Photographer Dan Hermouet / Shooting Solitude and Muting White Noise
One can get a degree in capoeira dance. Or neuroscience. Or you can find yourself in a desert getting a greater degree in isolation and detachment from distractions, noises and voices of all the cities you’ve just visited, people you met and blood-sucking ideas that kept you awake for three days straight, or maybe five years in a row. It’s a degree that French photographer Dan Hermouet decided to choose at this point in his life. After travelling the world for seven times with big-music-names (just don’t pretend that Coldplay, Florence and The Machine or The XX rings no bell to you) and seeing it all, Dan has more than few ideas and also great shots of isolation and loneliness. You are welcome to shift through his world of solitude in Dan’s first personal photography exhibition at the French Institute in Vilnius.
text by RINGAILE PAPARTYTE
photos by Dan Hermouet and Mantas Valaitis (from the opening of the exhibition in Vilnius)
Dan, your exhibition was shown in Panevezys, Lithuania, earlier this year, and now it has come to Vilnius. You’ve been travelling the world in circles with your previous work behind the scenes in the music industry, so how does it feel to change from being a spectator to becoming the one whose work gets the attention?
I often find myself absorbed watching events unfold in front of my eyes. Stepping back to observe and waiting patiently is a characteristic trait for me. So being a spectator with a camera somehow feels quite natural. I certainly see the project “Shifting Solitude” as an entry point into a discussion around the subject. My aim is to connect the viewer with an image and let it resonate with them. Take, for instance, the photo, taken in Tokyo. The subject here is a feeling and emotion of detachment and isolation, but at the same time, it is also about attachment to places. I often see that no matter how hard we are being pushed or punished by our immediate environment we still somehow cling to it in search of identity, belonging and our place within this complex society.
I have to admit it's a rather peculiar feeling to have my work out in the open, but it's there for others to arrive at possible meanings and connections, because photography has no fixed meaning - it's for the audience to draw on their personal history to make sense of the clues they are offered.
Where does your passion for capturing solitude come from?
It’s definitely through my passion for photography that I saw the opportunity to shine the light on the growing issue of isolation. Solitude is a very interesting subject that everyone can relate to and it's a current phenomenon that I have observed for several years in cities across the world. We all come to face it at some stage in our life with varying degree of loneliness, but often don’t know how to recognize, handle or accept it.
I hope this body of work will allow the audience to explore their boundaries between solitude and loneliness… People see isolation and vulnerability where others see creative space and aesthetic meditation, and I find it fascinating, how personal a journey can be. So yes, I do think it’s important to understand and recognize the boundaries between loneliness and solitude and open up a further meditative discussion with yourself!
Is it possible the 8th time you travel around the world will be purely dedicated to photography?
It would, undoubtedly, be a very enticing prospect, one that I couldn’t decline! Given the opportunity, I would pack my bags immediately because travelling, for me, is a great source of inspiration and deeper understanding, so many unplanned discoveries. Sharing my wandering experience in a meaningful way is a significant part of the whole travelling process, for me.
Right now, my time is exclusively dedicated to photography and mid-19th-century photo techniques such as gum printing. It’s a particularly temperamental method! I am also immersed into two other exciting new photographic projects that should see the light in 2020. Very excited indeed!
A city and a desert – which one feels lonelier to you?
Paradoxically, moving into a city was often seen as a new start, with new possibilities, hopes and dreams. However, for most people, the reality and practicality of living in a metropolis make these aspirations less tangible. My personal choice would be to go to the desert to find a greater degree of isolation and detachment from the comfort and the distractions of modern life. In the long run, it’s an astonishing way to rediscover and find value in the little things in life. Despite the adversity, voluntary solitude gives you a unique opportunity to gain back the real sense of self-worth that so-called prosperity takes away from you. Delacroix, a fervent advocate for solitude, wrote extensively and elegantly on this subject 200 years ago and he has been a great inspiration for my work.
Tell us 3 benefits of solitude?
First of all, solitude, through the beauty of nature and inspiring locations, is an opportunity to take the time to reflect and think – a chance to accept yourself simply as you are. For me, being left alone with your thoughts while crossing lonely places gives rise to a multitude of personal questions on acceptance, identity, our origin, a sense of belonging, as well as the legacy and heritage we carry through our existence. It defines the meaning, significance and the role of our identity.
You also really benefit from solitude in a creative way by removing yourself from any distractions. Descartes, as well as Baudelaire, endorsed the idea of solitude to reinvigorate their work and thinking process. I think today, more than ever, we constantly get distracted by irrelevant or unsolicited notifications, emails, adverts, etc. Without realizing, this “white noise of the western world” makes us forget where our priorities lie and how to pursue them. But it’s not all doom and gloom! We can reconcile our inner self and creative desires through solitude. I personally went through a transformative experience with this project. While on a trip to California last summer, I felt free from the strictures of routine and the weight of responsibility was lifted. Guided by intuition and instinct, I found myself re-experiencing the joy of playing, discovering and learning like a child. And this feeling is certainly the most precious of them all.
Our monthly topic is dedicated to ‘Issues’, so what about the issues with being and feeling lonely?
Urban loneliness is crippling our society because society does not value friendship. We are living in unprecedented times, where the social construction of reality is becoming a hurdle for a clear understanding of all the roles we are expected to play. This is a heavy subject to unpick, but I’m totally convinced that the feeling of not being understood and socially cared for, is usually at the heart of loneliness. So then, despite the amount of buzz, connections and interactions available 24/7 within cities, for convenience we tend to shift in favour of digital connectivity, which detaches us even further from valuable and meaningful physical human interaction.
It’s obviously not my place to impose my thoughts on the issue of loneliness, but I am hoping that through photographs, this exhibition offers a place for people to connect and relate with the subject and accept to challenge their own perspective and perceptions of the issue.
The exhibition awaits every lonely soul or a bunch of friends at The French Institute (Didzioji str. 1, Vilnius) until the 3rd of October.