On July 1st, 2013 begins the Rencontres d’Arles 2013, the international, annual and major event for all the photography lovers. In preview, Alain Willaume, member photographer of Tendance Floue agency, agreed to share with La croisée des routes his portfolio Echoes of Dust and Fracturing which will be exhibited in Arles (France) this summer.
« As part of the Transition, Social Landscape project, Alain Willaume was invited to consider the implications of an impending programme of fracking by the Shell Company in the semi-arid Karoo area of South Africa.
In response to an uncertain future he has conjured an evanescent metaphor for a haunted territory and for the suspicions and fears of the inhabitants he met randomly on the dirt roads. The pictures – whose rich mid-tones are, consciously, neither black or white – suggest the environmental threat of this burning issue, but in doing so they also preserve the infinite grace of this landscape, the fate of which is now held in abeyance. » (Translation : David Chandler)
Transition, Social Landscape is a rare collaborative photographic project carried out by French and South African photographers and focusing on the territory of South Africa. The project brings together works by six South African photographers (Santu Mofokeng, Pieter Hugo, Zanele Muholi, Cedric Nunn, Jo Ractliffe, Thabiso Sekgala) and six French photographers (Patrick Tourneboeuf, Alain Willaume, Raphaël Dallaporta, Harry Gruyaert [a Belgian living in France], Philippe Chancel, Thibaut Cuisset).
Event organised as part of the Seasons South Africa – France 2012 & 2013
Exhibition co-produced by the Rencontres d’Arles and the Market Photo Workshop.
Exhibition catalogue published by Éditions Xavier Barral.
Interview with Patricia Hayes, skype
Paris/Cape Town, 6 January 2013
(An excerpt from the exhibition catalogue published by Éditions Xavier Barral.)
Alain Willaume : I like to unsettle it, open it to other worlds, introduce doubt, evoke.
When this journey into the desert was first announced, ecological problems and dreams of astronomy seemed to me to be promising ingredients for a scenario. But at the end of the first day, around four hundred kilometers later, the results were not brilliant. All I had done was drive and all I’d seen was a magnificent sky, fences, electric pylons, herds of sheep and a few windmills, nothing to do with the subject I’d been assigned!
The winter sun was dropping towards the horizon. It was 4.28 pm. An icy wind was blowing between the flat-topped mountains. In the distance, a bakkie was following a track perpendicular to mine. In its wake, a plume of dust stood out against the sunlight. On the lookout for the slightest “visual event”, I started shooting. Then I saw nothing else until the overnight stop.
When I arrived at the Jupiter Guest House in Sutherland, I downloaded my memory card. On the very last set of pictures, behind a minute vehicle, a long plume of dust with a halo of light stretched from left to right of the composition of the picture. Suddenly I had a « flash » [laughter]: on the screen I was looking at a near-perfect metaphor for the threat that I wanted to communicate and that had no physical existence. I decided that this cloud was going to become the thread I would follow. It would be the perfect foreshadowing of this landscape living on borrowed time. I was back in my own world.
The way for my imagination to align with reality had taken shape. Everything was beginning to make sense: the wind, the dust, the huge space, the emptiness, the grace of the landscape. All I had to do was follow this cloud, the gas that escaped there, precisely below the light.
Patricia : It’s your medium.
AW : Yes, communicating through the horizon and some extra little things.
Patricia : In fact it’s a trace of some kind of movement that is not obvious in the photograph itself.
AW : Yes, suddenly it’s the air which carries the story.
Patricia : That’s wonderful.
AW : It borders on invisibility, and that is a substance I love to examine.
Patricia : It’s not giving any consequence or importance, and sometimes it’s also obscuring things. It’s a strange presence.
AW : Unlike so-called documentary photography, here the evocation of something invisible takes precedence over what is real. But I always try to bring them together through metaphor. Not the least beautiful part of this subject was, hidden amongst all the physical problems that were masking it, the sudden glimpse of the shadow of catastrophe. These evanescent clouds of dust suddenly became the incarnation of what it is that haunts this immaculate landscape. Like a wandering black hole, the unreal was sucking in the real.
Later on I learned that dust will be one of the first sources of pollution during shale gas exploitation in the Karoo. In fact, the amount of water (vast for this region) required for this technique will, amongst other things, need new tracks to be built to bring in the endless stream of tanker lorries to supply the construction and exploitation of boreholes. Both will cause real dust storms that will be a strain on the fragile ecosystem of a whole section of this region.