Given the global ecosystem of photography in the 21st century, it should never surprise you to encounter notable imagery by photographers whose names were previously unknown to you. This French photographer meets that criterion; the first I’d heard of him was in a press release about this book. I looked into the work and the artist, and was struck by the rugged desolation of his urban scenes. I admired his willingness to describe some of the world’s densest cities with extensive evidence of the built environment yet minimal human presence. At times I had the feeling of encountering the aftereffects of Vesuvius, or the infamous neutron bomb; aside from the photographer and the occasional enshadowed or shrouded passerby, all life seems to have been interrupted and scrubbed out of the frame.
I was pleased to interview and write a feature about de Mortemart and his images for the upcoming December issue of Black & White. The work that appears in that portfolio became a book late last year.
In her foreword for the book, the Parisian gallerist Agathe Gaillard writes: “I am watching Alexandre de Mortemart’s photographs, What I see, deep down, is a novel. In pictures.” To engage with this novel is to meet a narrative of entropy and dissolution, told entirely in enigmatic threads from grand cosmopolitan tapestries.
Question #1: What compelled you to publish this material in this form at this time?
Having not taken any photographs for almost 20 years (1997-2016) I felt great urgency to get work published.
Between 2016 and 2019 I photographed in different cities of the world, mainly Paris, London, Calcutta, Tokyo and New York. Most of the people I photographed were humans lost in the anonymity of large cities and facing the unknown. By unknown I mean a future which is getting more unpredictable. My goal is to represent the feelings of people (I guess my feelings that I project through them) and how anxious/concerned/bothered/intrigued/frightened they are in the world they/we are living in. This is the subject of Quest.
In late 2018 I sent a proposal to five publishers: two French, one English, one German, and Damiani in Italy. Damiani responded with interest. I went ahead with them keeping in mind they have international reach due to their partnerships with large distributors.
The initial project was a combination of color and black-and-white. Damiani insisted on black-and-white only. Not having enough for the type of book I wished to do, I produced a fair amount of pictures between January and July 2019 in order to finish the layout in early September for printing in October 2019.
I regret that the photographs taken in 2019 were never printed in the darkroom. The negatives were scanned and test prints made on inkjet printers. That led to a different appreciation and interpretation of the pictures. Had I had more time I would have made proper gelatin silver prints and the final selection might have been slightly improved. That said, I am happy with the result.
Damiani did a great job. The printing of the book is excellent and the overall quality of the book is good. I had full freedom on editing which is quite comfortable when you do not have to argue and discuss the reasons why you wish a certain picture to be placed at a certain place. The book design was done here in France.
Quest met my expectations apart from the fact that the world release happened just at the time of the Covid-19 outbreak. But that is an unfortunate turn of affairs which could not have been anticipated.
Question #2: What photo books, mags, or zines released in the last 15 years stand out on your shelves? I am specifically interested in publications you currently possess that were first published after 2005. Tell me what you admire about one or two of them.
To be honest I do not follow photography book publishing very thoroughly.
Nevertheless, I really liked Josef Koudelka’s Gypsies. Great photographs, fabulous printing and strong editing. This book was originally published in France (Delpire) and the U.S. (Aperture) in 1975. The 2011 edition (published as Roma in Germany by Steidl) is in a larger format.
And Light Lines (Musee de L’Elysee, Lausanne 2008) by Ray Metzker, a catalog published for his 2008 exhibit.
There are of course many more which I wouldn’t know about.
A photography book should be an object that you wish to re-open regularly and apart from the pictures and storytelling one should appreciate the touch and feeling of it.Alexandre de Mortemart
Alexandre de Mortemart (b. 1961) lives between London, Calcutta, and Paris. Photography has been his means of expression since he was 14. His first professional assignment came in the early 1980s for weekly magazines in Japan where he resided for five years. Upon returning to Paris he started collaborations with French newspapers Le Figaro, Liberation, Le Monde, magazines Elle, Vogue, l’Egoiste and others. In the mid-1990s he started directing short and documentary movies. His photographs have been exhibited in France, Japan, and the United States, including the Aperture Gallery (New York) and the Galerie Agathe Gaillard (Paris). In 2018 he was received a LensCulture Black and White prize.
For more information about Quest: https://www.damianieditore.com/en-US/product/757