Engraving Time

Interview with French analogue photographer Dominique Conil 

FIRST PUBLISHED on Photo/Foto Magazine.

• Dominique, tell me a bit about you? I'm 44, I live in Paris, where I work in a video game studio, and in my free time I enjoy exploring film photography through personal projects, or most of the time day-to-day photography.

• How and when did you discover photography? I had a first insight through the story of my grandfather, during WWII he was an aerial photographer in the French army, the image of the plane in which he flew hanging on the wall impressed me much. As a child I also keep vivid and joyful memories of these family slides show sessions my father used to do for us, my family would gather around the projector and every slide was an occasion to remember some good times. That could be the purpose of a whole evening. Later on, I experienced my first shooting with my his Pentax reflex and started a long life passion.

• Why photography? I love a lot of things in photography, most important of which is this possibility of engraving time, like small little pieces of time, memories you can contemplate, I enjoy this feeling when you look at a picture and you can feel again the moment. With photography I can fight the passage of time, I guess.  I also like the truth in photography, I mean it's the reflection of reality. Of course you can always alter it through various processes, experiments or choices like black and white vs colours, whatever is the artistic touch, this is still is a testimony of reality. Another reason is because I love the light, how it falls around and changes things and atmosphere at every moment, and photography allows us to see it, to seize this.

 • A lot of your work is portraiture, what does a photographic portrait mean to you and why do you like shooting people? I like portraits, that's the most difficult exercise for me, like a challenge, and I like to shoot people I know, it's like a conversation, a special moment we share.

• I notice that in many of your portraits there is a subtle indirectness. Often your subject is looking away from the lens or have their back to your camera. Sometimes you portray only body parts such as legs and shoulders. Can you tell me a bit your approach to portraiture? That's right I have an indirect way to take portraits, I like details, because that's the way I guess I look at people, often I focus on a detail, something which catches my eyes, and often I remember people that way, some details about them, some simple things like the way they stand or sit, or a ray of light on a shoulder, or a delicate roundness of a body, I like shooting details, not showing all, just like a hint.

• In addition to shooting people a lot of your work features vignettes of daily life, corners of rooms and the details of ordinary objects, as exemplified in your series, Daily small wonderings. What attracts you to these subjects? There again it's the urge to keep memories of anything that moves me, and because I like simple photography, just what I see before my eyes at moments, I like to shoot life. I'm not really interested in very elaborated staged photography, even if I do admire it in other's photographs. 

• I’m really interested in your crossover collaborative project, Dessine-moi un tattoo, can you tell me more about it? This is an ongoing project, keeping the skin as our main common thread I've asked Regis de Changy, a Bic pen artist to draw on some of my prints. He is specialised in tattoo-like drawings using Bic pens and I found interested to give like a second life to some of my nude photographs, we also wrote some prose to accompany our mixed "Bic-prints", that's a duo poetic work, I wish I could do more collaborative projects like this.

• I see that you are an analogue photographer, has this always been the case and why do you choose to shoot film? I love film, I love grain. I love to take time. I love to wait for my negatives to be developed, sometimes one year after shooting. I love to be in a darkroom. I haven't shot anything but film for years. I wish to be able to keep it this way on and on :)

• You fluently go from colour to black and white, but do you have a preference? I'm a black and white film photography person, that's my favourite colour :) plus, I'm monomaniac with Tri-X, I love this film, the special grain and contrast which I enhance in the darkroom, I can rush through Paris hunting for a sole Tri-X film if any, but I sometimes enjoy switching with colours from time to time, like a breathing, which always surprises me. I guess I tend to shoot in a black and white way even in colours.

• Do you develop and/or scan your own work, if you do why? I develop every black and white film myself at home. I use Rodinal chemistry. I like that part of the process, it's inseparable from my pleasure at taking views, it's a whole thing, depending on how I shoot I then develop accordingly. I send my colour films to a lab in Paris and then I scan all my negatives myself using an Epson v600. I like to be able to control all the process in black and white, I'm still learning and I like that.

• Do you enjoy photographic experimentation? All my colours photographs are shot on expired films, mainly because I like the versatile happening on the colours, it's like a playground, I use it sometimes, just to test things, but I 'am more driven by black and white results :) 

• Which photographers have inspired and influenced you? I like William Eggleston, Sally Mann, Raymond Depardon, Sarah Moon, Martin Parr and many others ...

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