Next in our series of conversations with Reportage Emerging Talent photographers, we talk to Antoine Bruy. Antoine is a French photographer and graduate of the Vevey School of Photography in Switzerland. His main areas of focus in his work are human intimacy and the relationship between physical environments and the economic and intellectual conditions that determine them. Bruy currently lives in Lille, France.
Getty Images: For your essay, ‘Scrublands,’ you traveled to a number of European mountain ranges to document people who live off-the-grid, so to speak. What inspired your interest in this subject? And what is the most common reason your subjects gave for adopting this lifestyle?
Antoine Bruy: When I was nineteen, I traveled in France by hitchhiking and by accident, I discovered the rural life in my own country. I didn’t know that kind of lifestyle existed before, and I got curious to know more about it.
A couple of years later, I spent one year in Australia where I discovered the WWOOF network (World Wide Opportunities in Organic Farms), which was the perfect way for me to meet farmers all around the globe, to live with them and learn about how to live in the countryside.
In 2010, I finally decided to use this network as a tool to make this body of work. I carefully selected the places I wanted to go to and once I was there; I spent a long time with the people in the places I visited. It allowed me to understand the place, the way it worked, and to get to know the people I was living with. This way of working creates an atmosphere of trust, and it gave me the opportunity to create intimate photographs.
In talking to the people I photographed, a general skepticism about the usefulness of our western societies would surely bubble up to the surface. Also, a refusal of consumption-based lifestyles, wage systems, the exploitation of natural resources, or, for the most politically engaged, a global criticism of how liberal democracies function, are indeed wide-spread beliefs among them. Still, these beliefs, as well as the triggering factors that led them to make such radical lifestyle choices, differ from one community to another. Some came to a kind of point-of-no-return, simply exhausted and firmly convinced dignity could not be achieved in our societies. Others encountered hard times, such as bankruptcy, and saw in this project an opportunity to try something else.
To what extent has the most recent economic crisis inspired your subjects to live how they do?
Most of the people I photographed have been living this way for decades. The crisis just convinced them once again that they made the right choice.
You live in Lille, which is at the center of France’s fourth-largest metropolitan area. In your city-dwelling life, have you picked up any habits from the people you’ve photographed for ‘Scrublands’ ?
Not really. It’s hard to keep any habits you had when you were living in the countryside once you’re back in the city.
When did you first take an interest in photography, and which photographers, both French and foreign, have been your biggest inspirations?
I decided to attend an art school in Belgium when I was a teenager, but I didn’t know anything about drawing or painting. Finally, I chose photography, thinking there was nothing more to it, other than pushing a button. I realized soon enough that it was a little more complicated than that and got addicted to it. I was eager to find something meaningful in what I was doing, and photography became a bridge between myself and the world out there. It’s the greatest excuse I could ever have to explore new things in life without anyone telling me what’s right or wrong.
My biggest inspirations are Vanessa Winship, Stephen Shore, Pieter Hugo, Jocelyn Lee, Walker Evans, Bruce Davidson, Jim Goldberg, Alec Soth, Amy Stein, Larry Sultan, Lars Tunbjörk, Jouko Lethola, Mitch Epstein, Nadav Kander, Paul Graham, Rineke Dijkstra, Eric Baudelaire, Roger Ballen, Joachim Eskildsen, Dana Lixenberg, Paul Kooiker, Rob Hornstra, Mikhael Subotzky, Claudine Doury, Gert Jochems, David Chancelor, Richard Renaldi, Joachim Brohm and it goes on.
What would you say are the most common themes you’ve explored in your work?
The main themes I explore are the different kinds of isolation people can endure in our modern societies.
Tell us about an upcoming project you’re working on.
Hopefully I’ll start a new project next year, which will take place in Australia.