Vincent Fournier was born in Ougadougou in Burkina Faso in 1970 and is now based in Paris. He began his career as a commercial photographer doing advertising photography for “banks and insurance companies and that kind of thing” until he decided to concentrate on his art work some five years ago. He is known for his extraordinary science-based series such as Man Machine and Natural History and currently works from his Space Project are on show at the Aedes gallery in Berlin. uncube’s Sophie Lovell went to talk to him about the passions and practicalities of his profession.
What led you to the subject of your “Space Project” series?
I was working on another project called Tour Operator and took some photographs of an observatory in Hawaii for it. I liked the combination there of very futuristic architecture lost in wild space. This started me thinking about space exploration. So I then went on to photograph observatories around the world as well as training centres and space launch facilities.
But you’re not taking part in an astronaut training programme also – like the photographer Michael Najjar?
I’m not really interested in going to space myself. It’s more about the dream of the imagination of science. I don’t have a scientific background. I’m really focused on the imagination side which is what stimulates me and my work.
The images in the series seem to be documentary images combined with pictures of astronauts standing around in terrestrial landscapes. What led you towards this sort of metaphorical interpretation of the “alien”?
I guess I started with a more documentary approach at the beginning but my work is moving more and more towards the fantastical side. But all of the images are real situations and locations with real materials. For instance one of the images you describe is in the Red Desert in Utah, simulating life on Mars. I directed the astronaut into the space with a walkie talkie and I did some location scouting beforehand, so it was all staged with the aesthetic in mind.
So all the images are staged – it’s not really documentary?
Is there an order in which you did the series? Starting with the buildings and then moving into the more fantastic landscapes and characters?
No, it depended upon the feedback I had to the requests I made. It can sometimes take up to a year to get access and authorisation for a place. And then you may only have two hours to shoot. You can’t really plan with situations like that. But I can still have a scene in mind and then repeat the scene with the people I am working with. Usually it works quite well. The people working at these places don’t really know what I am doing [laughs] and they find it funny to have someone staging them. It’s like a happy hour.
Is the “Space Project” finished now or is it ongoing? Have you said what you wanted to say with it?
No, it’s an ongoing project. I’m putting less energy into it than I used to, but I still have a few things I would like to do in China and Japan, for example.
How do you fund a project like this?
At the beginning the money came from my commercial work and I paid for the trips myself. But occasionally you can make agreements, like the one I had with Arianespace for a shoot in French Guiana – they paid for the trip and I gave them a few images to put in their meeting room. For NASA’s Cape Canaveral it was very difficult to get in, but Vice magazine’s internet TV channel wanted to make a documentary about my work at the time so I said they could do it there and they produced the work. I always try to find a way to balance it.
So would you say that your commercial background was a useful training for organising shoots and contacts?
Not really, because back then I had a producer and fifteen people working for me. With this project I was on my own with no assistant and no producer, so it didn’t help at all! But the way we work in advertising did help in terms of the way everything is carefully staged and in that you have to attend to every detail in terms of casting and styling and so on. This comes out in this work, where the composition and aesthetic are very important to me. So yes, I think it was a good school.
– Interview by Sophie Lovell
‘INFINITIES’ Photographs from the “Space Project”.
Part of: In-Between. Spatial Discourse in Visual Culture – Part 2
Until May 25, 2014
Aedes am Pfefferberg,