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I love Me, I love Myself, I do

  • Catherine Balet
  • Print

Catherine BaletCatherine Balet (France, 1959). Lives and works between Paris and Brighton. She graduated at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and worked as an artist before turning to Photography ten years ago. As a freelancer, she has been a regular contributor to various french and international magazines, also creating images for the world of fashion. She has today specialised in portraiture with an artistico-sociological approach of her subjects. To see more of her work go to: catherinebalet.

ZZ. Identity is an important theme in your work. How do you think identity is effected by the social media and new technologies?

CB. I am mainly interested in the quest for identity because it is a very revealing process of creativity and sociology. I try to depict young people in search of identity for the reason that teenagers are very innovative with the tools they use to express themselves. Ten years ago, I started a photographic series on the expression of identity through clothes, brands, trends and groups, as it was a very intense phenomenon at that time. This naturally brought me to technology, the devices having replaced the clothes as medium of self-expression. "Selfies" allow teenagers, who are going through the complex process of the creation of their identity, to be themselves and at the same time to be like the ones they admire. The disposable and renewable images they make of themselves are the best expression of the permanent changes they are experiencing. The fact that they can renew their profile and follow the group that they have chosen by conforming to codes of representation is essential in developing their identity. It allows them to validate their opinions and determine the appropriateness of their attitudes and behaviours. Teenagers have an enhanced need for self-presentation. Communicating their identity to others works as an act of auto-revelation. Mobile phones have become a sort of digital prosthesis which connects the "real me" to the "virtual me” through social networks, creating a double personality.

ZZ. I love myself, I love me, I do refers to the narcissistic self-awareness expressed on social networks. Do you consider 'the selfie' to be only a product of narcissism or do you think there is more to it?

CB. Narcissus was in love with himself and not looking for interaction. I think that taking a "selfie" is not a self-centred act but a way to become affiliated to a large universal community. "Selfies" are social portraits created in order to open up to others and to look for validation of one’s existence; questioning and looking for witnesses to confirm that you are doing the right thing. It’s more about taking part in a parallel and idealised world. The central quality of these self-images is that they are "shareable". Today, pictures have replaced words in an interactive conversation that is often full of humour and self-mockery.

ZZ. The video also refers to the new approach to quick, light mobile photography that affects our visual culture. What do you think of this development in visual culture?

CB. I did this video because I was interested in the new body attitude that "selfies" have established. It is about staging the photographic gesture itself, with the arm up and the mobile phone reflected in the mirror. The codes adopted in these photos are placed under the sign of a gestural performance.

Today, everyone who carries a phone also carries a camera. Photography has become so fundamental to the way we see things that "photography" and “seeing" could be used as synonyms nowadays. Instagram has made everyone into a photographer, as the devices offer the possibility of taking photos in practically any situation and light conditions. The improvements of technology allows us to take and retake "selfies" easily, until we are satisfied with the result, looking for the desired self in the right narrative and role. These huge amount of images have created a casual snap-shot aesthetic. Photography is not about framing and perspective any more. It has become so easy to produce an image of quality, while previously this was only possible with years of specialised training. The de-specialisation of photography questions what is worth paying attention to in these loads of images and what is going to stand the test of time? It also questions what will become of the traditional craft of photography. The very fact that a phone can be held in one hand makes it the perfect tool to capture something that is immediate, but it is not meant to create images that will resist the ravages of time.

ZZ. What effect did you want to create by relating classical painting to the contemporary digital world? Could you tell us something about the technique you used?

CB. I took the first image of the series Strangers in the light in 2008 as the digital light on people’s faces in the night fascinated me. There was a great pictorial beauty in this lighting and I became aware that these small technological lights were all over the world.

I thought that this technological glow created an aesthetic that suggested a connection to classical paintings and old masters. Thus I wished to amplify the feeling of a 21st century chiaroscuro. All the photos of the series are lit exclusively with the light of the devices. It invited me to investigate a reflection on the historic disruption that has been imposed by the invention of devices and question the ability of ubiquity that technology offers to each of us and how it has created today a world where we each live in a totally different space time as our ancestors. My characters stand in a compressed reality somewhere between past, present and future. They share fast, beautified moments in a world where speed has become the photographic priority and is changing the approach to time and memory.

For the video I love me, I love Myself, I do I wished to focus on the rhythm and frenetic obsession of short-lived "selfies". This is why I did it as a stop motion. I got my inspiration from Facebook where I noticed the teasing game of "show and hide" self-portraits, somewhere between total lack of modesty and a very strategic control of the limits of exhibitionism. My portraits are more like "twinnies" than "selfies" as I wanted them to express something about the staged relationship that is perceptible between the two characters. I whished to highlight the flashlight in the mirror, often burning the faces, as part of the scene. To take these portraits I stood in the dark with my models behind a glass pane and I used a low shutter speed to be able to capture the flash from my model’s camera.

Strangers in the light

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