Villa numeris - an independent think tank that promotes a European digital model based on people - interviewed artist-photographer Chris Morin-Eitner about his latest creation "Paris, Élysée".
Why did you tackle a monument like the Élysée, after the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower?
Several thoughts led me to work on this photo. The first is the presidential election. This was a very important event, and my gallery owner, Eric Landau, pushed me to work on it. It turned out that I had already had the opportunity to photograph the Élysée ten years ago during a reception for the Legion of Honor.
As an iconic building, the Élysée seemed to me a good playground to imagine the world and the city as I dream of it. It's not about representing actual politicians, but animals playing the power stuggle, trying to position themselves and to have the best place.
Overall, my photographic work is about power and I thought the context lent itself well to it. My objective is not to project myself into the elections, but well beyond in a future with more nature, respect for the environment. This notion attracts me, withouh calling myself an ecological activist but rather and idealist, even a visionary.
What are your references?
The title refers to Jean de La Fontaine's poem The Wolf and the Lamb, whose moral I quote: "The reason of the strongest is always the best". Beyond this reference, I wanted to question the truth of this quotation today and to put into perspective the notion of strenght in an electoral context. Will the elected official be the most intelligent, the most agile, the most skillful, the most cynical, or the most consensual? A parallel that can be found in both the political and animal kingdoms.
Under what conditions is such a work made?
I work exclusively with original photos that I have taken. It is not only a question of rights but also of perspective. This allows me over time to build up an important database of the "planet", with trees, clouds, buildings, etc. It is by drawing from this database that I imagine the images that I will compose. Then, I often make a sketch to look for and fix my ideas, as one would take notes. A methodology I learned during my training as an architect.
The basic photo of the Élysée Palace is a stolen image of an official guest. That is to say, I had been there about ten years ago, on the occasion of a Legion of Honor award ceremony. But, as often, I had my camera with me. The conditions were not optimal, it was grey. I have not had the opportunity to photograph the building since, so I worked with this image.
You are an architect by training, how do you see the evolution of cities, beyond the representation of your works? Are there things that seem inescapable to you?
I am very interested in the city and in architecture. I have always been urban, the city nourishes me intellectually, artistically, emotionally, amicably and familially. The city is my breeding ground. I live it, I love it, it does me good but also bad. I often think of Alphonse Allais's phrase: "Cities should be built in the country, because the air is purer there". Today, the size of cities is a real problem we are facing. If we spread out cities like an infinite suburb, it is catastrophic from an ecological point of view. Wilderness or cultivable space, water flow etc. The other choice is to concentrate everything, which I personally find oppressive and inhumane.
There are few alternatives, but I think of cities like Berlin or London, built in the middle of large parks, where density and large spaces are mixed. I believe in green and massive spaces in the city, to the point of getting lost in them. We must apply the laissez-faire approach to nature, intervening as little as possible to give it the space and the possibility to unfold. In a world framed and structured like ours by verticals and horizontals, nature is a sensory and spiritual call for air. It is an important balance to respect.
You deal with Paris in majesty, what are your other favorite destinations?
Being a Parisian, I can travel at any time of the day, when the light is ideal. I've been strolling around this city for so long, I particularly like certain neighborhoods where I find unbelievable perspectives. There are some very fun visual games in Paris between the old and the new, the high and the low.
Even if I consider myself living in the most beautiful city in the world, the utopia I imagine does not apply to Paris but also to the great cities of the world that I like to photograph. New York, Los Angeles, London, Dubaï... I had the opportunity to exhibit in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta, which are ultra-modern cities, on a crazy scale, hyper-dense.
Beyond capitals and emblematic cities, I like to photograph contemporary and ancient buildings, symbols of power of an era, such as the Château de Versailles, the Élysée or the White House. Ruins also interest me, Angkor, Mayan cities. Rome. Perhaps they function as a distoring mirror of our time.
When the situation allows it, I would like to go to Brazil to photograph Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia, a capital totally invented in the heart of the jungle in the 50s. Or Tokyo, Cap Town…
In this way, I will have made a world tour of megacities and iconic buildings to tell a story of humanity that I would like to share in a book, a project in perspective.
The health crisis has been a period of questioning our lifestyles, does it have an influence on the way you approach your work?
I found this period terrifiying and extraordinary. A lot of things were questioned in our world of certainties where we are used to controlling everything. The fact that so many things suddenly stop, like in a game, that we determine which buisnesses are essential and which are not. Suddenly, the objective conditions were in place to give us the perfect opportunity to take stock, to question ourselves, to correct. Unfortunately, it seems that we did not learn enough from this forced sobriety and that we are starting again...!
For the rest, I was pleasantly surprised to see animals coming back to the city, to see nature taking its rights back, and this, in the space of only three months.