Claudine Doury: Exploring Adolescence Through Photography

Photographer, member of the VU agency and winner of a host of awards (including the “Leica Oskar Barnack Award” in 1999, the “World Press” in 2000 and the “Prix Niépce” in 2004), Claudine Doury has worked on the subject of adolescence for a number of years. We talked to the artist around the French release of her latest publication, “Sasha,” and her homonymous exhibition in which she creates a delicate universe based on her own daughter’s coming of age – a universe that is both enchanting and disturbing.

Q: The world of adolescence is at the centre of your photographic work. What inspired your interest in this transitional period of life?

A: I’m interested in the world of adolescence because it is situated at a turning point in life. Adolescence is the crossroads of all possibilities. James Agee wrote, “Adolescence is a kingdom of fallen and still falling angels, but it is yet a kingdom.”

Q: You delicately capture certain moments and aspects of young people’s lives in the “Artek, un été en Crimée” series, sharing their day-to-day world for the duration of a vacation. While in the “Sasha” series, which focuses on your own daughter, you seem not to portray something that actually took place, but, instead, you capture certain sensations and perceptions specific to adolescence. With the “Sasha” series, this delicacy is constantly present, but each photo seems more able to exist in its own right. Each photo tells one or more ideas or stories relating to this transitional period of life. You seem to situate yourself in a branch of photography in which it is more a question of creating an image rather than capturing it as it is (bearing in mind that every photo is a construction, of course)! Could you explain how this shift in the way you broached and elaborated on this series took place for you?

A: The “Sasha” series is a kind of sequel to the “Artek” series, but I changed my approach in the latter. “Artek” was, first of all, a documentary work on the life of the biggest summer camp in what was the Soviet Union. After going there over a ten year period, I slowly began to focus on the relationship between young people amongst themselves, on their moods and their apparent passivity during the holidays. I then focused on rites of passage (“Sweet Sixteen” in the USA, “Quinceanera” in Cuba, etc.). Then the idea and desire to photograph not so much the social rituals of adolescence, but rather the secret rituals, as it were, took hold.

While there have been shifts and evolutions in my theme, there is a consistency in the treatment. Even if the environment is more constructed in the “Sasha” series, I always leave room for things that arise spontaneously.

Q: Other than the fact that your daughter appears in each of the images in the series, to what extent have you worked together on the creation of these photos, most of which appear to be staged.

A: What triggered this series was discovering Sasha rolling in the mud of an empty pond with a friend one day. Away from me, in secret, she was literally changing skin. Starting out from this premise, and with her agreement, I worked as I do normally, starting out either from a clear idea or from the memory of a moment already experienced or a specific environment.

Q: Your photographic style seems very cinematographic. In addition to the imaginary realm of adolescence, what other sources did you draw on to create this universe which is often magical and peaceful, but in which there is a latent unease?

A: The “Sasha” series allowed me to revisit my own adolescence. This universe is linked both to my imagination and my memory. The very theme, “the end of childhood,” contains fears and renunciations, but also promises of the future, or other sources of anxiety.

Q: Natural elements – the forest, water, mud, snow, grass, natural light, etc. – are highly present in your photos. How did you work with these elements? The light, in particular, contributes to accentuating the evanescent aspect of these images, which goes perfectly with the overall approach.

A: Natural elements such as water, fire, air and earth are indeed very important in my work. I mainly produced this series in a forest I have known since my childhood.  The cycle of the progression of the seasons proved to be a powerful setting for this work on the passage to adolescence. Nature roots this passage in a constantly evolving universe and reveals the emotional states of this specific period.

Q: Lastly, a technical question: what equipment did you shoot this series with?

A: With a Leica M6, as always.

Thank you, Claudine!

-Leica Internet Team

To learn more about Claudine and view more of her work, visit her website: www.claudinedoury.com. To read the original French version of this interview, click here.

Notes :
(1) Claudine Doury (Textes de Christian Caujolle et Melanie McWhorter), Sasha, Le caillou bleu,
2011.
(2) Sacha, du 5/01/2012 au 26/02/2012 – La Galerie particulière, Paris
http://www.lagalerieparticuliere.com/expositions/presentation/55/sasha
(3) The the series by visiting this website: http://www.claudinedoury.com/en/portfolio_artek.htm