody else has written for you. It takes power, even and mostly in what it makes you believe is “good” or “beautiful”. You have to follow the grid thought by 20 000 engineers, that didn’t necessarily understand fully each other’s work themselves. I feel lost in this labyrinth of calculated possibilities. I find it much more empowering to be involved in a very basic and physical way with the camera. I can make mistakes, I cannot check on screen and I cannot press backwards, I may mess up my exposure or the process of my film – but it all belongs to me, and it’s gestures, not keystroke.

Also, I don’t get to work on a computer. As a photographer I love said: beware of working with a screen as your eyes have tiny little chakras in them. Then, non-color forces you to focus on structure. Its content is more based on composition, light, and faces. Color is more about color. Additionally, black and white means you are more of a novelist. You are anchored and tied to reality in a subtle, less documentary way.


And If you look at color images, you can always tell which decade the picture was taken in. Like the 90s have this pastel touch about them. Detaching yourself from the time you are, is even more interesting, as with you body of work you capture a whole generation of la vie à belleville.
True. The only indicator of time, sometimes, is the cellphone which you may see in the picture (laughs). I really hope I can convey some kind of timeless, novel appeal. And I do use the analogy of the novel to describe to people within the medium when talking about my work.

(That being said, Thomas Boivin relies on digital photography for colour and shape studies for his own inspiration as well as re-seeing and analysing his own photographs.)

Talking about inspiration…you photograph people, but you seem so influenced by abstract art.
I do. In my studies I often work in form of dialogue between art and photography in its elements. See, I will try to establish a visual echo on something I have seen someone else doing, in another form of art. A shape, composition or mood. I do this to understand, and then build my body of work. It is a study, it’s not meant to appear later but it helps thinking through my own images & composition. It helped a lot with my book A Short Story.

I think, in my new books, the way the text will be played out inside of it will be inspired by this in a significant way. I also like to use the text as fragments of poetry because I want to make the text speak to the images in a non-verbal, non-explicite way.


What will these books be about?
I think two books are in the pipeline, but it’s a little soon to tell. The first and clear one is about Belleville. This is the work of portraits we were talking about before. I am trying to find a balance between different images but overall, I want to show images that may rises interest at first sight but still hint or maybe reveal their story thereafter.

It’s perhaps related to images computerization, but today I find images are often loudly beautiful at first sight but they are very quick to vanish, very short-on-the-tongue – ‘court-en-bouche’ en français, if you’d speak of wine. I’m looking for the opposite.

Also, I want to show fragments of reality, rather than a picture of reality itself, so I try to avoid anything too obvious.

The second project is a book on pictures I have taken this winter, in a square form only, with a strong emphasis on geometry, light and composition. Mostly ground details.


What makes you think about the square format? It has become omnipresent again with photo apps and the craze on Polaroid remakes.
I am currently highly interested by the square format, as it comes closest to a circle. The circle is organic, it replicates the natural way we see out of our eyes.

Even if the sight moves more laterally than vertically, we do not see the world in a rectangle, with a clear dynamic within a frame. The eyes do not have these dynamics, which is to me a deformation of reality much greater than black and white versus color for instance. This dynamic of the rectangle is a powerful way of organizing space, and when we remove this dynamic by using a square format, I feel it’s less easy to organize and the result is also more of an image of a “presence”, it’s less cinematic. A clear diagonal encloses an image in a flow, a direction, a sense of time that the square lacks. It is more difficult to use, and more ambiguous. I like that challenge. Good 6×6 photographers are very rare: the format in itself acts, as it doesn’t allow the kind of virtuosity 24×36 has, for example. You have to accept to be an O.K. photographer at most. And because of that, the way it limits your capacity to make an image that is immediately powerful, you have to find ways to built intriguing images with a bit more patience and delicacy. It’s fascinating.


(There’s a quote from the japanese cinematographer Ozu, who refused to shoot in panavision when the format became available, saying “the wide screen reminds me of a roll of toilet paper.”)

We thank you for the Interview.


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Portrait von Thomas Boivin: Copyright Gael Turpo

Zweites Bild: Die Quelle der Inspiration liegt oft bei abstrakter Kunst – hier bei Werken von Ellsworth Kelly

Alle anderen Bilder: Courtesy of Thomas Boivin