001 / 09 July 2014 / Features
Photography by Irwin Barbé
In Conversation with Nicole van Straatum
A conversation between visual artist Nicole van Straatum and Paris-based photographer/filmmaker, Irwin Barbé, on synesthesia, creative mediums, and simplicity. Irwin is currently completing his thesis at ENSAD on the links between techno music and video.
Nicole van Straatum: I loved your video Darkness in my Soul. When you begin the idea for such a body of work - what do you often explore first? Is music influential in the early stages or more of a post thought?
Irwin Barbé: I listen to a lot of music and it's for sure a really important part of my work, even for the works I produce that are not directly linked to it, for photos and videos that don't include any music per say music is still essential. I’m really interested in synesthesia, and how sounds can evoke intense images. In the music videos I direct, I try to explore the ways music and video can merge how the sounds and images influence each other or at least the way we perceive them.
N VS: I agree in developing a relationship between senses is important for your audience, so they are able to process the influence of sound and motion.
IB: I've been reading a lot of Michel Chion's theory lately about this. Chion argues that sound film qualitatively produces a new form of perception: we don't see images and hear sounds as separate channels, we audio-view a trans-sensory whole. Currently, I’m thinking about linking photography to other medias/senses.
N VS: Trans-sensory whole is such a strong term. I’m curious, did photography lead you into film?
IB: Actually I started with video, directing short films on my parents video camera with my friends when I was about 12 and then I discovered photography. I got sucked into film and instant film photography when I was about 15. It then kind of took over my practice of video, but about two years ago I started working on videos again. I guess I needed some time to find out what I wanted to explore.
N VS: When you shifted back, how did you feel with a finished video versus a final photo? I am sure your sense of direction and eye may have changed from your early teenage days.
IB: Actually it didn't change so much. I always had a precise idea of what I wanted to achieve. Maybe because it's pretty simple: basically, I just want to make the viewer travel. Geographically and, hopefully, emotionally.
N VS: And you've been able to do that within your videos. You mentioned linking photography to other medias/senses - what kind of mediums would that translate into?
IB: A lot of what I see in galleries and museums feels empty to me because it's so intellectualized. So about linking photography to other medias: I want to link them to smells, for example, or the recording of a sound that dialogues with the image.
N VS: I like that. It makes it more interactive that the audience is allowed to be involved. How does the product of your creations find significances in society?
IB: I just try to imagine how to involve the viewer using simple, sensitive tools/language. I don't precisely know how my work places itself in today's society. I just try some small things. Regarding the habits of the viewer, for example: It seems stupid, but just making a music video in which the shots last more than 20 seconds each is not so common.
N VS: It’s true. What would you say is the common thread that connects all of your work, especially translating through different mediums?
IB: Probably that intention of simpleness; not forcing the viewer to think or have an opinion.
N VS: Do you believe age (your own, and of modern day) and location have a value in your work?
IB: I think what links my works is also that they are in blurred zones, I cannot really say if they are documentary or fiction or "art videos.” My age and the time I live in definitely has an impact on my work, even though I realized that I tend to to erase a lot of contemporary elements from my images. I've never taken a picture of someone with a cellphone for example. It's paradoxical, the way what defines our generation is how it looks back to the past—you know, past trends, past artists, past technologies...
N VS: The past and present often merge, especially to shape the future. Do you think your work reflects a "timeless" element?
IB: Ideally I would want it to be both atemporal and a genuine reflection of what our lives feel like today. I don't think you need to literally show the characteristic objects/elements of an era to describe its atmosphere.
N VS: Of course. Could you list a few defining moments within your professional career?
IB: Somehow those defining moments are linked to the gear I use. When I discovered analog photography, for example, it was like I was finally able to express the images I formed in my head. Or in video, when I got my first DSLR with a video function. But maybe that a simplistic way to put it, because I also think that you can make wonderful images with the shittiest gear.
N VS: Agreed! It seems like you made a connection to the functions or tools that allowed you to translate more of your ideas into full bodies of work. Before you die, what would you like to accomplish?
IB: I guess my ultimate goal is to release a feature film. I think watching a movie in a theater still remains one of the most powerful artistic experience you can get. But I'm also really bored of all the codes and rules of most feature films.
N VS: I would be thrilled to see a feature film of yours, but it is true currently I am very unimpressed with mainstream features. Are there other ways you would like to show your feature other than a theater?
IB: I like the idea of the theater as it is, but I would like to add a few elements. It seems kitsch and it has been tried before, but I do think it can intensify the experience of a movie. Take for instance, “Smell-O-Vision.”
N VS: Are you familiar with expanded cinema? I am still new to it, but I think there is so much room for using installations, mechanics and interactivity to develop a complete atmosphere for viewers. Not that this would particularly work for your feature, but I find it still an aspect allowing plenty of experimentation for filmmakers.
IB: No, I just discovered it, but it seems really interesting.
N VS: Your video series for Nico Motte’s EP is quite abstract compared to some of your other videos. Do you stray away from titling the kind of visual art you produce?
IB: Yes, I don't put boundaries to the aesthetics and imageries I want to explore or re-interpret. When I make music videos (like the series you referenced) I think firstly about the music and which images would enhance it better.
NVS: Yes, that makes perfect sense. One last question - the most enjoyable portion in the process of creating for you?
IB: It depends on the project, but I think I enjoy the editing part the most. I find editing video especially mesmerizing, you really dive deep into the sound and images, playing them over and over again. Sometimes it gets me in a trance-like state. It's really when you see what you imagined become a reality.