In the beginning, I photographed solitary people. They were my leitmotiv, like Cézanne and his apples. I was drawn to these individuals worn down by time in their daily struggle for existence. They seem to speak a secret language. I have spent my life deciphering their coded messages, trying to find the meaning within these ambulant works of art. A wrinkled face, a lopsided smile, a puzzled regard: These expressions are but a reflection of our own fears, of our own hopes. I try to catch their imperceptible interior movement, their unique voice. My pedestrians are brave; survivors of love, of wars, of solitude. As in a ceremony, they place one foot in front of the other, and then start all over again. As they walk, it is as if their lives are on parade. I try to capture the moment that reveals their character, their thoughts, both their pas and their future. Although their mysteries may be forever preserved, a photograph can uncover secrets even my subjects may not be aware of. I usually approach people without any preconceived vision. It is they who make the rules, impose the limitations; they either withdraw or come towards me, according to how they are feeling at that moment. If there is even the slightest hint of someone wanting to project an image or attitude, either I put my camera away at once or I wait until my presence goes unnoticed. Gradually my subject reverts to his real self, and whatever distance existed between us evaporates, thanks to the objectivity of the camera’s eye. I write on my photographs to continue the dialogue. I might even follow people for years. The intimacy between us allows them to express the essence of their character. The right gesture, as with the right word, tells all, whether it is Marcello Mastroianni dancing into our hearts or a small child looking at the world through a magnifying glass. Sometimes I see, as in déjà vu, a particular image just before it appears. After taking a thousand pictures of Silvana Mangano over a period of ten years, the portrait I prefer of her happened in a second. One evening, we had just returned to her hotel in Paris. She had taken her coat off. « Put your coat back on, please. » We went down to the entrance of the Métro station; I wanted to see her there. « Look up. » The shutter clicked. But why precisely at that moment, just as the evening light was fading? Every time we view an image, it is again transformed; the recognition and the doubts of our personal memories and experience impose themselves, and through our imagination, the image becomes at once finite and infinite; an end but also a beginning. Once, after a triumphant recital, Horowitz exclaimed: « What do they mean by applauding like that? I simply kept the right tempo. » Maybe to truly capture someone in an image is merely to follow their tune. Why have I so often sought out secretive people? Why am I attracted to their differences, to their seeming indifference to the world? Lives lived are lives too easily forgotten ; photography is my way of holding time still.
In the beginning
by François-Marie Banier
This text was written by François-Marie Banier for his book Past/Present published by Schirmer/Mosel in 1997.
Photo: Johnny Depp, 1991, by François-Marie Banier