Jean-Daniel Beley Villeurbanne, France
With a PhD in Applied Mathematics and working as an engineer, art and photography have always been something that have provided me a good balance in my life. After having done a lot of travel photography – in the film age – discovering digital photography was for me a fantastic moment. Two years of Photo a Day project taught me the technique of photography, while living in a big city opened my eyes on street photography.
While working as an engineer and shooting street are balancing my life, I am sure that mathematics are always present in my photography – whether it is through geometry, lines, shapes that I use in my street photography, or through categorization, standardization, as I do in the photos presented here.
Jean-Daniel Beley was chosen by photographer Hanan Kazma.
Laatikkomo’s interview with Jean-Daniel Beley December 20th, 2014.
L: Where are you from? What cities, and/or countries have you lived in – or what places have influenced you?
J-D B: I was born and grew up on the French / Swiss border, in the countryside. I’m sure these years modeled me: When you live in a village, you know everyone; you cross people on your way to the grocery store, and you talk to them. You also know that you can count on the people not to let you down when you need them.
I moved to Lyon, France – a city of 1.2M people – when I turned 18, and was bewitched by all the things happening, all the things to see in such a large city. On the other hand, I spent four years in an apartment and only said “good morning” to my next door neighbors a few times, never having any kind of interaction. Not that I’m shy or anything, that’s just the way it is over there. Although I wasn’t into street photography at the time, I was nevertheless already challenging myself to interact with strangers in the street every day – helping the elderly or more having a chat with somebody in a store. I found this very satisfying.
I also spent 5 years in the USA, which opened my eyes on the “global” culture, and also made me realize how biased our vision on world’s matter is: living in the period before the invasion of Iraq as a Frenchman in the USA, getting the two countries’ very different points of view, I asked myself for a while who to believe.
L: What is your earliest memory of photography?
J-D B: My parents were not into photography – not even family photos, so I didn’t have any early exposure. I really started shooting when I turned 20 or so, with travel photography, with a Vivitar manual camera – without light meter (it was long time ago). I didn’t have anything to express, it was just “archiving” my memories, but at the bottom of my heart, I think that capturing the instant for the records was not my thing. I live in the present, not in the past, nor in the future.
Only long after that, when digital photography appeared and the first websites dedicated to it were created, did I started considering photography – in its digital form – as something that suited me very well: You look, you shoot, and it’s done! I had always been into drawing before that, but I am not detail-oriented: the tedious finishing process was a pain. With photography, I search, I wait for the right moment, sometimes for a very long time, but once I release the shutter, the process is (almost) over.
L: Your images primarily focus on people in transit, usually on the street or other public places, but a few of them are also posed portraits. What inspires you to stop people in their trajectory to pose for a photograph?
J-D B: Our world is all about speed, efficiency, time to market, real time… people walk around like working bees, but as opposed to bees, don’t exchange any information. The street photographer steps back, stops and watches that frenetic agitation, trying to freeze it at the moment where people will be the unconscious actors of a visual collision. But sometimes, it is not enough for me. I feel like breaking that motion, stopping them and pull them away for a few minutes from that chaos. It took me some time to polish my “10 seconds street speech” to stop them, but now I’m quite successful at it. It feels good when it succeeds, but it is also very energy demanding.
L: You also have a site called “MP3 Wanderer” where you photograph strangers and add a link to the song they are listening to. There is a youTube series “Hey you! What song are you listening to” (2011) is your photography series in any why related to or inspired by this video series? And what motivated you to initiate this project?
J-D B: Interesting project! I was not aware of it. I must confess that I am not well informed of the trends and the latest cool stuff. I haven’t watched TV in 30 years, I read a few “serious” newspapers, but I don’t have Facebook account, I never go on twitter… In 2006, I started a series called “gravity” where I was shooting from above my kids lying on the ground taking poses, “defying gravity” (a few of these images can be found here: http://djailledie.deviantart.com/gallery/7452806/Gravity). I had once seen one of Robin Rhode’s pictures with the same principle in a book., using that principle. It stayed in my mind for some time, and one day I started the series. A few years later, I received a comment on one of my images asking if I had been inspired by a (famous) Dutch photographer, and at the same time a major sports store in France used that idea for a series of billboard ads… I guess people can independently come up with similar ideas at the same time, having evolved from a common background.
Coming back to the MP3 series, it was a natural evolution of my interaction with people: those having the headphones are even more into their private trajectory. I see the music while walking in the street as a way to be even more alone, isolated from the others, so for me it was an additional challenge to stop them and ask for a portrait. On the other hand, asking for what they listen to is a short and easy introduction, and I often found myself having a conversation about music with some of the people I stopped.
L: What music inspires you in your own photography?
J-D B: Photography and music are totally independent. When I shoot, I am 100% into photography. I am so engrossed into it that sometimes that I will sweat, I will hold my breath, and there is no more room for anything else. But if I was asked the kind of music I listen to, I would answer that I am very open to all kind of contemporary music – from indie rock to all kind of popular music – and versed into contemporary European jazz when it comes to listening to live music.
L: In the series you are presenting in Laatikkomo, you have taken random places and people and made a series about human, and social behaviour in the city space. Are you interested in developing the political side of photography?
J-D B: That’s an interesting question, with no single answer.
Basic graphic and aesthetic considerations often drive me when I shoot.
On the other hand, I have done conceptual photography, in which there was a clear environmental message – for example a series called “technophobia” where I question the insane evolution to “smart”, “connected” anything. I have also a series called “monstrocity” revisiting the 60s and 70s European architecture, with its giant blocks of buildings.
The geometrical aspect of my street photos is also intended to question whether what human beings have done of the urban environment is really right.
Nevertheless, photography has become too common to deliver a message – photography in internet era is disposable. Photo sites are no different from everything else: facilitated sharing from the mobile phone, facilitated browsing, mobile device browsing while doing something else: Volume and speed are reducing the impact of each photography. An initiative like Laatikkomo is very welcome. The idea of a single image, staying in a public place is off the beaten path. Its website as well is interesting, with a small number of images per photographer, and this “travel” to navigate invites to a quiet journey.
L: What question would you like to ask (or try to answer) through your photographs?
J-D B: Our time – as any other maybe – feels insane. Our kids, our grand-kids will look back at us and how we have built an energy-glutton society disrespectful of the individuals, while making us believe that we are empowered to find happiness: a very high unemployment rate, people traveling 1000s of kilometers away for their families every week because they couldn’t find a job closer to home, automation, outsourcing of tasks that maintained our society balanced, the idea of happiness through possession of material goods and hi-tech devices, real life “replaced” by virtual life, and always me, me premium, me advantage… Me as the marketing target for sure. All this feels to be a dead end. I don’t pretend that my photos will answer anything, but I would be very satisfied if they could at least get people to step back and think.
L: Could you list 5(or more) words you were thinking about when you made this work?
J-D B: Fashion, Standardization, Interaction, Virtual, Community.
Thank you so much Jean-Daniel!