From March 3 until April 23, 2011, the Parisian gallery “in camera” will be presenting a series of pictures taken from “Distress” the latest work from a most extraordinary photographer.
« To the cities I came in a time of disorder
That was ruled by hunger.
I sheltered with the people in a time of uproar
And then I joined in their rebellion.
That’s how I passed my time that was given to me on this Earth. »
Excerpt from « To Those Born After » by Bertolt Brecht
It was towards the end of the 1970’s that I would occasionally run into Stéphane Duroy, thin, a Leica on his shoulder, near the rue d’Alger where the Rapho agency distributed his pictures. He was discreet, attentive, pleasant but not very talkative.
He collaborated occasionally for the French newsweekly Le Point where Izis’ son Manuel Bildermans worked in their photo department. “He was good” commented Bildermans recently. A major compliment coming from this picture editor.
In the ministerial district of Paris, near the “in camera” gallery, Stéphane Duroy, still thin, still very discreet, still pleasant, welcomed me warmly. We hadn’t seen each other for decades. He confided that he didn’t think his work from the 70’s-80’s was that good.
I wasn’t thinking like these magazines, but I covered these uninteresting assignments with my personal vision in mind. I had worked quite a bit for Géo, but it wasn’t thanks to Rapho! When i returned from my coverage in Wales, Raymond Grosset didn’t even want to present my work to Géo. He didn’t like it. I went to Hamburg on my own. They bought the story for three editions. When I returned to Paris, Raymond Grosset apologized.
I’ve always harbored a hatred for the press, except for Stern. There was a guy in Paris, a bit of a hoodlum, who would give me work from time to time. Actually, he paid me and I did whatever I wanted. Afterwards, I had some beautiful publications! But I was always a bit removed from the press. In the 70’s they were difficult to avoid, books end exhibitions weren’t nearly as popular back then.
Nevertheless, in 1989, Stéphane Duroy would win a World Press in the Daily Life category for his story about Paris’ African community. And it would be in the Nature and Environment category that World Press would, in 1991, honor him once again. He doesn’t like the press, but the feelings aren’t mutual.
When The Sunday Times, the Herald Tribune and various other newspapers celebrates the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, they turned to Stéphane’s pictures explained Patrick Codomier of Vu’, the agency that has represented him since his departure from Rapho in 1986.
When I left Rapho, I destroyed a lot of pictures. They weren’t representative of my work. I had taken them to fill my archival boxes, to illustrate the press. I consciously put holes in my slides and cut my negatives… Destroyed. Today, all of my pictures fit in a metal suitcase.
Stéphane Duroy mimics with his hands the suitcase measurements, less than three feet long. A little suitcase.
We like him very much at Vu’ confides Codomier, but his visits can sometimes be painful. He rifles through the boxes and portfolios and destroys his pictures. It makes me sick, but he is a photographer with a very particular goal in mind. As time goes by, he takes fewer pictures. He gets right to the point, with subtlety. The atmosphere of his color pictures is profound, with no special effects. There is nothing anecdotal in his work.
Inspired by Bergman’s movies (Wild strawberries, the Seventh Bucket), by Fritz Lang, Bunuel, and Wim Wender’s early films (Alice in the Cities), Stéphane Duroy started a project in 1977 about the great changes in British society. At the same time, he began in 1979 the ongoing project about West Berlin that would eventually take him, after the fall of the Wall, into East Germany, Poland, and finally, Slovakia.
For Distress, his latest book, the pictures are from his work in the United Kingdom, beginning in 1971, in Wales, Northern Ireland, England, Scotland, Ireland and Brittany.
This description of the human condition, of its unending frustrations, between worry and resignation, exposes the profound injustices that kept the European community in constant tragedy throughout the 20th century.
Yesterday, the denial of humanistic values by European nations, blinded by fear, threw a certain number of them into the hands of totalitarians.
Today, on the incline, human distress remains – in all forms… Solitude, slavery, anti-semitism, racism – a true menace to society when only a select few have access to knowledge, leaving the majority in ignorance and hatred, he wrote last April. Nourished by the poetry of Brecht and Baudelaire, his comments take on greater meaning in this early part of the 21st century in light of September 11 and the recent catastrophe in Japan.
No one can take credit for my work
A Léonard de Vinci grant and publication of Berlin: Open City (Nathan Image), commissioned work (La Filature/Mulhouse, Parc de la Villette, Théâtre la Passerelle/Gap, Centre Culturel André Malraux/Vandoeuvre), European Eyes on Japan project on the Island of Okinawa, publication of L’Europe du Silence (Ed. Filigranes), a grant from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation etc. Stéphane Duroy has been developing his personal vision since his beginnings in 1974.
No one asked me to do this work, no one else can take credit for it. I am surprised how dedicated and obstinate he has been for so many years, knowing how difficult a relationship photographers often have with their banks! Stéphane Duroy is bemused by my question.
Yes, there too, you have to be incredibly disciplined. I have always made certain that I had a year’s savings ahead of me. It’s my freedom. It’s my livelihood. From time to time, some people work with me. They commission works and I gear them towards my personal work.
I am a loner. In Germany I live in a novel, in the sort of theatrical setting I’ve been building for years. In England, I am in closer contact with people… But… Not really. My work functions with imagination. I have in fact a very fake relationship with the people and places I photograph. It is not at all a photojournalistic approach.
Even when I am in mines… Physically, I am very close to this man I photograph in the shower, but in fact, I am very far away. In New York, I live in pretty awful hotels, but that’s how I’ve always worked.
People might imagine that I am with them, but in fact, I can transform the worst movement into something extraordinary.. We do what we want with pictures.
My way, first I am somewhere, then later, it appears in a book. I take care of everything for the books. I choose everything. Paper color, layout, covers… I am lucky to work with a publisher who understands me.
My life is my books… In general, one book allows me to do another.
Interviewed on March 9 2011
Distress, Stéphane Duroy, Filigranes, 2011
in camera galerie
21, rue Las Cases
From Tuesday to Saturday, 2pm to 7pm