I was honored to be an artist-in-residence in France and exhibit the photographs in a one person show I made there.
As an artist-in-residence, I continued my nightlandscape photographs in a Nineteenth Century villa in France. At the Château de l’Esparrou in Canet-en-Roussillon, I worked for a month photographing at night funded by the French government, Association of Cultural Encounter Centres (ACCR), culminating in a one person exhibition there.
Photographing Around the Chateau at Night
I photographed in the Chateau de l’Esparrou some afternoons and evenings, but I worked primarily outside in the surrounding areas.
This included the forest and pathways right behind the Chateau, as well as the vast vineyards and the large pond estuary, Etang de Canet-Saint Nazaire, located in the Pyrénées-Orientales region near Spain. About seven miles away was the French Catalonian city of Perpignan.
Haunting Beauty and Environmental Changes
I wanted to capture haunting beauty of the place at night, as well as focus on the environmental changes happening in the estuary and vineyard (this is loosely connected to my other recent photographic projects focused on global warming set in Greenland and Broad Channel, Queens). Recent studies have shown that the region has experienced drier conditions and the vintner said yields were less as a result.
Working Twilight to 4am
Usually, I would work from twilight or sunset to around 4am. The exposures would be about 15 minutes to about an hour and a half. The moonlight was surprisingly bright at times, casting strange shadows through the trees and vineyards.
Walking in Complete Darkness
I became fascinated with several sets of palm trees on the grounds of Château de l’Esparrou. Night after night I would return to photograph them–they seemed like totems or Roman columns. I would sit on the floor of the forest in contemplation, creating photos, with the only noise being occasional visits from curious packs of wild boars (“sangliers” in French–they can be somewhat dangerous but I would make noise to scare them away).
In complete darkness I would trek to the pond estuary several miles away, where walking for an hour was usually fear-inducing. I got used to this and other walks in darkness on the grounds after a while.
Daily Working Routine
The daily routine for the month centered around my nightly photography.
As a result, my time spent in France was nearly nocturnal.
I got up around noon, roughly staying on New York time; reviewed some of the previous night’s work; strolled on the Canet-en-Roussillon beach to think about the upcoming night’s shoot; made something quick to eat and packed a sandwich for later; drove seven minutes to “work” at the Chateau at 5pm, photographed until around 10pm or midnight, taking a meal break at a bench there; continued photographing to about 4am; headed back to the beach apartment on empty streets to download the files making sure they are safe and undamaged; and headed to bed at 5am.
This process continued every day–I became obsessed–except for one when I was too exhausted to work.
Picasso and Art Diversion
A few times I traveled to the beautiful but a bit gritty city of Perpignan to see a few art shows, such as one on Picasso, who lived in Perpignan for a few years. I spoke English rarely during the month.
Technical Photographic Concerns
There were several technical issues that came up due to the nearly complete darkness I often photographed in. The biggest problem was distortion or noise appearing in the digital photographic files, often in the shadow areas. Due to the extreme low light, exposures had to be very long to provide a good undistorted file. Another problem, on occasion, was wind which could move the tripod slightly, making the image drop out of focus. As a result, sharpening in Adobe Camera Raw and Photoshop–always important–became crucial.
Exhibition of Night Photos of the Chateau
About two and a half weeks into the residency, I began to prepare for an exhibition scheduled for a week later.
I quickly looked through about a thousand photos I had taken to date, whittled the selection down to fifteen large format 120×80 cm/48”x40” prints, which I edited, color corrected and sharpened. These were then printed, mounted and framed for a one person exhibition–normally a process that can take three months to a year, but due to time constraints, took about a week.
The show was presented in a stunning 17th Century stable converted to an exhibition space in historic Canet. Many people came, along with local government officials; I gave a brief speech in (very) broken French.
Other Work: VR and 360 Video
Beyond the digital photographs–the total number taken during the four weeks was about two thousand–I also experimented with 360 degree video and virtual reality. Using a RICOH Theta S 360, I created VR and 360 videos of the interior of the Château de l’Esparrou and low-light night landscapes in the vineyard.
The concept for using VR and 360 video was to create an personal experience using new image making technology. Because there was no single perspective as there is with a traditional camera, placing the lens in a place that captured the feeling of the environment became an unusual creative challenge.
An Unusual Residency
At other residencies I’ve attended such as Yaddo and Ucross, artists have a studio to work in, a room, are provided with meals with mandatory communal dinners–in short, a shared experience.
What I experienced at the Chateau was more of an artist-in-residence: I worked alone, prepared my own meals, was given an off-site apartment (the Mediterranean ocean was across the street), was given a car, but did not have a designated studio. However, I was given a stipend for meals and other expenses and was paid for travel to and from France.
Also unusual was to have the owner of the Chateau there, on site. This personal connection to the place brought a different level of intimacy to the experience–and my work. Although being an artist-in-residence was different (and occasionally lonely), ultimately the unbridled freedom allowed me to concentrate completely on my creative process.
Paris Trip and Contemporary Museum Meeting
After the residency, I took the night train to Paris. I was a bit concerned that I would appear groggy and disheveled for my morning appointment with a contemporary art museum curator, but after a change of shirts, I felt fine.
The meeting went well and the curator was kind enough to recommend four other contacts in Paris and France who might be interested in my work. I set out pursuing them and other meetings in Paris with galleries for the next few days, and finally headed back to New York after five weeks.
Inspiration from Painting and Film
Before I left for France, I visited the Metropolitan Museum to see Barbizon landscape painters, including Théodore Rousseau and Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, and other favorite artists such as Frederic Edwin Church, who I love for his sweeping landscapes and atmospheric light. I also made sure to see photographs of Eugene Atget and Eugène Cuvelier. These paintings and photographs are touchstones for me that I return to often.
The project was supported by the Association des Centre culturel de rencontre (ACCR), a French government organization, which promotes cultural diversity, and the Centre Culturel de Rencontre (CCR). They provided housing, transportation, a stipend and the production and exhibition of photographs.
Thanks to Château de l’Esparrou
I loved my time at the Chateau. Having the freedom to create new work unencumbered is a dream for any artist. I am grateful to the Château de l’Esparrou and especially Bertille de Swarte, who grew up there and manages it now, and the funding from the French government.
One Person Exhibition
Here is some of the work–there were a total of fifteen framed 48×40″ photographs–I created at the Château de l’Esparrou and exhibited as a one person show in France in the Fall of 2017.