Photography by Aurélien Bomy
Introduction and interview by Karin Svadlenak-Gomez
The French amateur photographer Aurélien Bomy developed a taste for the arts at an early age. A clinical psychologist by profession, Aurélien continues an artistic practice, discovering and learning from other artists. Besides photography he also enjoys the creation of animated collages.
Aurélien understands that street photography is a very different genre from other types of photography, because it captures moments that cannot be repeated and creates something that is completely new every time. Normally Aurélien likes to capture "cinematic moments" of people in their environment. For this story, however, he went down a documentary path. He captured the joy of the crowd at the event Goûtez Electronique that took place in September 2021 in Nantes, the first event of such magnitude that he attended after the pandemic-induced restrictions in France. The Goûtez Electronique offers a palette of Nantes, French, European and international DJ artists. It's a free electronic music concert with several DJ's. It lasts 8 hours on Sunday afternoons in a park near the Loire River.
"You wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down."
Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
Tell us a bit about this event. And was this the first mass event you attended after the Covid restrictions?
“La foule”* is a series I took at an open air electronic music concert in Nantes in September 2021 on a sunny Sunday afternoon in a park near the Loire River. The event is entirely organized by volunteers of an association on their free time and funded solely by bar revenue. It started in 2006, there were usually two dates each year in the summertime until Covid. So it had been since 2019 that the event had not taken place and people where very happy! During that period the health restrictions due to Covid were less drastic and we could meet without masks as long as we were vaccinated. So people were happy to be able to meet again in such events. They were dancing and smiling. There was a peaceful and joyful ambiance. This environment was for me the perfect context to try to approach a crowd from a subjective point of view from a quite close distance, focusing on individualities and to work on portraits.
For me, the challenge of this series was to bear witness to the atmosphere that prevailed at that time and place. Particularly after a long period during which meetings were restricted and these kinds of moments were very rare. But how do you convey this kind of atmosphere in photography? For this I decided to treat the crowd not as a unity, a totality, but as an incomplete collection of individualities and personalities. I chose the subjective point of view. For the challenge was to capture something of the life that occurs in one-on-one relationships in encounters in the crowd. My principle was not to turn to the stage, but to the public. To do this, I had to adopt a different posture from that which generally consists of a photographer standing back and excluding himself from the situation. So I joined the party. This is how I collected these beautiful attitudes and these many eye contacts. I was one of the others. The only difference was that I had a camera and used it to take photographs of others (just doing photography for myself, not for the event).
I had been to few cultural events before since the restrictions were lifted. We have had different periods of restrictions in France: Lockdown, confinements, curfews... since the beginning of Covid crisis, but I didn't go to events of that magnitude at that time!
How did it feel to you personally to be there?
It was a wonderful moment full of joy with very pleasant music, sunshine, and people were very happy to experience again a moment like this! I thought it was something not to be missed! You know! We had missed enough!
And when I saw this atmosphere, this mood, I immediately thought that there was a testimony to do something like that! But how do you tell the story of this in photography? It's not easy! Two ways and you have to choose : The collective way or the subjective singular way!
What gave you the idea that you could focus on individuals in the crowd, rather than, for example, concentrating on the musicians, as most people might?
I chose the way that I could tell the story of each one who had to make the sacrifice of him/herself for the collective during the sanitary restrictions. That's why I titled the series "La foule" (the crowd)! Cause there is a conflict between each human being and the collective! And it was a moment when we could live for ourselves in the presence of the others in a crowd! The song "La foule" by Edith Piaf tells the story of a woman who's "carried away by the crowd"... This moment was for me a unique occasion to treat that question of the border between the individual and the collective, which is an essential theme (even in my practice as a psychologist) ! We are each unique and each of us has his/her own difference. We all dream of being one with the other, but we can´t! The crowd is the place where the dream is in conflict with that impossibility.
You told us that you chose to process your pictures in black and white to focus on the essential. Please expand on that a bit - what do you mean by that? What would have been the disturbing element of colour?
I took the series in a four hour time frame, and the light changed a lot! Some of the pictures were taken with a strong daylight and others with a soft end of the day light! And there were a lot of different colours of clothing and green trees in the background! That didn't fit at all with the aesthetic that I search for! All those photos and people on them were so different! And that is what I found. That's what I wanted. But there is a need in a series to present the images in a kind of coherent way...not as a unity...not totality...but as a collection!
So only the monochrome, black and white, could put all those different photos together. And maybe it fit more with my purpose of showing that duality of conflict between individual and crowd.
What happened later in the year - did France go back into lockdowns as Covid-19 flared up again. what was the mood among the people like then? And your own feelings about it?
In November/December the Covid impact grew and restrictions were back on mass cultural events. Not strict lockdowns, but a closure of cultural places. We did not expect it! It was hard! And at the same time it imposed itself as a necessity to which we were not accustomed, but which we had already learned to deal with.
How have you personally been coping with Covid restrictions?
I have always respected them, as I knew they were necessary for the survival of the greatest number from the point of view that considers the collective.
These restrictions are an opportunity to give, through the defect they engender in the social bond, the crucial importance of one-to-one relationships and intentions directed towards a particular person, insofar as s/he is not anonymous, but has a particularity, his/her own difference from any other! To be interested in someone for what s/he has that is singular and who does what s/he is, that is what seems to me to be the important thing in social relations.
We agree with you! Thank you for the interview, Aurélien, and for sharing your special moments with us.
All photos © Aurélien Bomy
You can also read an interview with Aurélien HERE on the website where he discusses more about his passion for photography and about his inspirations.
*La foule is an song performed by Édith Piaf in 1957. The lyrics are by Michel Rivgauche and the music by Ángel Cabral.