Interview on March 29 at Great Leap Brewing, Sanyuanli
KL: I’m familiar with the music photography that you do, is that just one aspect of your photography?
AF: Yes, it’s one of the things that I like to do because I love music and I can’t play any instrument so that’s a way of connecting things I like… And it’s something I try to do well. But music photography really doesn’t pay much at all so I need to do other things too and anyway, I really like to diversify. But generally, I think my work comes mostly from a documentary perspective, I like to document what I see. I also shoot portraits, private boudoir sessions, events, editorial… All kinds of things, really.
KL: Are you other works more commercial or, with your documentary style, more photojournalism?
AF: I’m only 100% freelance since last summer so now I actually have to do a lot of commercial stuff that isn’t the most exciting, but I’ve got to do it. It’s good anyway, because it takes you out of your comfort zone: you have to go and learn the ropes and do a lot of different things and that is positive. The problem is then you start focussing on making a living and you have less time to do your own things. Everyone had warned me about it beforehand, I knew what was coming and I still went for it. I’m in this transitional phase trying to find time for my own things while doing “pay-the-rent” work.
KL: Before going freelance how much energy did you have to put into just going out and shooting and shooting and shooting just to build up the portfolio that you needed?
AF: That was pretty insane actually because I had a fulltime job and I have a family so I’d work all week and in the evening, Thursday, Friday, Saturday or the three of them; go out, shoot and then I’d have to edit the pictures - to put them out there as soon possible. Then I had to work on promoting my work to try and get it to be seen. So yeah, lots of energy I’d say.
KL: You’re obviously passionate about the band stuff. How essential is that to getting a great photo? Do you need to some sort of relationship with the band, love their music or even know the band members or can you walk in off the street and get a good shot?
AF: Well it’s a lot of practise, first. It’s not that easy because things move fast.
KL: Bad lighting usually as well.
AF: Yeah, the lighting is often terrible especially in smaller venues.
But sure, the feeling has a lot to do with the quality of the photos and maybe also the number of beers you’ve had before the show. I am more motivated if I like the band, but what really matters is mostly the energy and the passion the bands bring to the stage. Many bands I shoot, I wouldn’t listen to them at home, but if their energy and attitude is great, that makes it a pleasure to shoot. Feeling welcome in the venue and at the show is also a big part of it, that helps set the mood right.
KL: Is part of the appeal the collaborative nature of band photography? You said you love music but you can’t play so is it about feeling part of a collective artistic process?
AF: Maybe in a way… But actually, it’s rather a solitary job. I feel more like an outsider than a member of a group. At my computer editing these pictures or behind my camera taking them, it’s a one-man thing.
KL: When photographing someone with a public image how much pressure do you feel to represent them how they see themselves?
AF: Well, I wouldn’t call it pressure, but I do feel music photographers have a responsibility. They are often getting a privileged access and it shouldn’t be used at the detriment of the artist’s image. We have to be strict with what we show and don’t show. It’s a matter of personal ethics. For the small shows, musicians are usually happy to have decent pictures anyway, as the only competition you have are smart phone pictures, which are always shit. Smartphones take great pictures now but you never see great concert pictures taken on them, especially not in places like Temple where the light is so hard.
KL: How compromised do you feel by the commercial work you’ve done? How much creative control do you have?
AF: It really depends. It differs from gig to gig. The thing I cherish more than anything is my freedom. For example when I shoot an event, I like to roam free and capture the mood of it. Most clients trust me and let me do my thing.
But sometimes, a client will be following me around and tap on my shoulder every minute to give me directions…and that’s the kind of thing I don’t deal so well with. But I am working on that because it’s completely normal that clients tell you what they want since your job is to make them happy. But there is still a rebel teenager in me, singing that Rage Against The Machine song about not doing what people tell you to. A key factor when someone hires me is that they see my work first. I want them to know what I do and what they are going to get. It may be different from what they have in mind, so it’s better to talk about it.
KL: It’s a really tough choice to go freelance in photography at the moment. How much do you think living in Beijing influenced your decision to do it?
AF: I think it wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t come here. I’ve been doing photography for years but I’ve only started doing it professionally since I moved here. It’s hard to say if it’s Beijing specifically or if it’s because it’s a capital city because I’ve never lived in a capital city before. Maybe if I’d grown up in Paris I would also feel that there were similar opportunities. You know you talk with a guy in a bar and he ends up being the editor of a magazine. In a smaller city these things never happen, or it’s only a small local paper. In Beijing, I feel people are willing to give you a chance and it’s up to you to make the best of it. If you’re good enough they’re going to hire you again. If you’re not they won’t but at least you get the chance. It’s also, because people here are pretty accessible, it’s not too difficult to chat with them, at least in the music and the media scene. That’s something cool and I haven’t really experienced that elsewhere.
KL: Give me a bit of a timeline. How did that work for you from starting off going in taking shots and gradually getting to a position where people were offering you money?
AF: What helped a lot at the time was Weibo but now it seems a bit dead. That was a huge push because you’d go to a show and tag the band and put it on Weibo and the band would like them and repost them and then the fans of the band would see them and suddenly you’d get a lot of followers. Once I got on Weibo and started using it, I really felt a big difference. People didn’t know my name but they knew my pseudonym, Foukographer, and they started saying, “Oh you’re that guy, I like your pictures.” Then some Chinese magazines would need a picture of that show and someone would recommend me, it was all by word of mouth. I’ve done some interesting work for some French magazines and newspapers and it all originated from one lucky encounter, a French journalist I’d met at Yugong Yishan. Months later he needed a photographer for a gig on the Beijing scene and he remembered me. This is the absolute truth about this kind of work, you don’t get to a place because you’re the best- you get there because you’ve created the opportunity. Some people say it’s only luck but it’s not, you’ve got to be out there to get these opportunities - If you’re depressed at home staying in front of your computer you’re not going to get it – even though of course, luck is part of the equation.
KL: As far as your artistic temperament and the art you do what is the pure art photography of Aurelien Foucault? If you had complete freedom to create something what would it be?
AF: I like mixed media, using collage, photography and paint. Things that feel more physical than photography. It’s so good to get your hands dirty, so much more cathartic than photography. In terms of art photography, I like to shoot nudes and portraits. There’s a project that’s a bit on standby now but that I still want to complete, an interactive-exhibition dealing with the female body and memory. But for that, I need to find more volunteers models, which is not easy to find here.
KL: Do you think Beijing giving you opportunities for your work has also had an aesthetic impact on the art photography you do?
AF: Well, I guess it’s more the spirit of Beijing that’s had an impact on me, not so much aesthetically. So far I haven’t dedicated much time to my artistic work, most of my exhibitions were documentary photography, except for a fun collective exhibition organised by Dann Gaymer of Aweh TV/Gui Gui Sui Sui.
But recently, I had the honour of working with Parkview Green, the big mall in Fangcaodi. The owner of the place is a patron of the arts, he has one of the largest collections of Dali sculptures in the world. They had a book project and they contacted me to create some artworks. The material had to be based on their shopping mall but I had absolute freedom. This really was fantastic, that gave me a motivation to reconnect with my creativity. The book just came out and I hope to have more opportunities to create artworks rather than just taking pictures.
KL: Are there any bands you have a relationship with or who you’d like to work with?
AF: In the four years I’ve been doing this there are a few bands I’ve built a big archive of like Nova Heart, Residence A, Djang San, so these people are friends and people I’ve been taking pictures of for a long time so it’s interesting to see how they’ve changed from having long hair to short hair and things like this. I would love to collaborate with a band on a whole album, from documenting their time in the practice room and the recording studio, to shooting some of the shows and also creating the artwork for the album and promo material. That would be really cool.
KL: Do you have an archive that the world needs to see? How long have you been here?
AF: I haven’t been here long -only came here in the end of 2011-but your question brings me to the one project I’m working on now! With Dino Zarafonitis, a fellow photographer based in Hong Kong, we are building a website called Music Photography Archives. We are going to use that as an outlet to publish all these archives that we have. So basically we are both shooting the local scene and we are now uploading some content before going public so we can have a place to share all these pictures with the world. That’s going to take a long time because there is a lot to upload but it finally gives a certain purpose to the whole thing. We are aiming at MAY 1st for the launch!
Aurélien was born in 1979 in France and has lived in Sweden, Italy, Scotland, Hellas and Russia before settling down in Beijing. His photography work has been published internationally and his short-documentary film “Of shadows and men” was selected in film festivals around the world. His body of work is varied and ranges from documentary style to fine art and commercial photography.
Find more at www.foukography.com