Constructed Photography: Interview with Noémie Goudal
By Anita Sheih
Anita Sheih: How did you begin working with photography?
Noémie Goudal: One thing just led to another. I started photography when I was very young, like at 15 or something. A friend told me she was doing a workshop every Wednesday afternoon, and she asked, "Do you want to do it with me?" So that's really how it started.
Anita: So you started out with photography, but it seems that your work increasingly involves 3D mediums. What's led you to transition more into sculpture and multimedia?
Noémie: It was quite natural, actually. In all my works, I build things that I photograph, so I've always been really interested in constructing and restructuring the landscape that I'm photographing. So my instinct is really to intervene in a space rather than build something from scratch.
Anita: Where do you find the inspiration for or the concepts behind each project?
Noémie: It really depends. Most of the time, it's by reading books on the history of science, which are my main source of inspiration. I also get inspired when I travel, but it's mainly going to the library and looking at books.
This is quite a particular time in history. What really interests me is the way we used to look at the world throughout the centuries and how we used to think the world was made. I studied how we believed mountains were created through the history of geology, and I used all the different hypotheses and theories to build some my projects, from antiquity to the Middle Ages to the Renaissance to today.
Anita: I've read that you usually sculpt while you photograph. Does that mean you plan for how you will engage with the materials, or do you go into a shoot not knowing what will end up happening?
Noémie: More and more, I always try to plan the shoot as much as possible because it's really a nightmare to arrive and not know exactly what to do. I don't really have the space to think about a whole project from A to Z when I'm on a shoot. But I also have to leave a bit of space to improvise.
One series in which I sculpted was Soulèvements, one of my latest projects where I used a lot of mirrors stacked on top of each other that all reflect one part of a rock. They are each tilted slightly differently, so they reflect the rock in a sort of cubist way. This series is black and white and made of about 25 mirrors, which look like they are pieces of paper, almost. I had to be literally behind my camera, as my team moved and adjusted the mirrors until I had the perfect image—an absolute nightmare to organize. Les Mécaniques was another series created with a similar mirror technique. But the structure at the back holding the mirrors was actually totally flat for this one.
Anita: I've also noticed your work often includes geometric shapes, whether in ice cubes, wooden rafters, or rectangular doorways. Could you speak a little bit about that decision?
Noémie: Yes, of course. It began with my series Southern Light Stations, in which I used a circle as a starting point because the whole project was about the history and the science of the sky. I wanted to investigate the way we used to look at the sky and propose new ways to look too. So it seemed obvious to me that the circle, a symbol of the sky and the eternity of movement, was appropriate for this series.
Following my geology research, I used the cube (actually, about 23 to 25 of them) as a symbol for the earth in a series that I shot in California called Telluris. The cube is a human-made and very solid geometric form, associated with the ground and stability.
Now, perhaps, I'm moving onto triangles. I'm working on a project of mountains and mountaintops as we speak. I built sculptures out of ice and glass that I then photographed, and I did this in the studio for a change, rather than outside. I always find it interesting to change my way of working.
Anita: Your images are breathtaking and often unbelievably so. Do you ever use digital manipulations to achieve your desired effects? Or are all of the qualities that make your photographs seem like illusions actually physical?
Noémie: They are all physically made for sure. But I use a digital camera, so I always, you know, clean it up digitally. But I really try to construct the physical installation as much as possible—that's really my main goal.
Anita: It seems that your work often investigates the contrast between the natural and the manmade as well as change over time. How do you think these themes play into your upcoming work at PHOTOFAIRS Shanghai?
Noémie: Obviously, my installations are ephemeral. I build them, I photograph them, and then they disappear. But the installations I used to make were very fixed. Now, more and more, I'm working with the movement of those installations to see how I can bring a sort of performance into the act of building and creation. I hope to include the viewer in the process of working in movement, of deconstructing and constructing.
At PHOTOFAIRS Shanghai, I will be showing a mix of my different series. I wanted to exhibit a broad overview of what I'm doing because it's really the first time that I'm showing in China.
Anita: Is there anything you feel your viewers should know or keep in mind when they see your work?
Noémie: Keep in mind that everything is constructed. That's very important to me. I hope my viewers can project themselves into the landscape itself and delve into the process of building and making.
PHOTOFAIRS | Shanghai will be held at the Shanghai Exhibition Centre from 20-22 September. For more details go to www.photofairs.org.