Briefly describe the work you do.
My work is based on the fact that photography allows us to change our temporal point of view on a subject by using different exposure time. With long exposure, I’ve the ability to show the constant metamorphosis of the human body. Creating a canon of beauty based not on the physical appearance of the person but on the energy they develop and the direction of this energy. It’s a work of balance that we do together to allow us to really show that a human body can become anything from a cape, to a bird if we allow him the time to be it. Even if some of these pictures look unreal, they are raw and totally unedited which is really important to me as I look towards making an honest representation of reality from a different temporal point of view that our eyes are not able to see.
Tell us about your background and how that has had an influence on your work and on you as an artist.
I do not have an artistic background, but a technical one in video editing and photography. After completing a degree in video and film editing, I started to work as a videographer and photographer mainly in Fashion until I switched and worked with a contemporary dance group in Europe. I think that knowing I worked in fashion is really important to understand my current work as it arrived in reaction to my difficulties of understanding what seems to be the canon of beauty pursued by the Fashion world. I started to feel an urge for honesty within my work that I could not really express in this field. It’s why I started to move towards art and into researching ways to transmit the content of a subject, his life and not only capture his exterior shape. I wanted to create a space of freedom within the photography and get away from the impression of freezing time, of creating artificial images that didn’t correspond at all with my concept of what a human being really is.
The concept of the artist studio has a broad range of meanings in contemporary practice. Artists may spend much of their time in the actual studio, or they may spend very little time in it. Tell us about your individual studio practice and how it differs from or is the same as traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
My studio for now and over the last year has been the beach because it allows me to work with the three main elements: solid, liquid and gas, which represent 3 different temporalities. I would even say that my studio only exists from the moment I set up my equipment to the moment I leave. Before and after it’s a space of inspiration but not automatically a space of work.
With the dancers we actually have a rhythm of work that sets up the space as much as the time frame around it. I have them start by improvising to see what are they able to do depending on their background, body limits but also on the day, then depending on the results of the improvisation I choreograph and direct the production towards the image I had planned to realize. When it’s done we finish by improvising on the theme of the choreography to allow me to see where we could have gone and where I can go during the next session as much as making the dancers move slowly out of the session. And this for me is “being in the studio”.
What roles do you find yourself playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
What I did not expect is the number of collaborations that I’d be doing now. Researching with other artists, collaborating on top of working on my own project. It’s something that I didn’t really think through in the start but it’s probably the most important part as we feed off of each other and help each other grow.
When do you find is the best time to make art? Do you set aside a specific time everyday or do you have to work whenever time allows?
For the photo session I respond really strongly to light and location, so for the production work everything is fixed in advance, the hours are mainly in the early mornings to get the sun at the right axis.
This can sometimes be extremely frustrating as I have an urge to create pictures but I’m not always able to do it. It’s why I started calming this frustration by starting to use new mediums such as painting and sculpting, even if my main medium will always be photography.
How has your work changed in the past five years? How is it the same?
I’m still an emerging artist, and five years ago I was only an assistant photographer. So a lot of my work has changed at many differing levels but mainly at the level of maturity. I went from being a technician at the service of other technicians, to being the one that serves the client, now I’m working to really express my own beliefs through my medium.
How have people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers, other artists or even pop icons had an impact on the work you do?
The first name that comes to mind for this question is Vera Tussing, a German choreographer based in Belgium that allowed me to go back into the field of art by hiring me for her research in England, that led to the show: The Palm Of Your Hand, that was presented this summer at the Edinburgh fringe festival together with her other work: T-Dance. This research was for me a revelation as I found out new ways to work with my medium that I’d never suspected before, it was also at this time that I was able to meet many of the dancers that I work with now.
The other person that has impacted my work is my fiancee, not directly in the pictures but by the travel that our relationship involved. I followed her to North America, England, then Spain which allowed me to constantly extend and enrich my knowledge and culture to other forms of art that have inspired my work now.
It is also probably no coincidence that I started my photographic project in the city of Barcelona, the city of Dali and Miro.
Have you ever been pulled in the direction of a pursuit other than being an artist? What are your other interests?
I’ve always been attracted by creating images, videos or photos. I started at 16 to take cinema classes, and from 14 to take pictures. But I for a while I was pulled in the direction of being more of a technician than an artist. Doing what needed to be done, having a fixed objective that would produce results. Making the image, the cliché that the audience wants to see and in a way has already been seen before. Whereas, now I feel more like I’m a researcher in reality, temporality and with the human body as my subject.
Born in Toulouse and growing up in Brive La Gaillarde, Benjamin Sommabere, discovered photography at 14 years old and was offered his first camera at 16. He has not put it down since. At 17 years while taking classes of cinematography, he started working as an assistant photographer with Fashion and portraitist photographers like Xavier Lambours. He continued working in Paris as an assistant until the end of his studies in video editing in Biarritz.
Then moved to British Columbia, Canada. In the city of Jeff Wall, he really began his career working for Vancouver Fashion week, first as fashion photographer, then as live stream director and executive producer. This experience led him to work with international designers as much in video as in photography.
While his career was developing as he was working as a corporate video producer and on diverse independent film shoots, he began to feel homesick and decided to return to Europe to feed on its art history. Here he continuously reflected on the image creation process and the responsibility of an image maker.
In Europe he encountered a German choreographer, Vera Tussing who introduced him to the field of contemporary dance. From here he joined her research project that led to her creation of The Palm of Your Hand which was presented at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
Moving to Barcelona, the city of Miró and Dali, meeting and working with many dancers with rich and wide artistic backgrounds, Benjamin started his artistic research prolonging his reflection on the representation of the body and the use of photography. Trying to free himself from a medium that he started to despise. He wanted to stop capturing subjects as objects, but instead to give a real freedom of expression to the subjects inside the photographs. This research entitled On The Shore Of Light led to a collaboration with the dancers of La Bolsa and the choreographer Thomas Hauert for their piece La Mesura Del Desordre and was exhibited for the first time in La Visiva, Barcelona, Spain in July 2015.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.