When Jean-Marc Godes takes a photograph, he doesn’t just press the shutter button on his camera. He begins his project on paper, proceeds to casting the protagonists, chooses locations, creates sets and costumes, conducts rehearsals and does the make-up, lights and a final round of fine-tuning before the image is taken. There is no computer editing in his works as the real and the imaginary merge. “My work is very similar to that of a filmmaker. Photography occupies, on an average, only five to 10 percent of my working time. I am first and foremost a storyteller. I tell, with my pictures, moments of stories that are suspended in photography,” says Godes.
His artistic research is dedicated to the promotion of books through photography and the present show is a part of that effort. It displays Godes’ collection of photographs that talk about how books make an impact on people’s lives. The French photographer is displaying his works at Darpan Art Gallery, Kalachhaya Campus, Patrakar Nagar in Pune, till October 1. The show has been organised by Alliance Française as part of a tour across several cities in India. Excerpts from an interview:
Who first gave you a camera and what happened next?
I had never been passionate about photography. One day, on the island of Reunion, where I lived with a friend, we challenged each other to make a humourous little staging. The photos taken did not matter. What mattered was that afterwards, I took a passion for staging photography using objects and nature. Then I moved to France and a little time passed. I missed staging photos but I wanted to express poetry in the picture. And then, as a tribute to my father who was a writer, I embarked on the adventure of staging books.
What was your inspiration behind these photographs?
I do the staging. That is to say, fiction. I create imaginary worlds. My inspirations are not related to photography. But they come from poetry, music, literature, cinema and dance. Inside each image, there is a story in suspension.
How long have you been working on the theme of books?
My first staging on the theme of books dates back to 2007. But through the images that I propose, it is all my life that speaks. These are my roots but also my hope, my wounds and especially my love of life.
What are the life experiences that led you to art?
I left school at the age of 15, without a diploma, to work. Today I am 61. I did lots of different jobs. But the most important were the interactions with children and the profession of being a trainer for adults. Since childhood, I was touched and repulsed by suffering, poverty and injustice. I really began to express myself socially and assert myself only when I started my artistic career.
How has your style of photography evolved over the years?
I was shy. In the beginning, staging with books alone allowed me to evolve without confronting me to human beings. This phase lasted several years. Then the animals integrated my universe. But I crossed the big step towards staging with humans at an artist’s residency that I attended in Brazil. Since then, I have enjoyed it to the point of not being able to do without it. And now my technical and artistic approach has improved.
Which professional photographers have influenced your work and how do you incorporate their techniques into your photographs?
None. I use the camera as a mason uses his trowel. I try to improve my technique constantly. I also followed training in audiovisual, camera, sound, and light. But the camera is only a tool for the construction of the project. The quality of the project is essential before asking the question of the tool.
What advice will you give to budding photographers?
Photography, like painting and writing, is a way to tell others things that come from you. Ask yourself before each picture — what is it that you want to say, and then ask yourself the best way to say it. And above all, be persevering because expressing yourself with a camera can take more than one life.