Interview With Antoine Piron

Meet Antoine Piron. Photographer, musician and visual poet.

You have described some of your work on Art Pharmacy’s online gallery as similar to ‘environmental haikus: telling poetry with a few tangible elements’. Can you tell us a bit more about this idea?
Music is a very abstract thing for me and can be confusing after composing for several years. Photography is my way to get to simple concepts. It's my way to manipulate ideas. David Lynch (American film-director and musician) once said, “Ideas are like fish”. He is quite right, but he forgets to say that fish are incredibly sloppy and hard to catch! Square pictures, concrete subjects and simple associations are my way to re-appropriate [the process of] creation. You can see it as a twisted way of Zen, or like a game of cubes for children. Both are probably true.
I like the idea and the shape of Haiku poems with their minimalist, three-part structure, even if I really can't compare myself to Japanese poets. Haiku is a perfect creative concept to model other work on. When I'm lost, I stick to that shape. I hope Japanese poets don't mind.

How did you begin making visual art, after starting out as a musician?
After a few years of composing in a rap band, I realised that I'd never really developed my own [creative] universe, and that it was craving existence. Said like this it sounds very simple, but the journey was actually long, twisted and a bit painful. I lost a few people along the way, including my first band, Psykick Lyrikah.
During that time, I was quite lost and I needed to come back to my own basics. When I was a teenager, I used to draw a lot, so I came back to that for a while with India ink, black Posca markers and water. As a teenager, I also listened to all kinds of music, including hip-hop, cold wave and industrial that my brother and sister gave to me.
When I wanted something new, came to the Holga. I loved that camera, because you really can't fail with it; sometimes it even feels like the opposite. I think getting a camera so cheap allows you to focus on your own ideas and never forget them amongst technical considerations. For me, ideas are actually the core of photography. All the technical details come after.
What is the first piece of art you remember making?
Even creating stuff from noodles at school can be important. I believe that you discover many important things on your own. Still, the very first piece of art I made was a gift for my parents. I mixed up everything I had on my table. There was thick, red Chinese ink used for stamping, India ink, watercolours, and various small objects that I attached with tape onto Chinese paper.

What is something that people are often surprised to discover about your art?
I don't have a lot of contact with my audience, because I don't play live. Nevertheless, they're very dedicated and I must thank them for that. So, I don't really know about the surprises people have when they discover what I do. I'm a shy guy and kind of an observer. I prefer to watch and learn most of the time. I guess that people think they know me, and suddenly they get all those cryptic photos and pieces of music. Perhaps that could be a little confusing.

You take a lot of photos of the natural world (beaches, forests, wild animals). What draws you to these subjects?
I explored the urban environment a lot through music- hip hop mostly. I'm really fascinated by it, and can even say that Lucien Hervé is one of my most important photographic influences.  It used to be a social [activism] thing: I wanted to show decaying cities in Europe. But it became something more architectural. I'm still really into urban environments, but I'm not learning or discovering anything any more. Not that there isn't anything to discover, but I'm not seeing it [in the same way] any more.
That's why I tent to shoot subjects that I've never really explored: small towns, landscapes, empty spaces. I have always lived in big cities. I don't know anything about the countryside or nature, and I think there is a lot to say. As with all complex concepts, it's easier for me to tell things through art, rather than actually talking about it. I guess that's why people express themselves through art in the first place.

Last month you released a couple of tracks on the label Cooler than Cucumbers Records that are based on your photographs. Which qualities in your chosen photos made them good images for expression through music?
I didn't want to lose people in this experiment of mine, so I chose the simplest pictures I had. There was only one rule that Tiago (the owner of Cooler Than Cucumbers Records) wanted me to follow: the final result should have a postcard feeling. I browsed in my picture collection and used two photos taken in well-known tourist destinations, with a Lubitel camera. One is in Paris and the other is in New York.

When writing music based on one of your photographs, how do you find the sounds within the image?
It is about simplicity in the composition of the pictures. I want something people can easily lose themselves in, that is also simple enough to compose with. I don't want to dictate anything to my audience. I want them to be free in a universe they can identify with; so simple subjects are necessary to respect that. A giant bubble in a room, or a shadow between two buildings is universal enough for people to link with their own inner worlds. From there, I try to re-compose what I remember of old TV shows like The Prisoner or Twin Peaks. Again, I draw on things I think are universal (even if they may not be).

What is the most inspiring place you’ve ever been to?
Without any hesitation: Les Monts d'Arrée, in the North of Brittany, France. The climate creates a constant fog and there is an abandoned church in the middle of the town. From there come all the local legends, especially those about the local figure of death, ‘L'Ankou’. This is really an important place for me. It’s the kind of place that creates nightmares and dreams. That place is a like a bridge. Most of all, it creates those cryptic messages that your brain sends you when you sleep, which are both a dream and a nightmare. We should always listen to them. There are several places like this in the world that you remember forever, and that generate those dreams. The others I can think of are Edinburgh, Scotland, Marley Beach in the Royal National Park, Australia and New York City. There are others in France, but this one in Brittany is in my own inner circle.

If you were to collaborate with another artist (or artists) on an artwork, what would your dream project be?
I have to say, I have already realised a dream by working with Grantby, an English artist, and friend of mine. We make fantastic pieces of music using old soundtracks, vinyl oddities and break-beats. As a teenager, I listened to his music on Mo Wax's compilation ‘Headz 2’.
Of course, I have a lot of other dreams to create in both music and photography.
For instance, I'm fascinated  with the form of the female body, but I don't think I'm experienced enough as a photographer to shoot it as I would like. It is something I am experimenting with anyway.

I would also like to help create music for a video game. Actually, this is where the idea for my latest album, Music for Video Games, comes from.

View and buy more of Antoine's work here