9.3 minute read
The Sunday Session welcomes Olivier Tafforin!
I meet Olivier at his home in Beckenham, a leafy suburb south of London. Twenty-five minutes from Victoria. His home is in a beautiful building, close to Kelsey Park. He invites me into his living room where several of his paintings hang. I start by asking Olivier what he does for a living.
“I’m an artist, working with painting and photography. And I love working on movie collaborations. Whenever there is a chance to be involved in a movie, I do”.
I ask Olivier how he is involved in movies. “Do you make stills for the films or work on creating the tone in pre-production?” Of course I’m excited to hear he’s involved in movie making and know that there are many roles in the process.
“Well, so far I’ve been acting in short movies. And I’ve written a few short scripts that have been shot which I’m really pleased with. I love visuals, so I’m working on many different projects that I want to be created as a moving image, rather than a single image itself. I like to collaborate. If you take the example of painting, for instance. It’s a very solitary experience. It’s probably the closest experience to writing. It can be quite isolating. But with still photography one is interacting with a person or environment. Again with painting the process can become more isolating. It’s much more of an inner thing”
As I’m writing this and as in the photograph below, Olivier’s artwork is all around us, I can imagine him making this kind of work, spending hours, days and weeks must be a lonely process. So I can understand why he strives to be involved in more social projects, to be part of a team.
Oliver continues. “With collaborations, we are constantly bouncing ideas back off each other. And I find this very stimulating. I might feel shy in social situations, but when I tap into the creativity, if we find the same creative path or line, it’s just really quite wonderful. Like merging into one malleable creative mass, if you know what I mean. On the same frequency level. As much as I’m a private person, and sometimes don’t like society the way it is. I’m definitely a collaborative person”.
I’m happy that Olivier is comfortable talking to me. I begin to take a few snaps as he is very animated as he describes his relation to things. It’s a very old photographic technique in portraiture; to put your subject at ease before making pictures. In sharp contrast to the street photography of Jeff Mermelstein, for example, – where subjects are surprised by a sudden capture of a moment or not even aware that a photograph is being taken.
“And with society as it is, collaboration is a great experience,” Olivier continues. “To be a human being. It’s an interesting way of expressing something. It’s really about the balancing of personalities”.
He ponders for a moment. “So tell me more about you? I’m talking to a stranger.” Breaking out into laughter. “I need to know more”.
“Well,” I say. “I thought you may know me from my Sunday Sessions”.
“Yes it’s true, but it’s one thing to read and another thing to….”
So yes, ok, I usually tell my subjects at this moment, that I started this project because I wanted to photograph new people as often as possible. “My background is working in fashion photography, events photography and of course, portrait photography. But for my personal work, I’m more interested in photographing real people (or as themselves at least), rather than models. I want to talk to real people and find out about their experiences”.
“Right.” Olivier nods.
“So, initially I thought. How do I approach people without having to go through fair questions like: What are the pictures for? Where will they be used etc.?”
“Then, fortunately a few years ago, I was working in a café where some mime artists also worked. I asked some of them if I could photograph them on a Sunday. We worked together on a few photo-sessions – with no particular goal, but to make portraiture. I noticed that photographing on a Sunday somehow felt more fluid, calm and quiet. So I thought, well, maybe we can do this regularly, even every week. So for my next session with Alan (which became my first Sunday Session) I began to choose the locations where I would photograph my subjects, to try and complement them with an environment which perhaps reflected their personality. I also asked my subjects to write a short bio about themselves. Many of them felt slightly awkward writing about themselves. It didn’t feel natural. So at this point I began to write about them, and of the day. But still in my head was this idea of collaboration. So then, before the session I would ask my subject; where would you like to be photographed? Choose a place that feels personal, a place where you may go to spend some time on a Sunday. A place that feels safe. My thinking was that if I can go a step further and add the element of collaboration, then maybe I can create a wider portrait of someone”.
Olivier responds. “Yes it’s interesting what you are saying. And as an extension to that I find people’s faces fascinating! Because a face is only a surface, but it’s actually what defines us as human beings. And especially relevant because now in society people are forever becoming disembodied. Playing video games by ourselves. Being derogatory to ourselves, and to others. We are all flesh and blood, we are all human. It’s almost like as a society we are aspiring to de-humanise ourselves to the max. I think the greatest failure of a human being is to lose humanity. If we are not acting as human anymore, despite being born human, then we have failed at our job. We have been put on this planet to be human. So the most beautiful thing to achieve is never to lose our humanity, and actually work to improve it, make it better, make it higher. Sometimes people’s faces are…well, traitors of emotion. We can really try to mask our emotions but at the end of the day, through the eyes or a quiver of the lip … you know I love faces, that’s why I make so many portraits”.
I start to photograph Oliver after his emotive statement. At that moment noticing his expressive face, reminiscent of the Physical Theatre of a Steven Berkoff.
We leave the building and head off to Kelsey Park to take more photographs.
See Olivier’s art here.
A quick note to the reader, since the photo-session in August 2017 Olivier’s art practice has moved into photography, please check his site over the next few months to see his new work.