Jonathan and I took a road trip
across the U.S. with a little jaunt up to British Columbia.
During our stay on an island in the greater Vancouver area,
I happened on VNB:
a photography studio dedicated to analogue photography and
co-founded and run by Virginie and Bastien,
(two lovers and two lovers of photography).
That weekend, they offered a little pop-up shop
on the artisan island we were on,
and I decided to experience the taking of my portrait.
Included here is a recent interview I conducted with VNB
as well as the shoot from last fall.
P.S. While we may differ on our take on humanism and reality,
we share a love for critical engagement, thinking, being, and photography.
Bastien Desfriches Doria and Virginie Lamarche, the co-founders of VNB studios, are all about analogue photography. Both French natives, Bastien and Virginie fell in love in their motherland and then moved over to North America for further art degrees and the pursuit of teaching. After many years of that (and receiving of awards), they moved to up to Vancouver from Illinois to open up shop and shoot—and they do so primarily with a restored 1920s large-format camera with special coated paper from the same time period! Thank you VNB for kindly accepting my request for an interview. x
B&B: What kind of camera do you use and why did you choose that instead of simply film or remaining in the digital realm?
VNB: "There are a few different cameras that I use on a fairly regular basis to articulate different practices and projects, but the main one has turned out to be this 8x10 inches large format camera dating back to the 1920s. The entire process takes me away from my habitual photographic thinking (often elaborating too complex a narrative) and invites, instead, a straight and simple approach to reality, in line with the medium's primary representative ethos rather than with more interpretive views of it. Approaching photography with a simple tool humbles the photographer in its role and importance, something that (almost paradoxically) one of the greatest and best known 20th C. photographer - Henri Cartier-Bresson - often echoed. He viewed photographers as simple craftsmen (yet the purity and profoundness of his work has the world audience believe otherwise).
As for 'remaining in the digital realm' this was never an option as I never left film and analogue media. Moreover I tend to view digital photography as separate, perhaps even as an entirely different visual medium. That said, I am familiar with digital technology and have used it in different contexts extensively enough to teach digital photography at a local university. I simply never 'go there' with an artistic idea in mind, that's what film, paper or glass is for to me."
B&B: From your vantage point, what perspective is gained or what may be possibly experienced from a slower, more methodical way of approaching photography or in other words, from a way that is more limited, less accessible, and less efficient from a time and effort perspective?
VNB: "Our condition of being always weighs in the balance of artistic production. As finite beings quietly evanescing through time, matter and light we need sensory realities and channels to reflect this finitude in order to ground humanistic meanings. In other words, and this would obviously be an oversimplification: mortality demands material pictures of life, not unsubstantiated experiences or their report. This ethical differentiation or scaling also refers to fundamental attributes of any artwork, such as uniqueness versus infinite reproducibility (I believe Walter Benjamin's 1936 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' has never been more contemporary.)"
B&B: What do you appreciate with this method of photography?
VNB: "In a word: the experience of it. How a material medium shapes an informed practice that requires lots of thinking and a constant muling over of your intentions and hopes. Photographing then starts to mean researching, reading, refining, experimenting, maturing projects over the course of several years. Casual snaps sort of become irrelevant to what you do in photography. Is there such a thing as casual thinking? I'm not sure, maybe. If so it probably doesn't deserve to be articulated or laid out on film. It's a little bit like traveling: whether you horse ride or drive, the entire journey changes. Memory, perspective, meaning do too. Desensitizing media like digital technology (or cars) will devaluate not only the subject, but even more so the relevance of saying anything about it (everything and nothing could both be said equally). Substantiating medias that consume more time, effort, thought, money, and overall experiential creativity (such as problem-solving, risk-taking and the lack of absolute assertion with regard to the final outcome) value every aspect of a given subject in a much different manner. They also constitute learning experiences that stay with you. Who is able to remember photographing someone digitally 5 years after? In contrast, I still remember vividly the exact circumstances and steps taken to achieve most portraits I took for the past decade. I suspect I'll remember these same ones just the same 10 years down the road."
Bastien explains the process, and I excitedly listening about the process. In other words, I'll need to sit still and wait for the picture to be taken.
We decide on a no-smile portrait. Bastien is getting the angle just right.
Meanwhile, I cannot help but think about the link between work, experience, and memory; the amalgamating of life in order to live, recall, and relate.
The big fat negative