IN THIS INTERVIEW > Belgian photographer Etienne Courtois offers some insight into his eccentric still life work and where his art is going after his latest body of work called Stay Out of My Slippers, You Fool, a series of images where the backdrop becomes the protagonist.
Hello Etienne, thank you for this interview. What are your main interests as a photographer?
I am, amongst other things, interested in the nature of our relation to the image and its inherent problems. I like to investigate the potential of the medium and its resulting discrepancies between subject matter and the account of what is pictured. I corrupt the subject, I use misappropriation and diversion, I incorporate imperfections, external substances, aiming to transform the picture into an object. I believe this can enhance the experience of the viewer, get him more engaged.
When did you realize that you wanted to use photography to make images rather than taking them?
For previous projects, I traveled a lot, mainly to various islands and hit the road for days on end with my camera searching for pictures, landscapes, portraits. I was after images that I had already partially imagined. Of course this lead to frustration from the lack of control you can have when photographing a landscape for example. And I also found that the results were firmly grounded in traditional photography. So I moved towards making images like I make them now, basically starting from an empty tabletop, and using a fabrication process that is more complex, which contributes in making work that drifts away from the camera and photography, while still including it.
Still lifes make a big part of your production so far. In your opinion, what is a good still life?
I am after pictures that are problematic, disorienting, difficult to categorize. A good start is a good subject, one that has potential for an image, that fits the objective without being overloaded with references. I like what Tobjorn Rodland once wrote (in his twenty sentences on photography): that a photograph which refuses to market anything but its own complexities is perverse, and perversion is bliss. I could not agree more.
With your most recent series Stay Out of My Slippers, You Fool, your photography is shifting towards an even more abstract direction. What new paths are you exploring with this body of work?
I was experimenting with scraps coming from the paper backdrops I use in still lifes, and noticed I could use those scraps in the same way as I use objects, placing them on a backdrop. The backdrop scraps became the main subject of the image, which then becomes a kind of mise-en-abime. The outcome was different, less intentional and partially uncontrolled, having no precise idea of what will end up on the film. The intention fades, leaving more room for the viewer’s imagination.
Where do you draw inspiration for your pictures?
Painting, sculpture, commercial photography, poetry. My surroundings of course. And I am drawn towards banal everyday objects and their aptitude for surrealism, ambiguity.
Can you describe what sort of techniques you use to create your pieces?
I use film, natural light, analog manipulations. I try to bridge or merge techniques from collage, sculpture, painting, photography.
What have been the main influences on your photography?
They come from many different horizons. Certainly art movements such as Surrealism, Dadaism, Cubism and Arte Povera. The accessibility and immediacy of digital photography also had an impact on my work, and of course more generally on photography as an art form.
Who are some of your favorite contemporary photographers?
Baldessari, Eggleston, Rusha, Bustamante, Divola, Tillmans… to name only a few.
Do you have any other passion beside photography?
I also make music, but not these days though, as I am currently very much focused on image making.
Choose your #threewordsforphotography.
Counterpoint. Flatness. Ambiguity.