Now a renowned name in the world of photography, French filmmaker and artist Charlotte Colbert, unveiled her latest series of photographs – Ordinary Madness – at Gazelli Art House in London last Thursday.
Following the narratives of classic stories, each of her photography project explores the thoughts and behaviours of human beings through space and time, as well as through their strengths and weaknesses, their resilience and vulnerability.
With her unique way of looking at the human mind, Charlotte Colbert’s photographs are like dreams – crossing boundaries between the real and the surreal.
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1/ Could you please introduce yourself? Where are you from? What was your childhood like? and your teenage-hood?
My name is Charlotte Colbert. I make photographs, scripts and films and live in London. I was probably an annoying child and an even more annoying teenager. Confusion is the main thing that comes to mind.
2/ What and where did you study?
I studied philosophy and liberal arts in Montreal. At a small school set up by American anti-war left wingers, like Ginsberg who escaped the draft by moving to Canada.
3/ How did you become a photographer and filmmaker? When and how did you realise it was your calling?
Probably just in the process of doing it… it seemed to be the best medium for me to tell stories and explore questions that interest me.
4/ What inspires you to create what you create?
Everything. From a conversation, a piece of rubbish in the street, a feeling, an eavesdropped sound bite, an argument, an artwork, a sound, a smell… artists are thieves, we use everything.
5/ How would you describe your early works?
I originally started with more documentary pieces, collecting, snapping, capturing things I came across, and I have now moved more into creating props and staging fictional worlds. Someone said with documentaries it was about being able to tell a lie with the truth whereas with fiction it was about being able to find the truth in a lie.
6/ In what ways do think your work evolved?
They have probably become a tad more humorous, integrating more elements of absurdity.
7/ You use black and white, shoot in derelict buildings, feature nudity a lot, and many of your subjects wear masks – what would you say attracts you to these? Would you say they’re part of your creative signature?
I’m interested in derelict buildings because they are like memento moris. The skeletons of our civilisation, the reminders to take everything with a pinch of salt as all will eventually fade away and pass. Nudity taps into the same feelings. Here youth against decay. For this specific series – Ordinary Madness – I felt shooting in black and white and on film was particularly relevant, showing the immediate datedness of technology.
8/ No matter your project, whether it is ‘Ordinary Madness’, ‘In and Out of Space’, or ‘A day at home’, I feel your work is a lot about the evolution of the human race and about humans themselves. Would you say that’s true?
It’s so surreal that we have evolved to be how we are. The possibilities are endless. Everything could have been different. I think remembering that pushes us to always question.
9/ About ‘Ordinary Madness’… I came to the private viewing on Thursday and really loved the show! The series of photographs tackles such a global situation, so I guess you’re hoping people from all sorts of backgrounds to come and see it at Gazelli Art House?
I’m so glad you say that! It’s great if it can speak to all sorts of different people as these issues, in my mind, do apply to everyone. I sometimes fear we are dealing with technology in a way that panders to our human weaknesses rather than using it as a liberating tool. Hopefully the work can trigger questions, start a conversation with the viewer.
10/ What about your film ‘The Silent Man’? What’s the story and what was your inspiration for it?
I randomly saw this old black and white photograph of the most grotesque looking doll of a woman. It was covered in feathers, with jet black hair stuck at the top, arched drawn eyebrows, breasts and according to legend a functional vagina. An enormous, furry creature reminiscent of some kind of poorly-rendered idol. Upon investigation I realised the doll belonged to broken-hearted 19th century painter Oska Kokoschka who, after being dumped by his lover, femme fatale Alma Mahler (Gustave’s widow), commissioned a life size replica doll of her. He spent a year living with the doll until his mourning process was over and he could move on. I was compelled by the idea, but, having seen way too many female dolls, I decided to invert the story and make it about a woman grieving her lost love through the figure of a male doll.