THE SOUL OF SHAPES
Photography and words by Françoise Lerusse
Interview by Melanie Meggs
"Starting from design objects and architectural shapes, I explore in this series the transformative power of photography. By experimenting with light, shadows, contrasts, angles, perspectives, double exposure, I graphically reduce objects to create geometric living space, as I always start from an emotion. Tables, chairs, lamps, stairs are thus freed from their status of practical and functional objects and give way to new shapes, subjective and poetic on which the spectator in turn will project his/her emotions or his/her questions.
This work of reduction, sometimes at the limits of abstraction, is freely inspired by the photographic and graphic research of the beginning of the 20th century and in particular by the work of Rodtchenko, Moholy-Nagy, El Lissitzky and also Florence Henri.
Just as design and architecture aim to harmonize the human environment, I try with these photographs to create a timeless universe that can help to forget for a little while the chaos of the world."
Françoise, what is the full story behind your project "Esprit des formes"? How and why did this first manifest for you? What was the inspiration?
I made this series at the end of 2020 and beginning of 2021 during the covid lockdowns, at home and in the immediate surroundings. The lockdowns led me to focus on my immediate world. I have always been interested in design and architecture and the objects that surrounded me had been carefully chosen at the time I equipped my living spaces. But they were now part of my daily life, I no longer paid attention to them and I had never thought of taking them as themes for my photos. Then suddenly I became aware of their interest.
At the same time, I had just bought a new camera and started to experiment with photographing the chairs, tables and lamps in the different rooms. In particular, I wanted to see how the camera handled double exposures because they are an important part of my photography. Not all digital cameras do double exposures in the same way and the result can be very different from one to another.
Immediately there was... it is the case to say it...a click. I was struck by the radiant lights and the soft shadows, with a slightly film effect, and above all these images, sometimes taken very closely, tended towards abstraction. They were very geometric and graphic. I was no longer photographing objects but lines, contrasts, angles, perspectives, shapes. I felt a liberation from the reality, from the need to “say” something. I was showing spaces that “presented” themselves rather than images that represented something, spaces that were pure and alive because they conveyed my emotions. It was very inspiring for me and so I continued.
What does the title "L'esprit des formes" mean? Where did it come from?
"L’esprit des formes" could be translated as "The soul of shapes". This is what remains of the objects when I have reduced them to simple graphic forms. These objects are freed from their practical and functional status to become new, subjective and poetic shapes, which will in turn be interpreted by the viewer with his/her subjectivity.
Talk to us about your method of working and experimenting before the final image. Did you know exactly what you wanted from the beginning? How long did each image take to create?
I choose an object for its design, its lines, the shadows created by the light that surrounds it or those it produces in the case of lamps. I move it very little, essentially so that it captures the light better. I do not set the scene, I start from what I see, a bit like in instant photography, in a very intuitive way. I photograph two or three objects per session, I don't think too much, the workflow is fast and meditative at the same time. I work without stopping, as long as the inspiration is there, until I feel drained and know that I have gone to the end of the possibilities. This usually takes between half an hour and an hour.
The post-treatment is the other half of the job. This is where my photographic intention becomes clearer. It represents an important step in all my work. The editing can take several days or even weeks because I need things to settle down. The
whole series took me about four months, which is rather fast for me.
How does your project "L’esprit des formes" differ from your previous work? Is this type of visual storytelling something you would like to pursue again in future projects? What do you think is your next chapter in your exploration with future projects.
For several years I focused on metropolises, in a maximalist aesthetic full of movement, accumulation and sometimes full of colours also. This approach lasted until 2020 with the publishing of my book about Bangkok, “Chaos”. More recently I felt the need to put a distance to this chaos by concentrating on simple things in a more peaceful way. This led me to a more minimal and abstract style. I had already experimented with this kind of approach, but those works can be considered as “drafts” as they had not arrived at the succeeded stage and they lacked the emotion that I felt with "L’esprit des formes".
That said, I see also a continuity between these different bodies of work. Double exposure, high contrasts, focus on lines, on geometry, on graphic aspects have always been part of my photography and I have always practiced black and white in parallel with color. In fact, in "L’esprit des formes", I take my obsession with lines and graphics to the extreme, which is ultimately nothing more than a somewhat attempt to put some order in the chaos!
I will certainly pursue this. I have already started a series of still lifes in the same direction. I realized that I like to photograph inanimate objects, it is similar to studio work. I like the freedom that it gives me, the control of time, the possibility of starting over, everything that is not possible in the practice of the snapshot.
But I explore other avenues also. At the moment I am developing a series that I make while traveling by car between France and Portugal. I photograph gas stations. But in fact the subject is my state of mind, the meditative emptiness that the stops in these stations lost in immense and very open landscapes provoke in me. I accompany the photos with short texts, some sorts of poems. It is also a rather minimalist work based on one color, the red.
I am also continuing another project about the locality where I live in Portugal, a historical village which is now caught up by urbanization because it is close to Lisbon which is expanding. I photograph this transition with an angle on the destruction, the disappearance of nature and the loss of meaning that this brings.
Finally, what do you want people to take away from these photos? What do you want them to be asking themselves?
I would like them to feel an emotion, mine or theirs. I would like them to ask themselves questions about the reality of what they see. Things exist above all in our eyes so you have to put them into perspective. Having in mind that we can see things in different ways is worth much more than photography, it is a valuable asset in life in general and especially in the current world where there is so much intolerance. I would also like them to come away from the series with a sense of harmony. In the same way that design and architecture aim at harmonizing the human environment, I try with these photographs to create a timeless universe that can make people forget the chaos of the world, even if it is only for a few moments.