A successful photojournalist, Julien Chatelin grew frustrated with his work after being sent to cover the war in Libya in 2011; taking a step back, he started producing slower work
“What I found was that when you stepped out of the tumultuous Tahrir Square, you found a world that was at a stop – almost a negative of the revolution in a strange way,” says French American photographer Julien Chatelin of his time spent exploring the territories surrounding conflict zones in Egypt.
“I was playing with the idea that history was concentrated in time and space, and if you drive just two or three kilometres out, you’re confronted with a completely different reality. It’s interesting, the change of perspective.”
In 2011, Chatelin, a successful photojournalist and author of the photobook Israel Borderline (2008), was sent to Libya to cover the uprising at the beginning of the war. After a few months he became frustrated with the work he was producing and decided to head in a different direction.
Switching to a large format camera, he travelled to the Egyptian desert and began looking at the impact of shifting economies on the landscape and territories surrounding the nucleus of action. This work has also seen explorations to Detroit, western China and Siberia, which, like Egypt and Libya, are places with diverse histories and contrasting geographies but which are fixed in outside perceptions with a single vision.
“It was an aesthetic quest,” he says. “I was looking for certain imagery and not for information; looking for a landscape to make sense. What was difficult for me was to break away from this ‘decisive moment’ in photography where you see things coming together and you know you have the right timing and the right action.
“There I was working in that 99 percent of time where nothing is happening and you try to look at things differently – the moment is still decisive but it’s much more subtle. A cloud goes and the light is more diffused and suddenly the images emerge in that subtle moment where everything comes together. It’s an interesting creative process.”
Chatelin is yet to decide whether the project is finished. “The more destinations I was doing, the more the idea came through,” he says. Having worked for so long in large format and film, he now aspires to go back to something where he is more free and mobile, perhaps returning to a digital format.
He also explains that the emphasis of his work is shifting away from photojournalism, describing it as: “Still documentary but much more on ideas and different ways to convey them through documentary. For me the process of taking pictures is crucial. I like to challenge my vision.”