Interview of French Photographer Chris Garvi

Chris Garvi is a photographer based in Marseille, South of France. He studied English literature and civilization at the university. The streams and specifics of these subjects (poetry and history) manifest prominently in his images that weave stories and explore documentary in a visual narrative manner. By using a variety of photographic equipment, Chris has managed to evolve a diversified personal style visible in images taken from his following three projects, namely:

  • The strange summer of Mrs X (Black and white)
  • I will walk along the Huveaune
  • Marseille, Colors I sing

The images are inserted in the same order. Here’s our Q&A with Chris Garvi:

Please tell us about yourself:

I’m Chris Garvi. I’m an independent photographer working and living in Marseille, South of France.

Chris Garvi Photography (2) Chris Garvi Photography (3) Chris Garvi Photography (4) Chris Garvi Photography (5) Chris Garvi Photography (6)Tell us about your relationship with photography. What other forms of arts and expression do you practice?

I got seriously into photography after high school. I stumbled upon the photographs of the FSA (Farm Security Administration) photographers. I fell in love with “serious” photography right away!

These photographers opened the way to a brand new world and to many-many other photographers. From 1997 to about 2000 I only made photos of my friends or my everyday life. In 2000 I did my first long term project on a boxing club near the place where I lived at the time. I didn’t go to an art or photography school though. Instead I decided to study English literature and civilization at university…

I’m also a musician, singer songwriter. Music is an important part of my life but I tend to keep it for myself now to entirely concentrate on photography. But I play the guitar and sing almost every day.

Chris Garvi Photography (7) Chris Garvi Photography (8) Chris Garvi Photography (11)Your project “I will walk along the Huveaune” is very impressive but wouldn’t it be grand and more rewarding if you’d chosen a mighty river for eg. Loire or Rhone or Seine?

This is a very good question indeed. It’s funny you’re talking about the Rhône river because I started what would become “I will walk along the Huveaune” with a project along the Rhone river. But shortly after, I met this guy as I was working on another project near the Huveaune river. He told me that the town had this crazy plan to cover up the river from the spot it enters Marseille down to where it runs into the sea.

Chris Garvi Photography (10)Along the way up and down the Huveaune river, I started to gather up stories of how people used to swim and play in the river, and how they’d come along the banks every Sunday and have lunch with their families and friends, and how many fish one could find in the river and so on and so forth. But now, the river was so polluted, so unwelcoming, that nobody would ever think about spending recreational time in the river or even along the banks of it. And what I saw was crazy indeed. In many areas, the river is a trash, and even a landfill in some remote spots! I found everything in it : car pieces, supermarket carts, food, plastic, mattresses, desks, computers, chairs, dolls, dead animals, homeless shelters… But still, this is not what I wanted to show and even less to “denounce”. You know, I am not a protest photographer in any way whatsoever! So I did not try to photograph the river in a documentary style of language. You see I’m not trying to moralize or give answers to anything at all! I try to speak in a metaphoric or poetic way… leaving room for interpretations. Consciously, I made those photographs like they were chapters of a book more or less open to interpretations. That said, there’s one question I had in mind we could call a common thread: If they cover up the river, what is going to be remembered of it?

Chris Garvi Photography (13)So it absolutely made sense to me that I had to photograph this river. I ended up finding out something I could never have found in let’s say a bigger or mightier river like the Seine or the Rhône: you know it’s a tiny river but I thought: Ok, let’s see what this tiny river has got to say for all the rivers in the world. So I guess it soon became something much more universal… it’s like the tiny speaking for the giant.

Chris Garvi Photography (9)What are your methods or critical approaches of shooting? Do you work on a planned or spontaneous way?

Generally, as far as making photographs is concerned, I start my projects in a rather spontaneous way, leaving room for instinct and intuition. But the longer I spend on a project, the clearer is my language, my voice. It’s like a funnel. When I start a new project I need to try things out to see if they match whatever it is I have decided to express. Then, things get subtler and my photographs get more precise. You know it’s like any beginning I guess : when you start something there is a number of things you cannot predict : what you’re going to see, who you’re going to meet, how you are going to react and so on and so forth depends on the reality and the world outside. I mean you can plan everything as tight as you can but for me, it’s essential to leave room for surprise and improvisation and let my work evolve by itself at some points along the process. And as time passes by, the narrative aspect gets clearer and clearer. I know it because in all the projects I’ve made, I’ve taken less and less pictures as time went by until I didn’t have anything else to say…or shall I say to photograph.

Chris Garvi Photography (12)Your photography has a distinctive fine-art style. Did this style evolve on its own or did you attempt to master it with your efforts?

It keeps evolving. But it’s all very fragile… I never take things for granted. I do not aim at mastering a technique in particular or a style that I would be able to copy and paste from one photo to another. You know, I spend a lot of time studying photography books. I read them like I’d read novels, trying to assemble the pieces of the puzzle to make it one whole coherent thing and find the story, trying to identify the author’s point of view or what he/she has to tell me, how they’re telling it, why, etc. What I’m trying to say is that the content or the subject is much more important that the technique in itself. The content is served by the form if you see what I mean.

Chris Garvi Photography (14)Tell us about the equipment (camera and lenses) you mostly use. What is your workflow like and what are your views on editing and digital manipulation?

I only shoot film and in a variety of formats. I change camera according to the projects. For instance “I will walk along the Huveaune” was shot with a 6×7 medium format camera. For my street project on Marseille I use a Leica m6. I started a new project in May 2015 with a large format camera (4×5). I also use a Rolleiflex a lot (6×6)… I take photos every day. At the baker’s or a simple view out of my window, I need to practice every day…just like musicians practice partitions…

Chris Garvi Photography (15)Editing is the most important part of the job. It is a very long and a very difficult process. You have to be very careful about what you are willing to show. What is very important is to get some emotional distance I think. You have to get rid of what we call in French the “hors-champ”, the “off-camera” in order to be objective about your work. You know, just compare it to a poet or a writer. In the end, you’ll only read the words he/she chose to show. You’ll never see the drafts, the scrap books and stuff. Editing is a long process that can sometimes take years! In the end I show something like 0.1 % of my work.

Chris Garvi Photography (16)Tell us about your Marseille projects. Why does this city interest you a lot? Photographically speaking, where does the spirit of this city reside in?

The city is very complex, very hard to understand and therefore very tough to photograph. It has a very strong identity. I don’t know how to explain this but you could live 100 kilometers away from Marseille and still say you’re from Marseille when asked! It’s crazy! You know there’s not one spirit but dozens of spirits. Each area has its own identity, its own culture and customs. The city is like a puzzle you can spend a life time assembling…It is at the same time hard and sweet. It is a city that you either love or hate ! There’s hardly anything or anyone in-between. I love to walk and getting lost in the city. I spend hours wandering just following the light and my instinct. For me photography is about getting lost – both mentally or physically. Everyday I’m stunned by the light. I’m in love with the city and its inhabitants and I know people can smell it.

Chris Garvi Photography (17)What are your future plans/projects, ambitions, inspirations etc.?

I’m working on three long term projects. All my projects are thought, conceived, organized like they were books… So my true ambition is to be published but the path is long and narrow. You must hang-cliff very tight and believe in what you’re doing…

Please share your favorite stuff: photographers, quotes, films, books, music etc.

There are so many photographers I love. It goes from Walker Evans to Constantine Manos, Robert Frank and Stephen Shore, Joel Meyrowitz, Bernard Cantié, Gus Powell, Anders Petersen, Vanessa Winship, William Eggleston, Willy Ronis. I could make a very very long list of photographers that inspire me!

But if you asked me to pick up one and only one book I’d say “The Americans” by Robert Frank.

Chris Garvi Photography (18)Something to say to our readers or aspiring photographers:

I’d say this: listen to your heart, be true and honest, be humble. Imagine you had a treasure chest in which you hid your dearest photos. What kind of photos would they be? Go out and take them! You need to find your own voice and look for it in your inner self. Finally I’d say to get a minimum of culture. Photography is the easiest form of art one can practice. It is easy and this is why it is so difficult. Can you imagine a writer not reading other people’s books. Can you imagine an actor not watching other’s people movies? To have a photography culture helps you put things into perspective I think.

Chris Garvi : Website | Instagram

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