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Any Answers: Christian Caujolle

Christian Caujolle portrait © Michael Grieve

The chief picture editor of Libération between 1981 and 1986, Christian Caujoulle left to co-found Agence Vu’ and, a decade later, Galerie Vu’. He has curated and edited countless photofestivals, exhibitions, and books, and is associate professor at the ENS Louis Lumière school

My passion for photography probably comes from the fact that, when I was a child, I had no access at all to visual culture. It has fuelled me with curiosity.

I imagine it was because my father was away during the Algerian War of Independence. For six years, he would only come home for one month of the year. In his absence I would pore over Paris Match, looking at photographs of the war to get close somehow.

Roland Barthes was one of my professors. After my studies, when I was writing for Libération, he would often ask my advice on the photographers I was writing about at the time. He helped me understand that teaching is not about transmitting facts, it’s about method.

The philosopher Michel Foucault was another. We became close friends and I collaborated with him on different projects, including the movie, Moi, Pierre Rivière. During this radically political and creative time we had hours and days of discussion.

At each moment, Foucault was pushing you to be curious. The last dinner with him will always stay with me. A few days before he finally went to hospital, and weeks later passed away, I was at his home with friends and it was so much fun; a beautiful memory to be with this brilliant man.

Without money, with total freedom: this was the most exciting and creative moment of my professional life. That was my experience as chief picture editor of Libération!

Founding Agence Vu’ and then Galerie Vu’ was totally crazy in terms of economics. But we shared strong and important values, especially the sense that it was an adventure, knowing that photography was heading to its end but still had many things to tell and do.

The day I met André Kertész I had an epiphany. I was making a documentary about him and he said to me: ‘Je photographie des petits riens’ – ‘I photograph little nothings.’

Photographers are a different breed of human being. Not the ones who are producers of images but those who are able to propose a different point of view. The ones whose perspective is not about reproduction but interpretation, using such a strange and specific tool as photography. And always with a tension between realism and fantasy.

The choice of distance gives the viewer a feeling of the kind of relationship between the photographer and what’s represented. The ‘point of view’ in photography is first something physical. It is the real basis of building meaning. And it’s still mysterious as to how it works.

Perhaps my favourite photobook is Richard Avedon’s An Autobiography. I discover new things each time I look at it; he is so fascinated by death and the limits and possibilities of photography.

The most meaningful and significant photograph will be the next one I discover. When I am stopped by its aesthetic, I will not understand it. Mystery is the magic ingredient in photography – I am only interested by those photographs that touch me without understanding why. The day I understand, they no longer interest me.

Photography has taught me to doubt all the time. Myself, representation and the world.

It is a strange period for me – it’s difficult to write. For the moment, I don’t want to write an autobiography. I’m testing a series of short texts about portraiture but I don’t know yet if it works. I’m also working again on some old texts.

What’s rewarding about teaching is that it is an exchange. I learn a lot from the students.

Having a deep relationship to literature – I think this is what it means to be French.

I was lucky to discover Cambodia 20 years ago and to be close to the people who are rebuilding the country. There is also a choice of life for me here and the not-so-easy challenges of what it has to offer, especially when I’m more than tired by our Old Europe, which makes me feel every day that we are heading towards a disaster.

I relax by fishing trout. When it’s not the season I read and go walking. I also listen to music without doing anything else.

Have I become wiser as I get older? Hmmm. I am not so sure.

christiancaujolle.com This article was first published in the February BJP  www.thebjpshop.com