“… I don’t believe in photography as art or a job or anything. I think of photography as a language and I think a language should be used to speak, to say what you have to say. So the only things I have to say about my life and what I know about the world, is the way I see it. So, it’s not about photography … I think people should just use photography to say things and not just photography for the sake of photography … the world is full of talented photographers. The problem is just so many of them just don’t know what to say, they think life is one thing and photography is another but they don’t realise that photography is just a way to reflect what you are.”




By Alex Sturrock, Antoine D’Agata

Original Link: http://www.vice.com/read/fear-desire-drugs-fucking-608-v17n11

Antoine D’Agata is a contentious character in the worlds of photography and art. Signed up by the Magnum photo agency in the period when they started to realise there was little money in photojournalism, his work’s brutal and self-destructive content has a habit of upsetting people.Born in Marseilles in 1961, D’Agata left France in the early 80s. He later studied at the International Center of Photography in New York alongside Nan Goldin and Larry Clark, with whom he shares a fascination for the seamier side of things. D’Agata has lived a murky and nomadic life. He regularly immerses himself in his subjects, which typically tend to be prostitutes and other marginalised misfits, often throwing himself into dangerous, drug-addled and sex-fuelled situations. We spoke with him about photography as art, honesty, morality and what it’s like to be addicted to the drug ice while living with Cambodian prostitutes.
Vice: Which artists are you interested in, in particular those who aren’t photographers?
Antoine D’Agata: 
I respect artists who have the courage to live up to the madness of their art. Céline, Artaud or Rimbaud are geniuses not for the dexterity or subtlety of their words but for their truth. I don’t see art as competition or a spectacle but as a privileged space to give a radical form to one’s perspective on the world. Art has long been the hostage of technique and today the criteria would be intelligence, not to say cynicism. But I look at art when I sense there’s space there for excess and despair. I didn’t have a chance to consider the history of art. I look at Georges Grosz because I find there, instinctively, the monstrosity of society, and in Francis Bacon’s, of the flesh. I look at art when it is shouted or vomited, not conceptualised or marketed.
How would you describe your own work—as reportage, as art? Do you feel that photos can be an honest and effective way to convey a situation?

The only type of connection I have to the tradition of reportage is coming up with the most efficient ways to deny, denounce or destroy its prejudice. Beyond humanistic pretence, reportage always conveys twisted or insidious values. Its economic survival has always been dependent on logical means to perpetuate the efficiency and the profitability of a system controlled by the elite for their own benefit. And one has to remember that no photography can pretend to show the truth. A picture only shows a given situation under a very specific perspective, consciously or not, openly or not, relevantly or not. Photographers have to accept they can just convey fragments of illusory realities and relate their own intimate experience of the world. In this process of fictionalising an unreachable truth, it’s up to them to impose their doubts about any photographic truth, or accept being impotent pawns in the mediatic game.
You’ve spoken in the past about photography not being art. What are your thoughts on photography as art? Can you explain how you see photography as opposed to art?

I do think of photography as a perfectly legitimate artistic language, but I believe it is underused or misused most of the time. The world is not made out of what we see but from what we do. Photographers who ignore this state of things—and today, as in the past, most of them do—reduce photography to its capacity for recording reality. They don’t take responsibility for their position while looking at the world and end up assuming voyeuristic, sociological or aesthetic stands. Contrary to writing or painting, you have to confront reality while photographing. The only decent way to do it is to make the best out of your own existence. From a moral point of view, you have to invent your own life, against fear and ignorance, and through the action. Intelligence and beauty don’t compensate for passivity. The only way to keep one’s dignity is to confront human condition and social context through direct action. It is a difficult balance one has to keep between the creation of situations to go through and the development of a narrative technique to share one’s perspective. In this process, life overcomes art at some point, and art perverts life. By deliberately living in this constant tension, I expect to go through existence without having to give up lucidity or experience.
Do you think your work has much in common with, say, that of Nan Goldin’s?

The few photographers who, like Nan Goldin, have influenced me as I was trying to get accustomed to the history of the medium, have struggled to throw back some of the rawness of the world into photography. This language is often reduced to its capacity to be somehow neutral. What Nan Goldin has taught me is to stand up, against all odds, in a political and existential struggle for survival. I don’t feel close to her because of some similar experience of marginal communities, or some alleged obsession with sex and drugs, but because she never gave up. She never hesitated to compromise her health or sanity for the sake of her work and I am just grateful to her for her courage and stubbornness, for staying faithful to her own pain, fear and desire.

You’ve talked before about photography as a language—do you ever feel trapped by the way in which you have communicated in the past, or do you enjoy having a unique voice?

I am not sure I’ll ever have the strength to make myself understood in a clear and coherent way. I came late to photography as a desperate attempt to stay alive, and I don’t have the discipline or energy to always make sense in the way I try to communicate my understanding of things. My books are careless and full of flaws, my images are messy and my writing is awkward. But all these are just tools, not quite assimilated yet, in an absolutely determined search, that allows no concession or compromise. It is difficult to be as excessive as I am in my work and be completely efficient. Every book, every exhibition, every assignment is just one more small compromise I have to accept. Mistakes are my only possible way, but my route is my own.

Nan once said to me that everyone always says to her how dark your work is, but she thinks it looks like you are having a great time.

I guess reality is never as dark as the way I used to depict it, but I can’t ignore the feelings that overwhelm me when I go through the horror of the world. Meanwhile, I leave out of my pictures the most dramatic and sordid elements, the appalling conditions of living faced by most of my characters. I try to express, in the most precise and arbitrary way, the indefinable and unbearable beauty of keeping alive, physically, mentally and emotionally, for those who don’t own anything but their own bodies and sell them to survive.

Most of my photographic strategies are aimed at reaching the highest levels of pleasure or unconsciousness and, in this sense, sex and drugs are highly enjoyable working methods. Part of my recent work could be easily described as some chaotic and biased sociology of ecstasy. I live my life with people who use pleasure as a way to impose their existence and identity in a world that denies them every right. But pleasure can’t be separated from pain and alienation. Pleasure is still a dark territory to me and I am exhausted exploring its limits. It’s just a route. Satisfaction isn’t the aim. Feeling might be the point. I’m hooked on adrenaline.

I have read you talk about “innocent images”. Do you see your own images as innocent?

My images are innocent because they are accidental. I’ve used every possible method I’ve been able to come up with to give up control. I’ll use whatever I can put my hand on—alcohol, drugs, rage, sex or fear—to push my own limits and make sure the final image is not an illustration or a statement. This doesn’t mean I won’t be a maniac when it comes to building the coherence of the work later. Each image is to some degree independent from my will. Each one is more a product of my nervous system than of my brain. And in the world we live in, I see this type of innocence as subversive in the contemporary struggle between the obscene forces of abstraction, of moral, of religion and the mechanics of the flesh. The instinct against the mind, the ultimate strength of those whose only way to emancipate themselves from physical deprivation, is orgy.


I think when Nan was really high she saw and photographed the world very differently. Do you think that your work is shaped in a similar way?So being high actively helps in creating that innocence?

Through the tension released in narcotic drunkenness, through these bare moments of high emotional fragility, I can explore a sense of annihilation born out of it that I couldn’t reach otherwise. I said drugs allow me not to think too much. They give me the raw energy to break all barriers, and to go beyond acceptable limits. They open a perspective on new possible strategies. As far as I am concerned, I’m done with fighting inhibition through excessive consumption of alcohol. But there’s a new generation of synthetic drugs which allow you to destroy yourself while, on the way, damaging the efficiency and sanity of the system. While fucking and getting high, I reduce myself to a state that is a weird mix of flesh, emptiness and panic. A bare state of being, a most innocent way to experience the world that is essential before trying to make sense out of it.

Like Nan, I do what I can to create my own route. Like her, I don’t like the idea of looking at the world and I speak about my experiences. It is occasionally acceptable to be a viewer, a spectator, but I use drugs because they make me act and react differently. Drugs can’t be reduced to some mystical way to open a perception of reality. I value the hardest and most physical drugs, which alter and intensify the confrontation to reality. Not the ones which allow you to escape to some fuzzy, comfortable or exotic state of mind. It all comes down to not being a consumer but to take the risk of your own destiny. To consume drugs the way you would consume a TV reality show wouldn’t help. Drugs help me to feel, with my nerves and my stomach, where real life takes place. I don’t know what real life is but I can’t bear feeling anesthetised any more. I try every day to dig out the raw forces of instinct. In modern society, pleasure is the only norm. Everything is done to eradicate all traces of desire, rage, violence, pain, fear and all types of animal drive. Through drugs, through excess, I try to fall back to these essential levels of uncontrolled emotion.

As far as your own work goes, what purpose do you feel it serves? Did you have an aim in mind when you set out to work in Cambodia, for example?

I wasn’t looking for any kind of exotic context for any specific perversion. But I had the sense of a place where barriers are few and I knew I would encounter more of those people who are victims of global social violence and find, in their own despair, the strength to invent new ways to survive. In Cambodia, this happens through the use of new generations of cheap street drugs related to methamphetamine. I grew tired of the idea of transgression. But I tend to give a chance to immorality, the way it’s been traditionally defined. Life is an impasse, and we have to make the best out of it. But I have my limits, due to my own cultural background. I don’t have that many but they are not flexible. I don’t make a moral issue out of it. It’s just a matter of desire and integrity. To be on the side of innocence has always been at the heart of each one of my moves. I stick to this. It is not an ideology. It’s an intimate philosophy, born out of experience and pain. I have been accused by some anonymous voices on the internet of many things. They are cowardly and insidious attacks. I know where I stand and don’t feel I have to justify myself. As far as what others do with their lives, I don’t judge but react to what I see and feel with my eyes, my heart and my brain.

What do you make of criticism of your work on the grounds that you are exploitative?

As for most photographers, it is essential to me to deserve the trust of people I get close to. But unlike them, my ambition is to abolish any kind of political, emotional or physical distance with my subject. This process can only happen if you constantly show respect, love and compassion. My work quickly became even more of an autobiographical journal. This was my very personal way to step away from the traditional documentary photography methods, which I find very frustrating and hypocritical. There’s a part of cowardice in the usual position of documentary photography in between voyeurism and safety. This is where exploitation lies. The last few years, I have been experimenting with new working methods, slowly abandoning the position behind the camera to enter the image itself, as a character within my own images. That’s the only legitimate position. Photography is the only artistic language that has to be elaborate in the very same time that the experience it relates is taking place. I just use photography in the most coherent way, while experimenting with the world in the most intense way, trying to be responsible for my actions and acknowledging the existence and feelings of the persons I photograph.



Your images are very intense and sometimes feel violent. Does that reflect the relationships you have with some of the people in them?The story “Cambodian Ice Triangle” reflects some familiar aspects of your work: drugs, women and at times extremely unsettling images. To what extent is your work premeditated? Or is it more something that develops?

The only strategy I can come up with is to follow people all the way in their excessive way of life. I never know where I am headed to but using photography, the way I use it, allows me to escape from the lethargic world that surrounds us. I am the actor of a scenario I develop in a very conscious manner. Self-destruction can be premeditated. More and more, I rely on other people to do the actual shooting, while keeping control, as much as possible, of the light, the perspective, the position of the camera, the angle of the lens towards the subject, the shutter speed. Of course, I lose some kind of control in this process but it allows me to stay, in an absolute way, something other than a mere spectator. The essential in the nature of the situation I provoke is the tension that is released beyond my control. My own personal strategy to go through the violence of the world isn’t to avoid it but to go for it, and not to hurt anybody but myself on the way.

The violence of the communities I submerge myself into is proportional and adapted to the violence of the economic and political elite. Any weapon will do. I see sex, drugs and criminality as perfectly legitimate ways to stay alive when you are treated as a non-accountable entity. To share time with my characters in the most authentic way, I need to go beyond sympathy or empathy. I don’t want to understand the people I photograph. I want to be with them, but inside them. I don’t want to look at the pain, but feel the pain. Solidarity has to go through the flesh. Words and thoughts are not worth much. They just help to identify the nature of the gap between the other and myself. The common experience of sex and drugs helps me to fill the gap. Prostitutes and drug addicts resist economic oppression and social alienation with their own body and destiny. Violence is part of that process; it’s part of that world. Most people I meet in the margins of the cities had no choice and adapted to the conditions of life imposed upon them.

As far as I am concerned it’s been a more conscious process in my case, but in the end we share the same position in the world. I learned to accept better the legitimate and scandalous nature of ecstasy or violence. I learned to endure the pain: physically, nervously, and emotionally. I do everything I can to make sure I keep being vulnerable. I do everything I can to make sure fear never overcomes desire, and desire never overcomes compassion.

I’ve had no home for years. I have the same nomadic habits I had all my life. I don’t see my personal odyssey as a coming back to any mythical home. Movement towards the void, fear of the unknown and the instinct of survival define human existence. I try to live up and survive to my convictions, mistakes and doubts.


Antoine d’Agata interviewed by Arja Hyytiainen
Original Link: http://www.gommamag.com/v5/gm_int.php?id=9
Antoine d’Agata was born in Marseille in 1961. In 1990 he undertook a photography course at the ICP in New York alongside Nan Goldin and Larry Clark, he then interned within the Editorial Department of Magnum in New York. In 1998 his first book, of many, was published entitled De Mala Muerte. In 2001 he received the highly acclaimed Niépce prize, later in 2004 he joined Magnum Photos and shot his first short film Ventre du Monde. He now lives and works in Paris.

Arja Hyytiainen met Antoine in Paris for this exclusive interview:
“Paris, first of August 2005, Avenue de la Republique.
A month earlier I met Antoine d’Agata in Arles, setting up an appointment later on in Paris for an interview… a microphone on the floor… Antoine is speaking about travelling and the many places he lived in during the 80s”
Between 1983 and 1993, I first lived in London, stayed two years in Brixton and then travelled to Central America, then back to London, off to Spain and then to America again. I also travelled to South America and India, and lived for five years in New York.  It was twelve years of travelling including photography. I started photographing in 1990 when I joined the ICP and I stopped photographing between ’93 and ’97. Then, between the age of seventeen and twenty-two, I lived on the streets of Marseille, in squats, doing drugs, and all this… in a mess. So I guess I was very tired, shocked, too much… and I went to London just for a break at friends’ places who lived in squats. I went for two weeks and ended up staying for two years.
And then you left for America?  
Well, London was even more drugs, it was getting very, very heavy, I think I left London just for…
I could see that my friends got really involved and I was myself dealing drugs, heroin…so it was like I had to leave in order not to get really deep down.

What made you go to the ICP, (International Center of Photography) in NYC?
By the time I started the ICP, I had been travelling for many years and I think I was just really down the road, my friends had started to die of AIDS and I think I was just very depressed and didn’t have the strength to keep going anymore, but I didn’t want to betray all my old ideas so photography was a good way to take control of myself, to collect my thoughts,
to introduce control into my life without changing it. So, I could tell you in detail the story why, but it is not so important… basically a friend of mine was a photographer and he died, so I took over, kind of … he taught me. We made a trip to Mexico, it was his last trip and I started to think of photography as the way in which to record and keep in touch with life. It was a strange experience. These stupid rolls I took with him were the pictures I showed to get into the ICP.

The ICP is a respected school and is also quite expensive…
They took me as some kind of basic guinea pig. Joan Liftin was in charge of the forum and was tired of having these young students who were good photographers but didn’t know anything about life.
I think she liked the idea of having somebody who didn’t know how to expose film, how to develop film but who knew other things, who had ten years of experimentation.
But you knew about photography? 
I knew nothing, before the ICP I took five or ten rolls maybe, but I had these pictures where you could see one prostitute walking in the morning and three guys shooting heroin… so, she liked the idea.
Could I see these pictures somewhere?
No, some negatives probably exist but there are no prints of this, I don’t even have a single working print; I keep nothing. Look what I have… (Antoine points around in the room, which is all empty, except for the furniture, a sofa and a desk with a computer. In the corner a cupboard with a glass-door, a few cameras and some CD’s on the shelves.) That’s it, and my clothes and some books. I have no working place. This is it. All my work is in galleries or has not been printed…I never paid the ICP, so for years they were running after me and seven years later, in 1997, they called me in France, I thought it was to ask for money, but instead they called me in order to arrange a workshop in New York and so we exchanged.

Larry Clark and Nan Goldin.  Did you know about Larry Clark before?
I learned everything about photography at the ICP, I had no idea about them. I just got to know about them a few months before I studied under them and obviously I really looked up to their work. I like their work very much but Larry Clark is not such a good teacher, it was a strange thing…but I did meet a girlfriend in his class. It was a good way to get some social life; we all ended up having intimate affairs. Nan Goldin was a very good experience. I studied for three months with her.

Did they leave any traces of their own style in your photography?
Did Nan Goldin encourage you?
I think Nan Goldin was a real influence.  She showed us the work of people she liked, including Petersen, Strömholm, David Wojnarowitcz, all kind of her friends …we just looked at pictures and basically she only looked for truth and sincerity in the images, which is not so easy to achieve. So it was a very, very good school.

In 1995 you joined Bruno Le Dantec in Chiapas.
In ’93 I stopped photographing because I went back to Marseille. It’s a complicated story, but basically, the guy I told you about in Mexico, when he died, I went to Marseille and stayed there for three years with his girlfriend and we had two kids. So for four years I stayed completely out of photography.
In ’95 I joined Bruno in Chiapas and in ’97 I made two trips; one to Mexico and one to Haiti. This is when the story was breaking up in Marseille and I was starting over again with photography. So it was like a parenthesis but a long parenthesis, because before this I had just left the school. When I left the ICP I became an intern for some months at Magnum in N.Y and afterwards I didn’t very much like the idea I got from photography, so I left for a few months. Basically I was working on the Mala Noche book.

Bruno wrote that you came to Chiapas to find yourself again,
to look for another impulse.
In ’93 I stopped photographing because I went back to Marseille. It’s a complicated story, but basically, the guy I told you about in Mexico, when he died, I went to Marseille and stayed there for three years with his girlfriend and we had two kids. So for four years I stayed completely out of photography.
In ’95 I joined Bruno in Chiapas and in ’97 I made two trips; one to Mexico and one to Haiti. This is when the story was breaking up in Marseille and I was starting over again with photography. So it was like a parenthesis but a long parenthesis, because before this I had just left the school. When I left the ICP I became an intern for some months at Magnum in N.Y and afterwards I didn’t very much like the idea I got from photography, so I left for a few months. Basically I was working on the Mala Noche book.

Bruno wrote that you came to Chiapas to find yourself again,
to look for another impulse.
Yes, because my story in Marseille was starting to break up…
So did you find the camera as the… No the trip in Chiapas was awful. I loved the Zapatista movement. Photographically it was very very bad but I guess I was just starting to think again about photography, so I didn’t get any pictures out of this trip. I was just starting to think about it again.

Did New York change your perception of photography, if you compare it to the time
when you followed your friend and the time after the ICP?
In NY I was starting to get paid to assist some photographers but I was getting so bored… it’s not my world at all. I never changed. I was photographing then, exactly the same way I do now, except now I’m a bit more self-conscious, so I photograph less because I… I don’t know how to explain, maybe I was more naive but it was exactly the same way and doing exactly the same things in the same place and with the same people, there’s no change at all. Yes, I have changed in what I am looking for. In the very beginning I guess I was just looking to move on and afterwards maybe even more for sex.

What is it that keeps drawing you back to the night?
What are the questions there?
Well, I don’t believe in photography as an art or a job or anything. I think of photography as a language and I think a language should be used to speak, to say what you have to say. So, the only things I have to say about my life and what I know about the world, is the way I see it. So it’s not about photography. I spent fifteen years of my life, more actually, twenty years of my life in the streets well before photography, so the only thing I can and I should speak about is that…I think people should just use photography to say things and not just photography for the sake of photography, you know. I see so many photographers, now I do quite a few workshops in these days, the world is full of talented photographers. The problem is just so many of them just don’t know what to say, they think life is one thing and photography is another but they don’t realise that photography is just a way to reflect what you are. I don’t think I will ever change. Maybe I will evolve in my own way but when I talk about these things I have no other interest.

What would you like to say? 
I have no statement to make. The world I know is different from the one I can see on TV or in photo books or… I just want to defend my vision of the world. I guess it is the reason I started with photography in the first place. The outside world or the real world is so different from the world I knew.
I just want this world to exist. Is this connected to drinking? Is the world you see with
alcohol the same as without?
I see the world the same way when I drink but maybe drinking can make you withdrawn. I was always like this, in the ten years I spent without photography, which was really some kind of black hole, you know, I never spoke to anybody. I see alcohol just like the key to go further, the things I wouldn’t dare doing if I was sober and yes, it’s true, because I only work when I’m drinking; and if I do anything very good, that is when I’m really out of my mind, when I reach unconsciousness. It’s just the way to break the limits down. It’s just the way I am before photographing. I’m really schizophrenic, in that when I don’t drink I’m completely closed within myself and will not speak to anybody and when I drink I just speak to everybody and break things down. It’s more than a key; it’s just like a switch, you know, switch on and switch off.

Do you believe that there is a subjective language in photography? Is it possible to communicate from a person to an outer world with photography as a subjective document? Do you communicate through your images?
I think it can only be; I believe some French writers who think that people only communicate through their intimate wounds. Only human beings communicate through their intimate wounds and to me this is what photography is about, it’s about describing the world. One always learns things from photography, a different way of looking at the world. I’m not sure it is the only way to use photography, I don’t know if it should be. I’m not sure, but the way I see photography, the only things you can tell are interesting as long as they’ve been lived, in some way, somehow… and for me photography cannot just be an intellectual game. I’m trying to write about these things now; it’s difficult to talk about it.

Do you believe that there is another photographic language to come? Provoke ’68 in Japan, Daido Moriyama and Europe now. Is there another philosophy to come, which will break the tendencies and schools such as Düsseldorf, Yale, etc.?
I don’t really think in terms of schools. Sometimes I hear specific voices whose words make sense to me. Moriyama’s, Anders’, Nan’s voice, I recognise. I met Daido in Japan last year and he was telling me about his way of photographing, just trying to reconstruct some strange unresolved puzzle, a task he will never come to terms with. He was also telling me how he relates to reality, using the words contamination, germs, amoebae, speaking as if photography and life were just a matter of diseases. As a photographer, he gets infected by the outside and keeps going with an endless energy, just feeding himself with fragments of energy. I can understand this way of thinking and acting. I hear what he says, but I don’t think of his photography as an example of the Japanese school of photography. There are just individuals, more or less talented and more or less honest. But in these years in Japan, it’ s true there was a real flow of beauty from Daido to Fucase, Nakahira, Araki and so many others, maybe because it was a time when photographers looked for their own styles and were something else other than copycats and clones.

What is Photography?
“Photography is something that
gives shape to all my desires. And it is a fossil of time and light.
I gave many definitions of photography in the past. I have a lot of feelings for it, but at this stage, photography is that.
And from the days when I was in my twenties until today – I’m in my sixties now -, photography has always been that same thing…” 
Daido Moriyama interviewed by Antoine d’Agata

“…Photography is first of all born from an egoistic environment. Envy, possession, jealousy are the most important human emotions because they come from inevitable real life…” –
Daido Moriyama
But they made something happen which influenced the next generation… 
I know, Anders always loved Moriyama’s work, and Moriyama was really influenced by William Klein. I got to know Anders’ work from Nan Goldin. Obviously you always influence somebody and your way of speaking always changes the way people see the world. This is why people do it. I do hope someday I change the way people see the world. This might sound a bit big but it’s very small, it’s just by changing the perception of people. You do change and I think it would be useless without this.

The academic world, critics, certain schools where you have
names and writers, how does this world look like in the future? 
I think one can always look for the historical context. I saw quite a few very young photographers in the north. Northern countries like Sweden or Finland. I think they are very good in making spectacular, strong and beautiful images. Then I see somebody like Anders where his photography today is very different to what it was ten years ago and today he is sixty years old and making big changes. It is hard work to just go always a bit beyond the conventional and not to be in the photographic, the beautiful, the spectacular and the efficient, but just to go closer to yourself. This guy, he is sixty years old and he is expending some beautiful energy in doing just this, beyond the tendencies or the schools or the generations… I like the idea that people push their lives forward, trying to develop their own lives.
Is there a global language of subjective photography?
It’s not subjective…or objective, I just get so bored. Sometimes I see some beautiful images by German photographers and I’m really impressed by the beauty. There are many qualities, I just don’t know. I just find concept boring. A fake situation, or putting make-up on a girl or asking somebody to take his clothes off and finding some spectacular way of showing this person. I get very bored with concept…

Why does concept exist?
I think concept is a very useful thing. I think of myself as a concept photographer. Ten years ago I told people that my piece was my life and I was making art with my life, ten years before taking pictures. I was always pretty clear and I think it is a very conscious way. We need concept to know where we’re going but concept shouldn’t be left alone as a subject matter, a tool, a form. It should be just one of the elements. I think we live in a world which…we just need a spectacle, that can make spectacles out of anything that is not disturbing for the social function.

Timeless photography; when does the picture become timeless?
I’m afraid I have a boring answer for this. For me it doesn’t depend on the aesthetic qualities, which you reach at some point out of some magical mystery. I guess only the form has to follow. Why do we mix it up? For me it is how far somebody goes. I’m trying to think why today I like William Klein’s pictures from NY I get very bored by Minor White or… it’s just that I can feel the essence of the person you know, and Brassai, I think, I’m not so crazy about the night pictures or about the prostitute shots, but yes, I love to look at how the world was then. For me what is very beautiful in his work is the graffiti work, and I can see, they are very simple pictures you know, they are timeless to me today, I guess, by the purity of how far and how purely he worked at one point The same with Walker Evans, I get bored by his most beautiful work but I love his last polaroids. Timelessness is inversely proportional to the simplicity of the moment, of the smallness of the moment and when it just becomes a very tiny moment. When such a thing, a string of life, when the surface becomes so thin you can never touch what is beyond or behind, but you can just like, get a sense of it.
What do you think of the pictures of Lehmitz?
The Lehmitz café… in almost every one of the pictures Anders shows himself and these people and their lives getting nowhere and he always shows… the people themselves are almost on the edge of nothing. This is what makes them timeless to me.
Could you compare yourself to Anders?
To me this book, Café Lehmitz, was a big shock and a big, big influence on my photographic world…
What is a self-portrait?
There are different answers. The usual self-portraits are not so different from other pictures. Except, I myself don’t do them. People around me take the camera and I become a part of this fictional world. In the way that I’m just a character in my world, like the other characters also are. I don’t think I have the answer, it was the same when I made this book, Vortex, it was more like a reaction. Why? It’s obvious, all work is a self-portrait, I don’t have to separate it. Self-portrait should be included in the rest of the work and many times people don’t even know it’s me in the picture: why do I need to do this? I was tired of people not understanding the work and this was making the point. We are speaking here about my life.
What was the motivation for you to make a self-portrait?
Well, these days I like self-portraiture because I’m fighting with my character in the books. It’s very strange when you work with your own life because you never know where you stand. You become very schizophrenic and you don’t even know if you just document your life, or if you live your life to have some material to work with, you know? So, suddenly you very easily lose control of where you stand in the picture… and in this picture, this guy is fading in a way, and for once it’s not me who’s fading, it’s him… all these things. Basically, every image should be a self-portrait. I don’t see why anybody should photograph anything but himself.
Do you ever go through your rawmaterial and think of who you were then?
I did this for the show at the Galerie VU and it was very depressing, depressing because I’m a bad photographer. I don’t work very much so I always have the feeling that there is so much more happening than what’s left in the pictures… but I live with it. I know that this year was very important for me and again there is not so much, I don’t have much to show for it. But if I am faithful to what I believe in, then this is not really important you know. Probably the most intense and innocent part of my life was before I started photography. Photography helped me to go further, I should probably have started fifteen years earlier.
“I try to establish a state of nomadic worlds, partial and personal, systematic and instinctual, of physical spaces and emotions where I am fully an actor. I avoid defining beforehand, what I am about to photograph. The shots are taken randomly, according to chance meetings and circumstances. The choices made, considering all the possibilities, are subconscious. But the obsessions remain constant: the streets, fear, obscurity, and the sexual act…. Not to mention perhaps, in the end, the simple desire to exist.”-Antoine D’agata


ASX INTERVIEWS ANTOINE D’AGATA – “A Simple Desire to Exist” (2014)

A conversation with Raphael Shammaa,.Translated from French.
New York, February 7, 2014
Original Link: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2014/03/asx-interviews-antoine-dagata-simple-desire-exist-2014.html

Antoine_D'Agata.215 (Custom)

@ Antoine d’Agata, Courtesy Magnum Photos and International Center of Photography


Raphael Shammaa – How do you feel discussing your work and being asked a lot of personal questions? You must have known from the start that, due to the nature of your images, people would be curious about a lot of things.

Antoine D’Agata – My images are first and foremost meant to “contaminate” photography as we know it and accept it, “perverting” and undermining pre-formatted assumptions surrounding and supporting the insidious ideology of a culture made out of conventions.
Explaining my work is not a burden to me ; rather it is an opportunity to fulfill an obligation which is to be accountable for my work, to stand by it and affirm its object – which I write at length and pointedly about in “ANTICORPS” (Antibody). It’s a theory that is both spontaneous and instinctive, a relentless practice born from personal experience, an experiment through excess, a political questioning about what photography is not and ought be about, in precise and, most of all, concrete terms.
Raphael – Do you share your work with anyone before showing it to galleries?

Antoine – No, mine is an entirely solitary pursuit as most of my time is being spent on the road, on the streets and in hotel rooms in anonymous cities. I invest whatever energy I have left into a perpetual and hopeless search for ever new experiences and encounters.And while the camera is always present, I try to give up technical and aesthetic control of it and focus on existential considerations at hand. At the moment of shooting, I put it all out of my mind, focusing as much as I can on the physical experience.For instance, I worked for years with the Nicephore Niepce Museum in France and kept mailing unprocessed rolls of film to them. They ended up processing, digitizing and archiving some 1,600 rolls and contact sheets – none of which I was getting to see except once a year. There is a real obstinacy, a necessity for me to just forget, and even deny, the existence of the photographic dimension just to emphasize the experiential aspect of the pursuit.The important point to focus on though, is the photographer’s intimate relationship to the world, his stance and involvement in the situations he documents – on the physical, political, moral and aesthetics levels. By his active participation in whichever circumstance he evolves in, the photographer takes personal responsibility and then makes his responsibility total. Instead of the subject’s, it is the the photographer’s movements, perspective and experience that are being depicted in any given picture.

Raphael – Why bother with photography at all then?

Antoine – A good question, and one I don’t have a final answer for; I’ve tried answering it for years and don’t believe there’s a way of making sense out of that contradiction, but I’ll never stop trying. I have forever sought to establish an impossible balance between living fully every moment – which, in the end is my sole ambition – meaning being at the core of my own existence, whatever the risks, to live my life as fully and intensely as I can in a manner that is as true to my instinct and as politically pertinent as possible and, at the same time, keep documenting it through photography. I feel it’s important not to give up on it, however absurd or pointless it may all seem.
There are additional aspects to photography, the most basic of which being that it provides me with the energy needed to live my existence to its fullest, sometimes beyond my own control or judgement. That’s how I convince and push myself every day to destroy what I’ve achieved and start again from scratch and place myself once more into an intimate relationship with fear, darkness, and the void. Without photography I would probably fall into the worst yet most commonly adopted choice – moral and physical comfort.
Raphael – …how does photography do that for you, prod you onto your chosen path?
Antoine – Existence is about the unceasing search for an intensity-packed life – a sort of recurring, never ending, forward-moving fleeing, ever looking for loss of equilibrium or a plunge into the void, for self-destruction, self-exploitation. It’s a formless, ever ongoing tragedy where everything ends up being used up.Photography allows me to be alive, to face the absence of meaning surrounding us, and to give this tragedy form, a form that’s tangible, real and which can be shared  – and that’s important. It makes it possible for me to fashion a space in which I can simultaneously engage in self-destruction and in the fanatical pursuit of life, while providing a document that, without providing any explanations, bestows shape to these experiences and allows the exploration of their realness, of the various forms they take and their meaning. And of their import.
Raphael – And of course, you are aware that photography is incapable of conveying what really, really goes on.
Antoine – Of course, of course. My aim is not to provide answers. But all these questions we ask – that some of us ask and others choose not to consider, are my responsibility, and duty, to keep on putting forward and to keep seeking answers for – meaning, to keep diving into the void and exploring the darkness – not in the hope of understanding it all or of attaining anything in particular, but in order not to give up on the exploration. It’s not a matter of explaining or solving anything about darkness itself, it’s a matter of dignity, of being honest when facing my own rage, my own desire, my own fear, not giving in or giving up, and of keeping it up every day, being an actor in my own life and in society, refusing to be a scared and passive  consumer.


Antoine_D'Agata.228 (Custom)

@ Antoine d’Agata, Courtesy Magnum Photos and International Center of Photography


Raphael – But dignity, isn’t it a concept after all? Isn’t its meaning dependent on each individual?
Antoine – For me it’s not a concept, dignity is real, tangible, evident; I see it in the everyday gestures and attitudes of those who are left bare, in that world in which the have-nothings live in a state of strict destitution to which they find themselves relegated.
Raphael – And that state is what’s left after everything has been taken away from them?

Antoine – Exactly. They find themselves where they are because they have been denied, stripped of everything. Not there out of choice. And when someone is left with nothing that’s what they must exist from. They find ways to exist, no matter how unpalatable, unacceptable, cruel, immoral or brutal. And it is in that particular context, after these people have been stripped bare and humiliated that I detect dignity in its purest form – when their own naked flesh is the only remaining asset, when surviving boils down to fulfilling the most desperate of desires, when nothing is left to lose and when, through the intensities of lust and crime humanity can finally be regained.In the everyday world, a world which affords comforts, encourages fear and supports silence, lies, hypocrisy, cynicism and laziness, people protect themselves to the point of numbness,ending up lifeless.Photography affords me access to the world of darkness where it is possible for me to feel and exist,  where other people also exist – albeit under tragic circumstances, in pain and in adversity, but where they nevertheless do exist, sharing their own brand of love, of solidarity and compassion.But in that other, polite daylight world, all I find is lies and indifference.

Raphael – Is it lies or amnesia?
Antoine – Both. Amnesia is the result of lying to one’s self. Lies and comfort are essentially tied.
Raphael – You are well-known today and the public responds positively to your work. The other night at International Center of Photography/ICP everyone applauded your presentation. Let me ask you, how did people react to your work at first, before you were known?
Antoine – Their reaction, I think, is complex because I make an effort to present truth in some acceptable form, through images whose forms are emotionally recognizable and identifiable, and some that can at times even be seductive or enhanced via their own intrinsic beauty… I do it to draw the viewer in, to lure him into his own forgotten rage, his own hunger…Whereas other, cruder, more brutal images with poor lighting which do convey the same intensity, the same beauty and pack the same  compassion or tenderness, these remain inaccessible to the public. All they see is the flesh. So there is repulsion at times, because of the poverty and violence depicted.
Raphael – Why would they applaud then?
Antoine – My images are not violent images. They are somewhat abstract. They show pain, fear, desire; they speak of things known to all. They are less violent or explicit than what’s in the media.
Raphael – Are they more abstract or more taboo?

Antoine – Francis Bacon said something to the effect that his work was not about violence but about our horror in the face of it.My images are charged with the full range of what we can feel, understand, experience, which is more emotional, more abstract and existential than violence itself. In the course of my life I have witnessed people having intercourse with animals, people dying, people shedding tears mixed with blood … none of that is in my work. All I show is desire and fear, both of which are part of tasting life to its last, provided one has the fortitude for it.Desire and fear go hand-in-hand. Desire without fear is about unchecked consumerism, about unbridled pleasure seeking and constant thirsting for gratification. Fear without desire, on the other hand, stands for power – political, economic, and for comfort, tied to our fear of existing, of being, our fear of rebelling against established values.Desire and fear working together pave the way to understanding one’s limits and to learn how to opt in favor of desire. It’s about linking enjoyment to thought. I don’t, therefore have any reason to renounce either desire nor fear.

I want to keep on walking the streets of large cities at night, moving towards whatever or whoever is moving towards me, and fear is critical to this process, and so is desire. I want to exist, to gorge myself – I do not want to give up any of it.

Raphael – How does your career as a photographer play into all of this?
Antoine – My practice is entirely dedicated to servicing my beingness, making it possible for me to afford moving around, going back and forth. it’s my only luxury and my only tangible asset – I’ve lived without a fixed residence or personal possessions for 10 years, claiming freedom of movement as my only form of affluence: I get all that through photography. So it’s a sort of compromise – to be kept under control …
Raphael – What is the compromise being made?
Antoine – Making prints, signing prints, exchanging them for money …
Raphael – Transacting ….
Antoine – Yes, operating in a marketplace which lacks legitimacy, which is vain, meaningless and of no interest to me, but which I have to deal with … and make a living from … so, I deal with the art world – a world I have no regard for but from which I get everything I need to keep going. I take what I need from it and feed on the frustration and the anger of being denied total freedom.
Raphael – Does that in a way compel you to accept reality as it is?
 Antoine – Yes and no, the compromises I submit to are truly minimal. Once in a while I am asked to sign a piece of paper which results in great freedom of movement with deep repercussions on my existence. Teaching too is a compromise, but a compromise with benefits as well.
Raphael – These are compromises in the sense that you are asked to engage into something that is not of primary importance to you.
Antoine – Precisely. But having taught some 1,100 students in the past 10 years, there is something taking place on the order of transmission, of ideological communication, of “contamination” – a word I am really attached to.
Raphael – And that really matters to you.
Antoine – Yes, it is the primary purpose of my work – “contaminating” that conventional sense of propriety, that sense of doing the  photographically appropriate thing. I work within the system and, simultaneously, against it, reminding young people they can be actors in their own lives instead of witnesses, striking blows as surgically precise as I am able to,  blows against the logics of production, of profitability, of normalcy …
Raphael – To what end?

Antoine – To get photography back to its true purpose. Photography has been reduced to a state of shallowness and emptiness, of pettiness I would say, resulting from practices focused on discovering new formal aspects and inventing personal and original ways to look at reality – culminating in works that are trivial, useless, futile – new versions of reality, sort of.My object then is to get photography back to requiring true commitment, to being a language that is unique by its potential subtlety and rawness … a language resulting from personal experience, the product of situations the author finds himself in; so that photography is not a way to look at the world, but a way to live the world, to take position, to be of the world, in such a way that everything stands for something – distance, movement … so that photography is an entirely physically related art, purely existential, anchored in reality…which is what I strive to explain and push for. It is that characteristic, unique to photography  – to the exclusion of all other forms of art, which connects it to life itself, makes it a tangible presence. The photographer is then accountable not for his images, but for his acts.That’s what I’ve done with my work by making sure I enter the image, by being present within the image physically as well as through my actions … my actions and my images becoming inextricably fused, which is something that runs counter to everything that’s been done in photography from its very early beginnings.Photography has been shackled by rules governing style, composition, lighting …

Raphael – I’ve heard you use the term “art” sometimes with disdain and at other times with conviction, intimating the word carries multiple connotations for you.


Antoine_D'Agata.508 (Custom)

@ Antoine d’Agata, Courtesy Magnum Photos and International Center of Photography

Antoine – I use it with conviction when I bring it back to its most primitive meaning and function: art as language, as a simple way to express something where words alone fail … something about being, existing, surviving. When I refer to photography as an institution, as an economy hinging on accepted norms, on arrangements resulting from laziness and greed … that’s when I speak of it as being trite.
Raphael – So then, how does it feel when you’re referred to as an artist, since that’s the manner in which you are being perceived?
Antoine – At this juncture, I ignore which part of me, or of my work people accept or reject. I cannot afford the luxury of taking note of what people think. I need to live within the realm of my own thinking and of my own actions, and not allow myself to be distracted by either rejection nor apologia because of their weakening effects upon me. My allegiance lies elsewhere.
Raphael – I’d like to talk about something of particular interest which is that, some time after the death of your photographer friend, you espoused photography to help restore structure to your life. You also fathered two children with your deceased friend’s wife.In the end, your friend’s death changed your life in two significant ways. And the question that comes to mind is whether you sometimes ponder the impact that single event has had on your life.
Antoine – Beyond that one friend, it is to my whole generation that I feel accountable. I live in constant remembrance of and respect for my generation, a generation I pay homage to, a generation that was decimated by the AIDS epidemic – and as expected, it was the wildest and the most dashing among us that went first; and I’ve always harbored a sense of guilt and shame for having survived them … and I believe that somewhere within my desire to constantly outdo myself and push further into risky territory there’s something that has to do with trying to live up to all these friendships that were swallowed up by disease; and a dedication to remaining faithful to their memory.

As these young men were dying from the effects of sex and drugs, a compulsive frenzy fueled by the extreme lifestyle of the street arose among survivors to keep living, to keep existing, driving us deeper and deeper into extreme behaviors, into more and more sex, more and more drugs. We needed to feel alive.

And I desperately strive to exist, even today, and fight; because, for me, there is no choice other than going on feeling, going on surviving the economic brutality of the world and feeding my own fears and desires … My present strategy is identical to what it was thirty years ago, I am sorry to say – meaning, I still cling to living a solitary life.

Raphael – Yet today, as opposed to thirty years ago, you have access to a megaphone.
Antoine – Of course. And I use it in the most relevant and appropriate way I can.But the substratum remains the same. When I refer to desire and fear I refer to some of the  dangerous places that I keep going to, where people engage in the most extreme, brutal and insane behaviors. I do it to live and share with these women some of the most beautiful moments and most solid friendships ever, in utmost truthfulness and accomplice-ship.And that’s what I tried to achieve in my latest, just completed, 2-hour video in which I recorded 24 women I’ve known intimately and photographed, each speaking in her own native language, a video which was translated and edited later on.
Raphael – Which languages were these?
Antoine – It’s a random mix of Khmer, Japanese, Russian, Norwegian, Georgian, ….. these women having a limited capacity to communicate in English.
Raphael – At ICP, referring to your children, you said: they mean everything to me. You seemed emotional as you spoke the words. Were you in fact emotional?
Antoine – My four children have a hold on me; they are the only individuals towards whom I feel responsible.My other responsibilities are conditional, limited; they lie apart from friendship, philosophy or ideology; or aesthetics. My 4 daughters though, I feel accountable to. I owe them my presence – I owe them being alive and being available to them. It is because of them that I obligate myself to stay alive.I am grateful for that aspect of things, and yet it remains a complex matter because when I get to that place where I get the sense that I am nearing something wild, extreme, brutal – a certain level of truth and madness, I feel the brakes being applied, I feel being pulled back from the brink. I owe my children the necessity I’ve imposed upon myself to be fearless and, at the same time, to try staying alive … So it’s complicated but … beautiful. It may even be love!
Raphael – A wise man once said: what the mind invents the mind destroys; the real is not invented and cannot be destroyed.

In the course of your life you have seen any number of things and people destroyed. What has endured throughout? What do you consider to be real, true? What cannot and will never be destroyed?

Antoine – For me, what is indestructible is Greatness, Tragedy, Beauty, Destiny.

These smashed, shipwrecked destinies, humanity destroyed … these men and women crushed under the weight and violence of the economic machinery … of course bodies have been destroyed and names forgotten … still, what remains is the majesty of such destinies.

Earlier we talked about destitute people who rise to the level of their destitution and live their lives as full humans …

Raphael – Is that what you feel dignity stands for?

Antoine – Yes. Dignity is about dealing with destiny at its own level, without answers, without escape routes, all the while accepting the inherent violence and the greatness of it all. This dignity is the by-product of our limitations and ignorance, both properly ours.I am an atheist  and believe in nothing outside of dust. All else and, yes, art – in its accepted forms, is a mind invention, a play with mirrors, while my own photography – or rather the experience related to it, remains indestructible and true.My book Anticorps – along with my determination to destroy trivial art, restores art to its legitimate purpose. My images portray live experiences of pain or pleasure, real sweat, actual sperm and real blood.Women whose still images were shown last night at ICP having sex are in fact enjoying orgasm – while dying from AIDS because they, their condition and their desperate financial situation are denied recognition. And that’s what it’s really about – not about fussing over a photographic image’s controlled blur or grain size.

Raphael – You characterize the taking of your daytime pictures of damaged and scarred buildings as dissociated exercises, as opposed to your nighttime work which you describe as personal and intimate.
Antoine – I am equally invested when taking these images as I am with my nighttime images, the difference being that for my daytime images I strive to use logic, discernment, clarity.I also make it a point to photograph those places and situations which inspire repulsion or horror in me. I take pictures of war … I try to understand, I visit factories, densely populated institutional buildings – all the things I find ugly, brutal, violent – the sort of violence I don’t identify with, that is foreign to me, that comes from greed, in order to get closer, to better see, to better understand how to survive this violence and in order make a statement about my belief regarding this sort of world – even though it doesn’t come naturally to me to do it, and yet it is my duty to go on doing it.
Raphael – And you discharge this duty conscientiously.
Antoine – Yes, conscientiously. Because it concerns that aspect of violence which is political, institutional, economic – which I fight against, a sort of violence different from than the one found in my world of darkness. And to do so I need to get closer, to know it better and face its brutality.And then there is the violence in my world of darkness – even more brutal – inadmissible in many ways, yet unavoidable and which exists in reaction to institutionalized violence. This second form is part of me and I am part of it. It is a mix  of humanity and horror and hopelessness. It is at once tragic, magnificent, unbearable.  It’s the world I grew up in, lived in, and continue to live in. I defend this violence that exists on the margins and this type of social deviance; I defend it against all types of social norms … because I need that space for freedom and to go on living; I’ll fight for it to the bitter end.I am unable to go on living without this form of violence; it’s about everything that keeps me alive.
Raphael – In other words, the lifestyle you lead both stirs and quenches these two basic needs of yours, desire and fear.
Antoine – Exactly. That’s the only way to put it since that interplay between desire and fear accurately reflects my attempt to live my destiny as a human being at its fullest.
Raphael – Which has the stronger pull on you, art in the way you engage in it, or the freedom afforded through drugs? You keep toggling between the two. Which would you be ready to give up just to have the other?
Antoine – For me, the two have become undistinguishable from one another.To actually enjoy and thoroughly partake in this type of freedom – this freedom that opens up for me through my choice of a particular lifestyle and through chemical use, the access to lawless environments, to spaces on the margins of any rules or controls, to live it fully – both sensibly and foolishly, I need the discipline and the language derived through art in order to give shape and form to it all.

Antoine_D'Agata.534 (Custom)

@ Antoine d’Agata, Courtesy Magnum Photos and International Center of Photography

Without either one of them I would already be dead, destroyed, totally used up. Art imposes its discipline on me. In Anticorps I refer to photography as a form of martial art hinging on desire, yet requiring discipline, rigor and a strategy for pushing the envelope as far as can humanly be managed. So strategy is a factor.My daily experience is the product of a nefarious blend of discipline and madness.
Raphael – Ying and Yang rule the roost  …
Antoine – Yes, exactly. That’s what accounts for the richness of the experience. Enjoyment is everywhere you look in society, enjoyment allied to hope, to fear. Enjoyment bereft of fear stands for television watching, for pornography, consumerism …
Raphael – You refer to fear … what is fear for you?
Antoine – Fear is involved when contemplating being nothing and inching ever closer to our own death. Fear is what holds us back and prevents most of us from taking necessary yet inadmissible risks; forcing most men to give up their right to skepticism, their dignity, their courage as they lapse  into a life of illusion, of abnegation, of obliviousness.It’s never a matter of understanding death; it’s about rising to the challenge of our own death by living side-by-side with it incessantly, right up against it every day. It’s about opening to the experience of living at such tight  proximity to our own death.
Raphael – How do you represent existence?
Antoine – It’s everything we’ve already talked about, or even less …
Raphael – Regarding your professional practice – a practice which affords you a certain type of freedom, do you think the public will eventually look for a different type of work from you?
Antoine – My task is too difficult, too insane, too obsessive to allow me to consider doing anything else. My only option is to persist and go beyond my own limits. On the other hand, it is up to either viewers of my work or photographers, to review, question and reconsider their own expectations and viewpoints. It’s not for me to reconsider my intimate choices about existence, I can only try to live up to my own choices, and hope others will pick up the torch, take the risks and follow their own paths.
Raphael – It’s all up to them, then?
Antoine – That’s where “contamination”, mentioned earlier, comes in. I am sensing definite frustration among younger artists and photographers, a yearning for clear-sightedness, a growing rejection of all types of lies which constitute the core of contemporary art: puritanism, cynism, glitter, phoniness, frivolity, greed …  but that may be too optimistic … art should not be saved…
Raphael – And what happens to those who become contaminated?
Antoine – They will attempt to experience the desire to exist, to live.
Raphael – Do you know of some who have become contaminated?
Antoine – Yes … the problem is that those that come to mind have been getting lost, some are no longer around or gave up trying … death, failure, madness … It’s a perilous, impossible path … one has to accept living along those lines ….
Raphael – Those who awaken to that type of reality …
Antoine – … their pain will deepen, their daily lives will change for the worse. Their mind, nerves, organs will fail, their flesh will fall apart. These situations are untenable. Living more fully intensifies reality.
Raphael – A man is born, struggles his whole life to express his deepest reality, and then is shown the door. It’s the same scenario for everyone. What do you think of this scenario?
Antoine – Our only choice is living head held high without slowing the pace or looking away.
Raphael – So we keep walking towards the edge of the cliff without slowing the pace, fully awake, aware of what’s coming, head held high.What happens next?
Antoine – The fullest possible experience of the void … the ecstasy of being alive, fearing death yet playing with it … there’s dignity in such a choice of destiny, as horrific and inadmissible as it may be, as absurd as it may be … there is beauty in it, the allure of the absurd. Making the most out of nothingness, and not giving up, whatever the price…
Raphael – Is there logic to all this?
Antoine – There can’t be. We don’t know anything.
Raphael – Is this absence of logic intended?
Antoine – …that’s a trick question ….

Antoine d’Agata presented his work at ICP as part of their Lecture Series on February 5, 2014.

 ANTOINE D’AGATA: “Empty Shell Walking” (2009)
By Doug Rickard, for ASX, March 2009
Original Link: http://www.americansuburbx.com/2009/03/antoine-dagata-is-empty-shell-walking.html
By Doug RickardIt would seem that Antoine D’Agata is an empty shell walking, a living thing yes, a tortured adventuring heartbeat, yes… perhaps a sort of hybrid man-beast animal behind glass… one that seeks, that follows its urges and never finds satisfaction. The taste for more is potent, the drive inside is ongoing, he keeps going to find more. The vice appears to own him, the urge appearing to torment him, but fullness never comes, only flavored food, feeding him for a moment and then quickly the taste fades… the empty always wins. At times, he thinks that he has found something to satisfy for good and then once it is in the mouth, it quickly becomes nothing… just ashes evaporating memory.And just what does this empty, driven, prostitute fueled-livin evaporating taste look like? If you step into an inferno, if you willingly give up the foundations and step off the cliff, into the vortex… if you seek something that will never satisfy, if you f-k to spite love, if you feed your demons and spin without control, when you have nothing to fill you up… when you live inside of the drug, what does that look like? From outside in, from inside out, twist together the inside and make it the out… morph the empty into something palpable, mix in the shell of the man… the flesh of the used… wrap it in a cloak of love-lessness and self inflicted psychological wounds… give your inferno the fuel that it needs to keep burning you alive, to keep sucking you in… then step back and look at the page. This is Antoine and his beautiful photographs.

Look at the muck, at the tar… at the black, at the ash, at the junk in his head… I think that I can see inside of his mind, but I can’t… I can only see the evidence, I can only see the art. I can see the mind as a print, as a pixel. Does the work reflect the man? Does the man reflect the work? Does the man serve as a symbol for the work or does the work serve as a symbol for the man? Who is leading who? Who tells the truth, who is the liar? Either way, it is beautiful. The art… some ticket to ride, in the hands of a man like Antoine, beauty cannot help but come.Is it a pit of pain or is it bliss? In this darkness of a man who has embraced his urges, who chooses the “wrong” path, in a man that has given himself over to his drives and let himself go, can he find peace? Beauty has somehow come, a beauty from the black, power in the putrid, flesh as a flower, perhaps even a dead little flower still seeking the light – not yet gone, but decaying.As human beings, we can relish in the gift that is art. Oh how we can treasure this ability to enjoy the pit of the empty or the apparent joy of a temporarily fulfilled heart.



Original Post: http://flaunt.com/fob/110/antoine-d%E2%80%99agata-conversation-provocative-social-documentarian

The work of french photographer antoine D’Agata examines the fragile, often merciless, spaces between reality and its hegemonic interpretation. Drawn from his own physical immersion into global underworlds of prostitution, drug addiction, and violence, D’Agata’s intimately graphic retrievals are the product of new photo-documentary. Born in Marseilles in 1961, D’Agata left France to study at the International Center of Photography in New York in 1990. His images have been published in the books Insomnia, Vortex, and Stigma and Agonie, and he has exhibited at galleries and festivals worldwide. D’Agata recently returned from Asia for an opening at Galería Rita Castellote in Madrid and will participate in a workshop in Fez, Morocco this October for 1000 Words Photography, an online magazine based in London. Here, he speaks to spectatorship as a kind of social cancer, and the complexity of social politics within the interiors of Asia’s sex and drug trade. What, to you, composes the ideal photographic subject? One cannot apprehend reality without being involved physically, without inhaling entirely, or nourishing the liberty to act, to unveil desire or lack thereof, to envision violence. The art accomplice impoverishes reality: if the photographer condemns himself to passivity, is satisfied to observe, to analyze, to denounce, to sublimate, to comment, the resulting photo practices a guilty contemplation. I cross my own limits and the ones of reality, and find a vague space between where the bodies burst, flow, crash, penetrate themselves, and invade themselves in a tentacular mass of flesh. Do you think art can be exploitative? The contemporary proliferation of pictures aims to regulate and neutralize the brutal instinct of the masses–through discernment and free agency. Anguish and oppression are born of abundance. The same can be said of stereotypical pictures, which are symptoms of complicity: soft, loose, cynical. They water us in speech, conventions, clichés. This kindness allows them to abuse a privileged position and cross barriers without ramifications on their social, geographic, or emotional strata. How has your photographic immersion to varying kinds of underworlds affected your interpretation of cultural norms? How about in relation to contemporary photography? After twelve years of broken wandering, the photographic effort was born, inspired by the marginalized persons that reinforced me in the time of many years’ solitude. The photograph was the only alternative to the emotional and social autism I took refuge in. I photograph and I live with individuals that do not have a similar power of choice. In turn, my art has the social characteristics of a pathology regulated by a severe ethics: direction. My relations with the prostitutes of Cambodia are based on a common addiction to methamphetamine. These women are the prototype of the new proletariat in a world where frantic sexual consumerism has replaced desire and memory. Their body is the strategic receptacle of the capitalist who desires the fleeting passion of the flesh. Paradoxically, the prostitutes’ compulsive pleasure, their narcotic lucidity, creates survival in a parallel economy, new zones of shadow, which undermines the foundations of the system–they prefer vice to poverty. My action is restricted, coherent, fitting, like a virus that insidiously introduces itself to a foreign body. I advance the obscurity. I risk destruction because my life only feels validated by the interpretations that I provoke. Still, an artistic practice cannot be justified in terms of its results. Describe your attraction to depravity, or pain, or abuse? Years of slow and reasoned self-destruction, of narcotic experimentations, of urban survival, of liaisons with prostitutes, has provoked in me a slow process of maturation on these questions. One cannot invent a destiny without developing an immunity to stereotypical morals. But still, the wording of the question is insidious. The social designation of what is indecent is an arbitrary classification that allows the system to perpetuate itself. What you designate as depravity was always, for me, an emancipatory tool. I learn every day to question prohibition and transgression. Pornography is no longer transgressive. Do you identify with any cultural figures past/ present who similarly immerse themselves in stigmatized, misunderstood, subversive, or illegal lifestyles for their art? Certain artists and writers who’ve fought to preserve in their work a fragile balance between intelligence and madness, rage and love, beauty and horror. Francis Bacon, Guy Debord, Antonin Artaud, Louis- Ferdinand Céline are references, but I fight to protect myself from modern culture inflation–contemporary art astonishes me with its harmlessness, its resignation, its impregnated ideologies of capitalist production. On the tracks of those that have preceded me, I try to create new forms of excess as a strategic statement against a totalitarian enemy. Despite increased information and exposure on the drug and prostitution issues in Asia, what hasn’t the public learned of these worlds? South Asia is an immense and inexhaustible sexual market. The American soldiers’ inalienable right of pleasure first—Western bourgeois later—has only accelerated the process. Growing cities have allowed the propagation of new artificial drugs, the appearance of more dangerous, but easier to obtain, substances. The Yaba, the Ice, are everywhere. In devastated Cambodia, as elsewhere, these molecular addictions cancel the need for sleep, lessen fatigue. The effects are not hallucinogenic but provoke a precision and concentration of thoughts close to obsession and paranoia. The uniform consumption gives rise to a slow unselfishness. I am, in turn, eager predator and fascinated witness. My photographs have the innocence to believe that it is possible to hold together all the paradoxes that clatter in the margins of the modern world, to confront them without diverting the gaze. What is beautiful? It’s only a vocabulary question. I see beauty only in the immense pain and the fleeting passion of the destinies I glimpse. Beauty remains in the capacity to surpass the conditions imposed upon us. What’s going to happen to the human race in the next 50 years? The concentration of wealth will increase and become unbearable. Bankruptcies, poverty, exclusion, and unemployment will progress inevitably. The dominating possessors of strength–the actors, the heads of businesses and states, will do what they can to rediscover a balance. But the immediate future belongs to those at the loose ends, the infamous communities. This new class will live in the lucid expectation of death, of erotic intensity. This desire will generate an energy that does not exclude a kind of violence. A time of conscience comes after one of outburst. What is on your schedule for the coming year? Without a base, I continue to be nomadic. My next destination is Phnom Penh. I will continue to go to the heart of the sensations, to observe the extinction of breath, the nervous system, the wear of organs. And to find the pictures, the language, and the necessary strategies to oppose the many falsifications which propagate death.


Few words from David Alan harvey 




Most of you seem to like the conversations I have with editors, curators, and photographers. Bill Hunt was our last conversation still up and Jim Estrin from the New York Times Lens Blog will be next. Following will be Susan Meiselas as curator/photographer and champion of the Magnum Foundation supporting photographers with serious projects no matter how affiliated. There will be surprise conversations along the way. As now.

Now I am literally on the road with Antoine D’Agata with whom, in the moment above depicted, am sharing both beer and vodka in our Motel 6 in Bismarck , North Dakota. We are part of Magnum’s Looking For America project. To be a major exhibition and book. Some of our colleagues at this very moment are in Rochester , New York doing Postcards From America which is a project within the larger America project. postcardsfromamerica.tumblr.com Yes, I am confused too. But no worries. Trust me, it will all come down in a good way and with our best work all coming together in print and on the wall.

So Antoine and I are headed for a story called (by me) BIG MEN LOOK FOR BIG OIL….In about an hour we will get into our lumbering camper van and head for a town with a lot of rich people who have no place to live. Hence the camper. Williston , N Dakota struck oil. The wild wild west. A bunch of men making a lot of money and sleeping in their cars. Williston was not ready for this boom boom boom.

My story will be sort of an interview with Antoine , who flew from Paris yesterday, and my own pictures from Williston. Or not. We joked last night , towards the end of a bottle of Grey Goose , how funny it would be if we never got out of this Motel 6. Did the story , a story, of a motel on the highway. However, I think we will move on. Curiosity.

Panos Skoulidas, from Burn comment section fame, and who started with Alec Soth and Jim Goldberg and Susan Meiselas on the original Postcards project which started in San Antonio is driving the van, helping me with computer stuff, and shooting video and doing his own record making.

The whole thing is crazy of course. In seven days I have to be in Australia for my Rio opening. Nobody in their right mind would be doing THIS now. Yes, exactly.

Well, come along with us. I will post some stuff here. Panos will too.
Check out the Magnum Tumblr (http://lookingforamerica2012.tumblr.com) for more and well one way or another we will bring you a story. Not sure what story but a story for sure.

Ask Antoine a question. Or any of us. If we do not answer right away, it will be an internet issue. Ok road trip about to happen. In pursuit of THE TRUTH.

Alec Soth may have said it best in an email to me. “North Dakota might not be ready for Antoine and you”.

Stay tuned.

Follow by Email