inframe in frame documentary photography france rural farm country photographe julien coquelin valentine zeler kalel koven influencer photo social environmental french book publisher

Interview Julien Coquentin

*For a better visual experience click on each photos to see them in their original format*

« I was feeding myself with photography books. »

Can you tell us what is your project « Black Seasons » and its starting point ?
What you call the starting point to a work, whose heart is a French rurality, is located across the Atlantic. At the time, in 2012, I was completing a long series, this one very urban, in Montreal where we lived, my partner and our two daughters. I was feeding myself with photography books. That’s how I discovered « Face au silence », the work of Christophe Agou, unfortunately deceased in 2015. The title is beautiful, the book is a punch. I drew from it sensations that undeniably nourished me. A few months later, we moved in France, to the north of Aveyron, up the Lot valley where I had grown up, and I began to photograph what would become the « Saisons noires ».

« The figure of the peasant inhabited my own mythology. »

How long did the project take ?  How did you choose the people you photographed and the locations ?
Three years. I wanted to tell the story of the passage of time. Many years separated me from the moment I left these lands. I had left as a young adult to return as a father of two children. It is a strange thing to observe one’s offspring frolicking in landscapes that one has lived in as a child. There is something of the order of reappropriation. When I was a kid, I lived in a village that had a number of barns within its walls. The figure of the peasant inhabited my own mythology. So I started to look for these figures. Burled faces, bodies damaged by labor. I looked for them from a distance to find them next door: on our road, which ends in a small hamlet of old stones. A man and a couple, old peasants, whose valour at work was poignant. They lived in autonomy. In the grip of their land. As for the places photographed, they are the landscapes that surround me. We live on the edge of the forest. The scenery is there, just a stone’s throw away.

In your work, nature, especially the forest, holds an important place. Can you define your relationship with the landscape ? And/or more particularly the will to immortalize it through your medium ?
Photographing the landscape is an obvious choice for me. On the other hand, I experience many difficulties in understanding the art of portraiture. To reach the other is something that is complicated for me, whereas to carve one’s path through the woods is easy. The forest carries within it, by its obscurities, its smells, its humidity, the rotting of its woods, its chaos, a strong sensuality which I love to transcribe visually. 

The written word seems to take on a certain importance in your work. Is it a complement to the photography or an accompaniment ?
That’s a good question. Probably a bit of both. Over the years, I have increased the amount of text in my work. However, the words were there, from the first image. They undoubtedly accompany my photography, because it is photography that first sprang to mind. It is still it which indicates to me what I will work on in the months to come. The words come immediately in the next moment. Thus, they complete what seems to me unattainable, or even difficult to express, by photography alone. Going from one to the other is a bit of a headache, you have to find the right balance to make the whole thing make sense.

Did you find in photography the opportunity to heal your memory ? To print it in order to preserve it elsewhere than in the limbo of nostalgia? Is it, in a way, for you, the remedy for the passing of time ?
This is undoubtedly the eternal question that we associate with photography. But my memory doesn’t need to be healed, I don’t feel nostalgic.

In the essay that begins the book, you talk about your grandmother’s nightstand and the smell that hangs there. Does photography represent another form of transmission of an experience and an era for you?
Definitely. Following in my grandmother’s footsteps, I collect old postcards of a great-great-uncle. A priest, whose memory I evoke in the « Saisons noires ». He photographed peoples and landscapes of the Aubrac highlands with his photographic chamber. I don’t know exactly how he organized his work: developing the plates in his presbytery, printing postcards that would then be sold to the first tourists who visited the area. I can imagine him living in this windy hamlet, lost in the mountains on the eve of the first war. It’s amazing. So I return, little by little, to each of the places he photographed. A century has passed and the landscapes up there have hardly changed. My grandmother passed on to me the memory of this man. In my own way, through books, I try to prolong the movement.

The book « Saisons noires » was published by Lamaindonne. Was the series conceived for a paper publication when it was created? Did the publication mark the end of the work or are you continuing it?
From the beginning, my editor, David Fourré, told me how interested he was in this work. However, there were only a few images. The story evolved over the years and through meetings. I was also very lucky to attract the attention of Hélène Jagot, at the time the curator of the La-Roche-sur-Yon Museum of Fine Arts. One day, I received her call and I knew then that a book would be born but also a beautiful exhibition. There is no guarantee that this will ever happen again, these are creative conditions, although intimidating, that are quite stimulating. So we started to think in paper these seasons. The book and the birth of our baby boy closed the series.

Do you have other projects in the works?
Of course. They intertwine, telescope, I scatter. I like to spend time thinking and working on my projects. I explore the medium, I try not to get bored. I have been working on a photographic series for a little over two years now: « Oreille coupée » (severed ear). It is the story of a wolf. A good reason again to go hang out in the woods.

Your top 5 photo books ?
It’s a bit embarrassing, because my culture is poor in this matter. However, here are a few books which, at one time, helped me to see things more clearly :


Interview by Valentine Zeler

Photographer’s Links: WebsiteInstagram

Book « Saisons Noires » by Julien Coquentin published by lamaindonne