Friday, July 26, 2013

The dark world of Antoine D'Agata

I read that photographer Antoine D'Agata won a great award for his book, titled "Anticorps", at the annual photography festival of Arles. Immediately my mind went a few years back when I met him at the same city, where I went to attend his workshop. I still wonder what made me choose him among so many other photographers. Maybe it was the fact that he had already become a hot name in the world of photography, or the curiosity how his workshop would be, taking into account his personal work: dark, feverish images full of sex, drugs and human flesh.

Getting along with him was tough. He can be as raw as his pictures are and he was pushing everyone to the same extreme limits that he pushes himself. I remember some girls often bursting to tears and as far as I was concerned, I felt detached from the whole process and demotivated. I thought I had made a wrong choice and compromised with the idea that this workshop was for me a waste of time and optimism. I kept shooting photos only for the shake of the rest of the class and they were terrible.

One evening, after a very long day of lesson, shooting and merciless critique we ended up having a drink at the famous "yellow house" of Van Gogh, which is now a bar on the main square of Arles. I was exhausted physically, mentally and psychologically and I was looking forward to finish my drink and go back to my hotel to collapse. When I mentioned my intention, D'Agata told me that this was the right moment to go to shoot photos. I thought he was kidding, but no, he meant every word. I asked him if he was tired and he replied, no, not at all, despite the 48 consecutive sleepless hours (he also mentioned his record was 76 or so, no surprise one of his books is called "Insomnia")... He suggested that I should do something extreme, like walking to Marseille (200 km away) or punch someone and see what will happen. I realized that there was a whole universe separating our worlds, but somehow I appreciated his effort and started understanding his point of view.

The next day I decided to skip the workshop and I went to see various exhibitions around the town. I ended up to the exhibition of D'Agata. I already knew many photos, but there were some I had never seen before. The experience of the previous night at the bar made me see them with a different eye. I am neither conservative, nor a puritan, however some the images shocked me and others disturbed me deeply. After I left the exhibition I realized that these particular images got imprinted in my mind for hours, even days. My response to them was developing with time and when I managed to become honest to myself, I realized with shameful surprise that they were also exciting, in a very instinctive or subconscious level that I have probably been trained to dig deep under multiple layers of good manners and moral principles. It was then that I made some sense out of the work of this unusual man. He takes long, desperate dives into the dark corners of the soul, where one usually does not dare to look, where unacceptable thoughts and unspeakable desires are pushed and brings them to the surface. D'Agata shoots daemons, his daemons, our daemons.

One day, desperate with our bad photographs, he said to someone (it could very well have been me, but it was not): "Let's go back to the basics, why do you photograph?". I don't remember the response of the poor guy. but I remember very well the answer of D'Agata when I addressed the same question to him: "All I want is to keep on living in this world of sex and drugs and photography is the way I found to do it and be paid for it". Only much later, I realized that this sentence was the only, but very important lesson I learned in this workshop: the life and the work of a true artist are one and the same thing.

Some years later, an exhibition based on his work "Anticorps" was presented in the city where I live. A text written by him accompanied the photographs. I kept some passages that show his own views on his work:

The only freedom for those who have nothing, lies in self destruction. Refusing to reduce themselves to servitude, they find an outlet in sex, drugs and violence. In the same way, depravity has always been for me, a step towards emancipation. Years of slow and reasoned self-destruction, of narcotic experimentation, of urban survival and liaisons with prostitutes, have provoked in me a slow process of maturation on these questions. I cannot risk on purpose, my destiny without getting too close, that is removing the physical distance from the photographed body, coming materially into contact, seeing beyond and smelling odours, totally immersing myself through the senses and the nerves and eliciting physical reactions also in the self and the other. I photograph carnal relationships, scenes of ecstasies:I look at shattered bodies that struggle and console the other in primitive copulations. I have sex with prostitutes and I lick flesh and bodily fluids as an antidote to the profound silence that weighs on minds dehumanized by global economy and religion. My photography is developing immunity to stereotypical morals. It is condemned to be subversive, asocial, atheistic, erotic and immoral.

Instead of reducing photography to the sole capacity of recording reality, I take responsibility for the position I assume. Rejecting voyeuristic or sociological standpoints, the images ensure art and action are inseparable in the frantic search for the feeling of being alive, of being part of life. In this fragile attempt, the image is defined both through and within the act that engenders it. It's not my insight into the world that matters but my most intimate rapport with the world. I structure a physical and psychic path overshadowed by deformity, rejection, dependence, pain, numbness, estrangement, risk, hazard, desire or unconsciousness.

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