Interview with Christian Chaize
My name is Christian Chaize. I am a photographer who worked with his box camera in the studio for 25 years and slowly became an artist who realized that camera needed some sunshine.
Where were you born? And where are you staying for now?
I was born, I live, and I work in Lyon, France.
Does place you were born and raise affect your work?
Yes, in the sense that this city is rather “closed”, and it drives me to want to look in other places.
Why does the medium of photography attract you most?
When I see the multitude of photographic artworks that speak to me, I tell myself that his medium is really one of infinite depth.
Which photographers inspire you?
The German photographers who work (with such artistic success) with their large formats cameras gave me the idea to leave the studio with mine. I have had so much experience with my 4x5 and 8x10 cameras, that it was very natural for me to work with them outside.
Where else do you find inspiration?
During discussions with other artists, looking at paintings, listening to music, talking with my wife. In fact, everywhere! I especially admire the work of Morandi, however.
How did you happen upon the beach and what made you photograph it?
In the very beginning of my work on the Portugal coast, I did not wait for this need because I have always and I continue to photograph this area. But this place suspends me each time I return and imposes upon me multiple from a single place. Lots of people say how much this place fascinates them, but the people who are actually at this beach don’t pay much attention not that much. And perhaps it is the work of a photographer to bring attention to a place that people no longer see. Even exceptional places wear out our eyes after too much exposure.
Such people naturally became the elements of beautiful landscapes. Where did this idea come fro?
This idea arrived all by itself, in fact, when I started working on the ‘Praia Piquinia’ series. Bizarrely, these people, these groups of people, even from far away, tell me plenty of things about the human behavior. Perhaps more than even from up close. There, I see a family gathering, a couple getting together, another not far beginning to separate. I believe that we would not see these things that say so much about human affairs, if our eye are polluted by expressions, physiques, clothing, or other minor details. I have the impression that I see more things with my big angle than I could with a telescopic lens.
My work in general speaks of humanity, and of time passing. In the case of ‘Praia Piquinia’ this rings true. Who are these people in this environment, who we are as we project ourselves onto the images? And obviously this work speaks of the person I am. Of course, time passes: the beach changes from year to year, from season to season. Therefore, the images include nature’s voice within the quiet, stilled dramas. Talk about giving a feeling of humility!
Looking at these pictures now, do you feel a distance from them as the artist? Are you detached from the life of sunbathers and the ocean?
I am one-hundred percent attached to this place. Each image continues to remind me of the impressions I had when I lived the moment, when I took each and every photograph.
What do ’Praiai Piquinia’ and “To Praiai Grandea’ mean?
‘Praia Piquinia’ is the translation of what I heard, phonetically, when the Portuguese spoke about this area. But the correct spelling is not this at all. However, I continued to call it in this way, because it could represent some imaginary place. The mysterious place where does not exist on a map.
To Praia Grande’ comes from a ritual that I always practice. Once I have taken photographs at Praia Piquinia, I walk just to the big beach, about 500 meters away, and make pictures along the way. As if “my” photographic world exists only between the small and large beach.
Where are the actual places you’ve shot images for ‘Praiai Piquinia’, and ‘To Praia Grande’?
In Portugal, along the Atlantic coast, south of Lisbon.
How do you find your locations to shoot?
The thing you have to know is that I could not have made the ‘Praiai Piquinia’ series without spending lots of time in this place. The way I discovered it is very simple: my wife spent all of her childhood vacations there, and she so wanted to share this place with me. Now, it is she who finds we spend too much time over there!
How long does it take you to finish a piece? How long do you work on a typical day?
When I am in Portugal, I go regularly, sometimes several times per day, to see Praiai Piquinia. If I see something that inspires me, perhaps the light, the physical configuration of the beach, or people, well then, I return with my large format camera to take a photograph. Often, I have the good luck that there exists some additional ingredient, or detail that I could not have imagined, or even hoped for! Once I am out with my camera, I continue along the coast until I reach the Praia And I photograph the view that I seem not to have previously seen. And all of this takes me about 2 hours.
What kind of equipment do you use?
A 4x5 and an 8x10 with very large angles, and negative film.
Are there any anecdotes from shooting it?
At Praia Piquinia, early one night, I left my camera, positioned in order to take a long-exposure, a night show. One hour later, as I returned to retrieve my camera, I realized that 4 police were in the process of looking for my body at the bottom of the cliff.
What has been the biggest challenge so far in being a photographer?
To find an original way to see things.
What will you be working on next?
I am very drawn to forests, and as such, I have worked on this project for three years now; however, I haven’t yet found the way to express what it is that moves me on this subject. So I’ll just continue to search.
Elle Decor Magazine, December 2009 / January 2010