Maxime Ballesteros is the Berlin based photographer who from this evening will have a solo show named Entre chien et loup at Sang Bleu’s new exhibition space in London. So to celebrate we’ve spoken to Ballesteros more about the photographs he’ll be exhibiting and his work.
With your images we are often left with the feeling that we are only seeing details and moments of a much bigger going on why is this?
I feel like it could be a definition of my work, and maybe the way I see photography in general. I can only frame a little part of the world, and of a moment. And it’s an interesting feeling for me, when the viewer is not sure of the context, pushed to complete the frame with parts of his own history and sensations.
I can also be only interested by one detail, or a combination of elements, and fill the photograph with it. If you see a white sock stuck on the branch of a tree, you can make a thousand stories out of it. Often the title of the work gives a direction as well.
Your work is often referenced as being provocative and sexual, how do you feel about this and would you agree?
One needs strong words to describe a body of work I guess. I use flashes quite often, and my framing is usually straight forward and centered on what I want to show. That form might be aggressive to some viewers. But on the content level, provocative and sexual wouldn’t be words I’d use to refer to my work. Unless the photo is staged, and in this case it’s clearly visible, my approach is very close to documentary. And my work is as provocative and sexual as the world is, from the point of view I have on it.
But I do find a lot a sense, beauty, humour, truth, or pain, in the awkwardness of some situation or encounters, in the cracks of our reality.
As for the sexual part, I think it’s what we remember because it’s secretly what’s driving us the most? My work is really about questioning and interpreting our reality, our time, the world and life we try to create and are destructing. And sexuality definitely plays a key role in it.
How important is the city to your work, and would you say that your work is intrinsically inspired by Berlin?
My work is very dissociated from Berlin in my mind, even if I do a lot of photographs there. I can’t see it geographically. The cities and countries I work in are very important, but not in that sense, in their diversity. I love what I found in Berlin, and i find it less and less. Not because of the city, but because my eyes got used to the landscape over the years. Traveling is essential in my process. I need to feed these eyes with different colors and cultures and senses of humour. I wouldn’t go anywhere if it wasn’t to take photos. It’s also the only way I can see anything.
When you walk around with a camera glued to your hand, every move you do leads you to the next frame, you go back, you stop, you wait. It’s a very special way of experiencing the world. All your energy and attention forced into one eye and one arm.
How often do you photograph? Your images can often be seen almost like a diary. Is this something that you are conscious of?
I try to stay away from the diary aspect, hoping to make my work interesting, or at least readable for a wider range of people than my mom and my girlfriend. But, I do carry a camera with me all the time. And take photos everyday or almost. I guess is very banal in today’s instagrammed world.
Which is good for me in a way, as people seem to pay less attention to you now when you take photos. It used to be a much more visible, and intrusive act back when I began carrying cameras with me.
But I can’t fool myself totally, there must be some diary aspect stained to my work. And maybe that is also what keeps it together. I did start to take photos as a teenager, after I realised that my brain had start erasing most of my memory, and that I could not control that. It evolved with the time to something different and that excites me more than keeping memory, but the relief, every time I press the shutter, is still here.
Where are your favourite places to photograph? Social situations or in solitude, or does this differentiation mark something significant within your work?
I try to be invisible when I shoot. If there is people around or if I’m alone, it doesn’t change much. Both can be an advantage in some situations, and a disadvantage in others. My favorite place to photograph would be more mental, when things starts to connect together. When you heart is able to follow the rhythm of it’s surrounding, your body becomes more fluid and precise, and your eyes can finally see something.
I also like to be very close to what I photograph. Physically. Using prime lenses, usually wide angles. Even if it might not make much sense today anymore, I’ve always followed strict rules for myself in my work. Never use a zoom, if you have to get closer, use your body. Never reframe or crop an image. If it doesn’t work the way you took it originally, you just have to aim and anticipate better. And don’t take two frames of the same thing.
How would you like to see your work progress in the future?
Format-wise, I really want to start doing books. That’s the way I discovered photography, and I still haven’t found any form that quite matches the experience you can get from a book. I also think that is something like a stone, that you can leave behind you to keep going on your way. You can always have a look back at it when you get lost.
Content-wise I would like to create more opportunities to travel, and feed my work with different places, societies, circles and stories. Get sharper and sharper while covering wider worlds. In addition to the reality, I also enjoy more and more creating my own to shoot, in an undisguised way, to build a dialogue, a story, with the rest of my work that frames an un-set motives . The same way the world from the nights, our dreams and nightmares, lives and share part of our brain with the world we experience with open eyes.
How do you think a photographer can/ or succeeds in capturing an energy ?
From the way that I experience it, I would say that it’s about psychology, and dance.
Trying to understand what is going on, I mean, what is really going on, not what you see at first glance. And be ready for it, without getting totally lost in that energy. Then you have to rely on your body, how precisely it can move, finding just how intrusive you can be, without breaking anything. I think you have to listen and absorb, more than to talk. But that’s only my approach, everybody will have a different way of understanding and translate an energy.
I don’t know how to explain it, but it can be something really physical. I always sweat so much when I shoot. Because I move a lot, but also because I feel that all my own energy and attention has be pushed outside my body, and be focus towards the subject.
And, even if it’s a rule in life in general, you get reminded of it all the time in photography, never judge a book by its cover. Everybody show themself a certain way, but it’s also your job to try to find how thick this facade is, if it’s not already transparent. I need a connection somewhere, even a tiny one, a very light breeze, something, otherwise it feels like bouncing against a wall.
In the way I work, that can be translate to objects as well, to still lives. I think I humanised some of them a lot.
The private view takes place this evening from 6pm, please feel free to join us. Jura Single Malt Whiskey have also kindly sponsored the evening.
Thursday, October 23rd 6pm-9pm
Friday-Sunday 12:00pm to 8pm
Sang Bleu London Contemporary Art and Project Space
29b Dalston Lane