Hello Héléne, tell us a little bit about yourself and when did you first become interested in photography?
In my case it was a kind of inverse movement. I started as a photo model in 2011 and quickly moved to the other side of the camera. As an introvert and very shy person I discovered that photography could be a powerful language to explore my own obsessions.
You’re a former software engineer. Since 2015 you are working as a pro photographer. What made you decide you were ready to dive into the career of a full time photographer?
As often in life that choice is a subtle blend of good timing, opportunities and probably a huge amount of unconsciousness. Moving to a full time career was in my case the only solution I could imagine to really focus on my body of work, before I used to photography “on the run”, now I had time to construct and think my subjects, it is a long process but I hope it will make a big difference at the end.
You submitted your project “38th Parallel north“ – a stroll in one of the most closed worlds capitals: Pyongyang in North Korea. How did the idea came up for this project?
Lately I became very interested in the way states put in the scene public’s space, how architecture can be a major political act. Pyongyang is in my opinion the perfect example of a “theater” city, a place where every monument, every views are thought and constructed to serve the “fiction of state”. Even citizens are obviously urged to stay in their roles in this authoritarian play. So when I had finally the opportunity to visit North Korea I did.
I knew that, as a foreigner, I will not have access to the reality of the country so I choose to focus my photoset on that simple idea: what a country is willing to show tells a lot of what a country really want to hide. What’s behind the too clean avenues, the giant ever smiling statues, that are the unspoken question which lied in “38th parallel north”
What did you experience while shooting this series? Where there obstacles or problems while shooting the images?
I was travelling with a small group of foreigners and we just had a very brief talk about photography rules before crossing the border between DPRK and China, the biggest NO NO was to take any subjects related to army or police. Beyond that nobody checked my pictures at any times … no big frill I am afraid.
The photographs of “38th parallel north“ look like a series of postcard images. You rarely see street life – was it difficult to get into contact with habitants of Pyongyang?
It’s probably one of the things which stroke me the first while visiting the capital, it’s definitely look like an empty shell. There is no that typical and busy street life you can encountered in most Asian cities. This emptiness add to the whole “unreality” I felt along my stay in DPRK.
What is your personal perception after shooting this project?
I probably left the country with more questions that I had at the arrival. But I am really aware that, as a foreigner, I had access to only a tiny and distorted fraction of it. As a curious person I want to go back and see more
You said you have a major attraction for the ex soviet countries as the esthetic core of your work which is mostly influenced by the Tarkovsky movie “Stalker“. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
I cannot really explain why I developed this attraction for the eastern Europe and Russian “world” and aesthetics, nothing in my personal background or family tree are related with those cultures but I guess it something “generational”, I was only 11 years old when the USSR collapsed but I still have vivid memory of it, especially the destruction of the berlin’s wall and the Tschenobyl incident.
What type of photography do you enjoy most and why?
I crave for photojournalism even if it’s not my “world”, I am news feed addict and I am especially interested in nowadays conflicts and war zones photography and photographers.
Do you research and plan a project or is it that you wait and see what your work brings up?
I used to read a lot before travelling, checking websites, contacting people , trying to grab some useful sentences and cultural knowledge… I usually have one or two main ideas in my pocket when landing to the location nevertheless I don’t mind changing my plans if I had too.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you’d like to share with our readers?
In few weeks I will move for a long term stay in sputh caucasusarea in order to complete a body of work I started this year focusing of the various fates of post soviet countries and how they deal whith their dark past.
Here you can find more about Hélene’s work: