Let’s meet up with … Vincent Gouriou
French photographer Vincent Gouriou won the third prize in Single Images with his portrait of the couple Anne and Véronique with their twins Angèle and Lucien. Kate Kingsford interviewed him about his career, his winning image and his use of light.
What inspired you to become a photographer?
When I was 15 I found an old camera, and started taking pictures and developing them in my parents’ attic. I also started developing my father’s old photos from when he was younger and lived in Africa. It was a way to discover part of his life that I didn’t know very well, to get to know him better.
I didn’t have any formal training in photography, but it was my passion. I attended workshops in Arles at the Festival of Photography in the south of France and at VISAVIS Photo in Paris, so I learned about photography through these workshops, and through meeting other photographers.
I found that photography was the best medium to express myself. It suits me because I’m quite shy and like observing people; and it’s a pretext to meet people I wouldn’t be able to talk to without a camera. So I discover other people, and at the same time discover more about myself.
How did you get the idea for ‘Family Time’?
My first series of photos, ‘Singularities’, was about people who are ‘different’. It was about the human condition, a mosaic of very different people. I took pictures of people with cancer, old people, transsexuals – and after that I wanted to continue exploring identity, but this time with a focus on sexual identity and family.
A couple of years ago there were a lot of demonstrations against gay marriage in France, and it was a violent time for gay people there. So this was a way to express my feelings about that, and to show families who are ‘different’ but also just like other families. My next exhibition in October is also about family, and includes transsexuals, single parents, and other families that don’t fit into our idea of ‘normal’.
The two women in the picture are my friends, a couple I’ve known for five years. When they decided to have a baby they had to go to Belgium, because the law in France does not allow same sex couples access to medically assisted procreation. They spent two years having treatments, and finally they had twins. I began the series when the twins were born, and every year I take new pictures of them at home, to show the family as they change and grow older.
It’s a very intimate picture. Do you find it easier to take such personal photos when you know the subjects?
Yes and no. It’s different, but I like intimate pictures. Even if I don’t know the person, I try to get closer to them when I’m taking the photo. I don’t ask anything from people, but they show me what they want to. I remember taking a picture of a lesbian couple a few months ago, two women I didn’t know before. We talked about the picture for half an hour, and they were completely at ease with me. When I started shooting they began to kiss and hug each other, and it was as if I knew them very well. After the shooting they told me that they hadn’t expected to do that – but they felt comfortable.
The photo has the feeling of a painting, as well as being very natural.
Yes, painting is an inspiration for my photography, because light is a very meaningful part of the pictures I take. I mainly use natural light, like old painters from northern Europe – a kind of cold light. When I take pictures I prefer them to be timeless, with a minimalist background – no TVs or computers. Maybe that’s another reason why my pictures look a bit like paintings, because there’s no information about the period. But the most important thing is the light.
When I took this picture it was a cloudy day – I live in Brest, in Brittany, where it’s often grey and there isn’t much sun. This kind of light is an inspiration for me, because it’s the background of where I come from, my everyday life. And then as I was taking photos the sun came out, just for a few moments – and that was when I took this photo. It was a peaceful moment, a moment of joy between the mothers and their children, so the sunlight was right for the context.
How do you see this series of pictures developing?
I’d like to keep taking a picture of them every year to see the development of the children and their mothers. I’d like to take the sense of intimacy a bit further, and I hope I’ll know the children well and that they’ll be used to me. I think it would be interesting to continue showing intimate moments in the family’s house, but also to go outside: to show where they live, and the children playing with their friends and wider family. You need both, the inside and the outside, to explain how children grow.
It seems both very personal, and also fits into the wider debate in France about gay marriage and adoption.
Yes, there’s the activist, political side and also an artistic, personal side. When I take a picture it’s also about me. It’s a mix of the subject and myself – of what I am, and what I want to show.
What else are you working on at the moment?
I have a similar project with a little boy, who is also the son of friends of mine. This little boy has some back problems and has to wear a back brace for 23 hours a day until he’s 18 years old. Now he’s only six, and he’s already been wearing this for three years. He’s a very brave, happy boy and he’s used to it. He gets a new back brace every year, and each time he changes it I take a picture of him. My idea is to take a picture every year until he’s 18. The ‘Maison Européenne de la Photographie’ in Paris added 3 of these photos to their collection and plans to acquire the next pictures as well, and he’s quite proud of this! It’s a way for him to find some positive sides to this problem.
Every time he gets a new back brace, his body has changed. He can also choose the colour and design of the new one – first he had one with footballs on it, and then with skulls. So in the photos you can see how he expresses his identity, as well as how he changes physically as he gets older. When he’s 18 he’s going to have a big party with his friends, and they’re going to make a big bonfire and burn all his old back braces. So I will be there to take pictures.