It is quite convenient nowadays for ambitious young people to become a renowned photographer. As for me, having visited museums, scoured galleries, having been subjected to too many readings of portfolios and having lost invaluable time in juries that reeked of cheating, I don’t have much more illusions about youth and in particular about its ability to renew the photographic scene. But at my age, a few moral considerations – let’s hope they’re the last ones – require that I deliver the lessons of a life dedicated to art and photography. Success is at everybody’s reach. You just need to follow the advices I am going to state. But if you consider it as useless, if you believe that talent and work are enough for your art to be acknowledged, then refer to the previous editions of “Circulation(s)” or without any doubt to those that will follow. You will find beautiful declarations of faith in youth, in its alleged virtues and its famous innate creation power.
For those who have not turned around and walked away, there are several ways to tackle the photography medium and you have to know them all. First, you have to make a name for yourself among curators, conservators and critics. Invite them! Stop at no sign of seduction even if I must warn you again any display of tenderness towards this breed. It is not strictly forbidden for there is nothing despicable in showing a little bit of eagerness towards old fogeys. But these expressions of attachment, your affection, remain confidential. Give generously to all and let each of them – ah, the imbecile! – believe that he is the one: a curator likes nothing more than to believe he is the unique discoverer and that he is the only one who is loved. He knows himself to be infallible and dreads to miss burgeoning talents. Use subtlety when dealing with affection and guilt.
Be laudatory as well, without limit! You have read his works, devoured his articles, annotated his notes. You greet the style but above all you celebrate the brave choices. Without him – he will easily believe it – you would never have reached this high level of thought and execution. That’s when, awe stricken by so much precocious maturity, the curator will not be able to save the cost of a recommendation, an exhibition, or, biblical promise, an acquisition.
If you are part of a recent promotion from the école nationale supérieure de la photographie, Paris 8 or the Gobelins, you will first spark curiosity but oblivion is near, already ready to swallow fresh flesh. You believe you are the best with your diploma. Big deal! Don’t expect you will get rid of the world of ideas, concepts, semiology, of visual studies; a life where you would not need to interpret and understand Foucault, Baudrillard and Derrida. You must deconstruct photography! Don’t imagine a career of shooting, orders, exhibitions and sales. Don’t be so sure, in France one takes pictures only under the precondition that an intention is expressed loud and clear. Without that, you will never reach the envied rank of author. I must then at first advise you to create a well-stocked library, full enough to impress the hypothetical visitor of the studio. Focus on French and Anglo-Saxon publications. On the other hand you will look FRANCOIS CHEVAL – Patron of the festival Instructions to young photographers eager for success Stan Guigui «Atras del muro » down on German literature, untranslatable and unknown anyway. Without any pedantry, quote heavily even if your only references are from the TV. But have no fear, the curator, the conservator and the critic share the same culture. On the other hand, beware of the gallery owner who is by experience more crafty and has no illusions. You must use other weapons with him. Seduction bores him. He knows the price and the vicissitudes of young men and young women. He will refuse any appointment using the pile of files, his presence at the Basel fair and the reluctance of the collectors as an excuse. Not prone to curiosity, he will consent only under duress to receive you, the result of a kind intervention, consequence of the first lesson.
There you will have to lie. You have to persuade the person you talk to that you are knightened. Above all, don’t introduce yourself as a photographer; a visual artist using photographic support seems to be the most suitable expression for the period. It puts you in the category of contemporary artists. Then list all the most far-fetched recommendations. The names of festivals directors, even if met fortuitously during a cocktail party, will do the trick. The geography of photography is reduced to not much, you must then mention only the central Europe biennials or, a rare thing, the Chinese or Khmer events. As a member of a very small group of recognized photographers, you will never pronounce the family name of your peers but you mention Nan, Andres, Vik, etc. all met during your many and regular projects set up abroad.
The increase in the number of visas on a passport contributes to the pertinence of the character you created. New York establishes itself as an absolute reference for its impassable virtues. A city of prescribers, as would Olivier Poivre d’Arvor say, you will learn the trade’s basics, that is to say English and cynicism. You have to go to Berlin. You will get there a genuine certificate of cosmopolitan artist who gets the friendliness of the German collector who is of good company although he is a ChristianDemocrat (which, for Thomas Bernhard, corresponds to the Austrian National-Catholic). Don’t insist too much on your French origins. What you would lose in dignity you would gain in reason. All these trips are expensive. Your means, at the beginning, won’t allow you to travel as much as necessary. I invite you then to meet and know the mysteries of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. There you will find addresses, names of fantastic places and a collection of cultural advisers all ready to defend French photography, unfairly regarded. On site you will find places as unsuitable as the allocated means. But you will have gained the additional lines of a curriculum vitæ that you have to expand without slowing down.
To tell the truth, having a full biography is a virtue with no equal. Lying must become a habit. Add some lines to your curriculum vitæ. How many look miserable, if not despicable, and reek of the French provinces, Lannion, Pontault-Combault, Guingamp, Douchy-les-Mines, Lectoure, Cherbourg and Chalon-sur-Saône. Adorn your files with Swedish, Finnish, Catalan, and Arab cities. Sharjah, Beirut, the oriental dream is born again. Without declining, year after year, the sheets are filled with prestigious collections and Venetian foundations. Lie! Lie! And this deceit should not be considered as lowness. On the contrary it shows a strong character, devoid of morality, an entrepreneurship that will know how to convince the market of photography of your submission to its rules. Then maybe, if you have followed these recommendations to the letter, Paris Photo will welcome you and if Spain still exists, you name will illuminate PhotoEspaña. You will be surprised not to find in these considerations a word about the interest of photography. It’s just that I do not consider it necessary to talk about it here. First, nothing forces you to believe in the virtues of the invention of Nicéphore Niépce. One has to protect oneself against the craving of any usefulness of the medium. It has never been necessary to be a believer to declare one’s love for God. To be a photographer, that is to think as oneself as an author, means to plagiarize shamelessly. It means denying the mechanical aspect of the machine to submit better to the logic of Fine Arts. And for that, no precaution towards the old ones who overcrowd the market of photography. You have the choice, make fun of them with unanswerable references (Cotton, Chevrier, Frizot, Poivert) or even better, pretend to ignore the history of photography. Nobody has ever taken advantage of it. A smart ideas thief only feeds himself on big picture books, stupid movies, fast prefaces and TV series. You must then make sure that it all matches, not with morality and its principles, with any social usefulness, but with the size of the bourgeois living rooms and the showrooms. The format! That’s the big business of contemporary photography. Only the big formats are respectable. If, moreover, you are a skillful colorist, you science will be praised. All the powerful ones in the little photographic community must be able to engage in private prayers when facing such nerve, audacity and novelty, even if you will only have to go along well established rules.
We could continue. But I doubt that I will be given other opportunities to give such useful warnings. So surrender yourself to unconsciousness, without thought. The only rule, as you have understood it, is to find a way of being that suits the liberal gallery owner, the humanist critic and the social-democrat public servant, those who, spoiled by life, only have decorative worries and decorations hopes. To drink blood again and again. And if a few photographers put you in the shade, murder remains the ultimate solution. For if you want to reach that perfect state, not that of photographer but of contemporary artist, give up on all mercy, forget the friendships and the oaths. Play, Rastignac, not next to the creation, as a spectator, close to the void, but as an actor in this little theater of vanities.