The Spirit of Place: Three Questions for François Halard
I want to evoke a human presence, as if it had just left the frame
François Halard is the undisputed master of decorative photography. One can even say he is responsible for bringing this new photographic genre under the spotlight. His camera not only captures the reality of a given space, it captures the soul of the places in front of it. For the second edition of Design Parade Toulon, of which he is a jury member, Halard selected photographs related to the Mediterranean: from Capri to Arles to Gaeta and Toulon. “The Mediterranean Suite” invites us to a poetic and imaginary escapade.
Would you say your work consists in trying to translate a place’s spirit through photography?
Since I was a young man, I have always tried to do that. This is the essence of my photographic work. I do not want to photograph them in a cold or distant way, but on the contrary, I wand to evoke a human presence, as if it had just left the frame. This invisible trace is close to my heart. It’s a barely perceptible presence, which, through details, a light, reveals a person, a spirit, a sensitivity.
What does the Mediterranean sea represent to you? It is the main subjetc of your exhibition in Toulon.
I discovered the Mediterranean sea very late. The first time was in Cassis, I was 12 years old. Then, a few years later, during my many trips to Italy: Rome and the Capitoline Hill, the Caravaggio paintings, the Bernini sculptures. In Milan, with my parents, I discovered Italian design from the late 70s: Ettore Sottsass, for Memphis, Alchimia with Alessandro Mendini. Sill for me, the Mediterranean is also cinema: Antonioni and the beauty of Monica Vitti in Avventura. The baroque decor of Visconti’s “The Leopard”. The extravagance of Federico Fellini and the ecclesiastical fashion show on roller skates in Fellini Roma. Finally, the Mediterranean is the architects: Andrea Palladio at la Malcontenta or Adalberto Libera who imagined the villa Malaparte in Capri. Artists have punctuated this Italian route: Fontana, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Carlo Mollino’s Polaroids, Luigi Ghirri’s Italian landscapes and, of course, the special influence of Cy Twombly, an American painter exiled in Rome. Cy Twombly transformed Mediterranean mythology into a work of art. It is this approach to the Mediterranean region that touches and inspires me.
Do you observe an evolution in interior design today?
I had the chance to photograph some of the most representative places of 20th century interior architecture and decorative art. The Villa Noailles, before its restoration, the architecture and furniture of Pierre Chareau for La Maison de Verre, the first project of John Pawson, Yves Saint Laurent’s apartment, Jacques Grange, the Lambert Hotel. There is obviously an evolution today, but it is the result of the influences of the French decorative art of the 18th century and that of the Thirties with the appearance of modernism, Chareau, Mallet Stevens and Eileen Grey. The trend in recent years is the contemporary reflection of these trends with a touch of AutoCAD…
Interview by Serge Carreira, lecturer at SciencesPo
Portrait : Chantapitch Wiwatchaikamol