Benoit Paillé is a self-taught French-Canadian photographer. His photos have been published in several publications around the world, as well as being exhibited in Canada, Japan, L.A, Barcelona, Moscow and Ukraine. We caught up with him to find out more about the process and thoughts behind his hypnotic imagery.
What compels you to travel to certain locations over others? Is there something that attracts you to a particular site when taking photographs?
I always have my material with me, the flash, the luminous square strapped to the roof of the camper, so my creative process is very spontaneous. What motivates my travels is mostly a practical matter, with the temperature. I was in Quebec a while and it was getting too cold to live in the camper in the winter so I spent a year in West coast of Canada British Colombia. These days i’m always on the seaside because the breeze there is amazing or else the temperature gets too hot inside. But either than that, i don’t plan what will be a good picture, I just go out of the truck, take a walk and sometimes I can have 5 good pictures right there. In my immediate surroundings. I’m not at the research of a specific kind of photo, I think everything is subject to be a good picture. I do have an attraction for strange parking lots, countrysides, fences and all of that but it’s banal things and I can find that anywhere. With the camper I am never in a rush, it allows me to be very fluid in my moves. I can really take the time to explore an area I like. I use my satellite google map to travel, so when I see a spot on the map that seems interesting or strange, I just go there. Sometimes I can spend weeks in my camper just retouching, not even going outside much. I also like to get lost once in a while, just find a quiet spot in the woods and be alone. It’s an exploration, a wondering. I would find it very constraining otherwise.
How has the experience of travel and nomadism changed your vision, as a person and as an artist?
It changed my life in the sense that it killed all notions of time and schedule for me. Before I used to go to school and have a regular job, but now, my time is open. I’ve been travelling for a long time to Europe to give workshops, Guatemala and Mexico, so living in the camper was for me just a normal continuity of that. Travelling with my home just made me more available to the moment. Flexible. It gives me so many opportunities that I wouldn’t have in another context. As a person, it also made me super aware of all the inputs and outputs of everyday life, the trashes we produce daily, that I have to manage more rapidly in a tiny space and the energy we consume. I use solar panels, so there was an adjustment for that since I work on the internet and use quite some power. So it all made me more conscious. Aside from that, I don’t feel that travels changed me much. What changed me the most was probably the rainbow gatherings. It just open my eyes on so many levels and helped me to see that different ways of life were possible. My visions came more with my internal travels with weed and mushrooms. When I did mushroom for the first time I was in the forest, and I started walking very slowly, the slowest you can imagine. It was as if I entered a new world, I could see all the details of it. It changed my way of doing and perceiving things, even after the buzz was finished. It made me more patient.
Could you pick out one image you have shot and tell us the story behind it?
I have these pics I took of a random guy I met close to the beach in Baccalar, Mexico. I asked the dude what was in his back. I was with friends, we all started guessing. One said maybe it’s because he was a garagist and he received acid in the back, the guy was laughing, we invented crazy stories. Then he told us it was acne scars. I though it was interesting and wanted to make his portrait. The guy was cool about it and he liked the fact that I directly and openly asked him about it. He told me that some people took pictures of his back before without him knowing. Infirmities of others don’t make me shy, I’m just curious about it. It’s like asking a guy in a wheelchair what happened to him. If I have a question in my mind, I prefer to ask the person rather than be an hypocrite. I had 4 improvised assistants for those pictures, to hold the flash and the branches. The result is not what I expected but I’m starting to like it more with time. I met the same guy again couple of weeks later and showed him the picture. He said he liked it but didn’t seem to care much. Sometimes I think I look so much like a wanabee people don’t know what i’m doing.
It’s very interesting that you approach strangers and ask them to become subjects in your work. In doing so you break the unwritten societal convention that has taught us to ignore those around us when in public places such as subway trains and on the street. Could you tell us about this experience? How did you manage to break the barrier between yourself and the subject?
We never break the barrier, the camera is always there in between. I find it fascinating, because we will never be able to truly know the other. But taking theses shots are like a pulsion. I need to be in the good mood with the right light and a good subject. A point of convergence where everything meet. When I asked the strangers to take their pictures, at first it was like I was back in primary school, asking someone out. I felt the same fear of rejection, the same stress, but I was also thrilled. In the subway it was harder because people are rushed and other people look at you when you work. It adds an extra stress. But I liked to be confronted at that, to be a random element in their life. When I go home after and start retouching, I find it hallucinating to be able to zoom in so close in the iris of a total stranger, almost as if I can see their souls, but they remain strangers. But for me that challenge is passed. Now I like to find a really kitsch background, something I find interesting and I ask the first person to come by to be in front of it. If the person says no, I ask the next one. I prefer to take the person in their immediate environment. Anybody can be interesting.
Would you say that your photography is an attempt to switch people on to the idea that reality is fluid, rather than fixed and objective?
Totally. Reality is different for all brains that see it. What we see as reality is only a construction related to cultural symbols. We live in a big hologram of 12 dimensions and what we are able to imagine exists. There’s nothing linear even in history. Everything is tainted. When I use the colored gels it’s still the reality, there’s no retouching, but tainted the same. The background is there; I choose to put colors but I still consider it documentary. It all exists. The picture creates reality.
Any upcoming plans or projects you’d like to get us excited about?
Yes! I’m currently travelling south america, and over-landing the world. Maybe Africa’s next, I’ve got to find a way to cross over with the truck. I’m also traveling with a friend who’s a writer and will try to include more writing in link with my pictures, anecdotes behind it, maybe post some articles. Since I’m on the move I might also have some workshops coming in all the countries I’m passing through, Mexico,Guatemala, Panama, Columbia, Argentina and so forth. And an upcoming exhibition of my work in Montreal with Think Outside The Box.
What has been the the most valuable piece of advice given to you, in either your personal life, or your professional life as an artist?
Nobody never gave me any advice. I smoke too much pot to remember anything really.. I have nothing really inspirational to tell you. But: Be revolted. Being revolted Is staying alive. Fuck everything. I’ve got a big library full of intelligent book. Foucault says “connais-toi toi-même”. I don’t know what to say, I don’t know what I’m doing anymore, I’m confused. That’s all bullshit. Thanks for the interview! Peace.
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Photographs © Benoit Paillé
Interviewed by Amber Robson. Original post on Archive Collective Magazine.