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Eloi de la Monneraye: “The Coronavirus set things in motion”

Eloi de la Monneraye: “The Coronavirus set things in motion”

During this unprecedented health crisis, photographers must fire up their creativity and reinvent themselves. We talk to Eloi de la Monneraye, who is on lockdown in Normandy with his family, where he finds an inexhaustible well of inspiration.

© Eloi de la Monneraye

How have the recent events and self-isolation measures affected your photographic practice?

As it has for many photographers, the Coronavirus outbreak and its aftermath has brought all my commissions to a halt. I’ve been wondering how best to utilize all this free time and have carried on with my personal projects: I am fortunate to have always photographed those around me. In the end, the place (my home) and the characters (my family) haven’t changed: it’s the same environment, but the context is different. I’ve been looking for ways to somehow bear witness to this particular moment through them. We had moved into our Normandy home before social distancing measures were put in place. The setting is the same as before, but our daily routine has changed. In particular, with the children, we have fallen into a new rhythm. We are confined to the house, which usually serves as a vacation home, except there are barriers everywhere and the beach is out of bounds. 

How do you take advantage of this situation to nourish your creative process?

I have reached a point in my photographic practice where I want to explore new processes, to go back to the darkroom, to printing. When I learned that we were probably going on lockdown, I had a feeling it would be for quite a while. In a normal situation, one is always running out of time, but now find ourselves with a lot of time on our hands. The downside is that there are ten of us in the house, with the children to look after, so I had to create some space where I could isolate myself in the midst of confinement! The darkroom is perfect for that.

© Eloi de la Monneraye

Do you think your project will be complete by the time the isolation ends?

I’m preparing a small collection of photographs that are particularly dear to me and speak to me in the present context. As I was sorting them, I realized that I preferred photos of wide-open spaces, nature, the sea, mountains. In the end, the selection evokes natural spaces which are breathing freely at the moment, in the absence of humans. The subject of this collection is not going to be isolation, but its object is the memory of isolation, and it will be emotionally charged, just like the photos that go into it.

© Eloi de la Monneraye

The first triumphs energize you to persevere

What technical aspect(s) have you (re)discovered?

I decided to switch to printing on baryta paper rather than the RC [resin-coated] paper I had used previously. As luck would have it, I placed an order and the paper arrived this morning. I had never worked with this type of paper before, so now I’ll be able to get a feel for it. I have some experience with B&W processing already, and now I’m working to get it just right. This is the most interesting part, where you can push the limits, get the most satisfaction, and learn a lot along the way. The first triumphs energize you to persevere. I show my attempts and my process to my son and my ten-year-old niece. The darkroom is an extraordinary, mysterious discovery for them. Imagine the gradual emergence of an image in the developer bath: the whole poetry of photography is contained in that moment. To a child, this is magic. And then, as a final reward, this lends concrete meaning to the term “work” which the kids hear the adults use all the time: now they can see what it really means, how it’s applied, the time it takes.

Would this experience have been possible under normal circumstances? If so, why? Or why wouldn’t it?

I probably wouldn’t have been able to carve out swaths of time for a project like this in my regular schedule. Nor would I be here (in Normandy, near Granville). So yes, the Coronavirus set things in motion. In the end, working here is absolutely perfect; I took over the laundry room and everything fell into place naturally. It’s amazing how easily things work out sometimes. Besides, this is the location where these photographs were taken: the negative of my film has physically “seen” the scene, the beach in front of my house. And it ends up being printed here, on paper: it comes to life once again on the very same spot. There is a sense of unity here, a sense of reprieve, which is very comforting during this unsettling time.

© Eloi de la Monneraye

Interview by Maxime Riché

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