Nicolas Hosteing

Nicolas Hosteing, 27 years old, is a French photographer, native from Gond-Pontouvre, a small town in the suburbs of Angoulême (France).He studied Art History in Bordeaux and then photography at the University of Paris 8 in Paris, where he currently lives and works. We’ve been following his work over the last 3 years and published his book MATADOR in September 2012.

We are glad to present you his work process as well as his vision of art and photography throughout this interview.

Matador is made of 3 parts that can be entitled: landscapes, helmet still lives and stunts. It seems that they were shot during different time periods and locations?

Bikes were shot before the landscapes, and helmets last. But in the end I was shooting stunts and landscapes in the same period of time. Helmets is the only part shot in a studio in Paris, for the other pictures, most of them were shot in different places in the south west of France, some of them where shot around Nice and others in the suburbs of Paris.

Each photographer or artist has a different work method, what’s yours?

The basis of my work is the interest for the idea of vanity, of what remains and what goes and what can possibly pass from the individual to civilization. I cross those questions with the traditional kinds of representation such as still life, landscapes and more specific things like the documentary aspect of photography. Then, I create pictures and organize the relations between them. This is why the idea of the work as one set matters a lot. That’s basically the general structure.

Can you explain how you build this body of work?

For Matador I wanted to work on the kind of myth that exists around the idea of the road as relayed by the cinema (let’s mention here as examples Duel by Spielberg, Mad Max by Miller, or Vanishing Point by Sarafian). From that general idea I collected different things: images of all kinds (paintings, photographs, film stills), quotes, objects… I started to become interested in the flowers that mark the places where people have died on the border of a road and to go to all kinds of motor-freak meetings. Here came the stunts. Shooting those pictures, I met a lot of bikers, spotted a lot of places and at the same time did a lot of snapshots. I started building the body of the series by hanging on one wall reference images and snapshots from scouted locations and on another wall images I was shooting for the Matador series.

I was playing around with these cheap prints, trying different image sizes and finding different relations between them. This building process, which implies considering the work as a set, resulted in Matador. It took more or less five years.

Do you consider this work as a series, if yes is this series finished, or would you consider adding some other parts to it?

Yes, it is a series and it’s finished. I made other works around the same topic for the number 41 of the online revue but they were made for that special occasion separately from Matador.

Was the idea of making a book something you had in mind for Matador? What is for you the perfect way of showing your pictures?

As I explained, the way of building the body of my work was to hang pictures on the wall. I was seeing it as an installation but not exclusively. I used this idea as a tool to build the series as a set. In the end the fact that photography offers many ways to broadcast is something that interests me a lot and books are obviously something I have in mind too. Moreover, I am very happy with the book!

For me, your images and especially the landscapes have a typical French feeling, was it something you wanted to convey?

Yes! Even if I’m not attached to the precise location of the work, it was important to have some elements that would give an idea of the location and the period of time in which it took place. This is another way to build links between images from the body of work and images the spectators have in mind. I’m very concerned by those links. You will be able to link things in different ways depending if, for example, you have in mind bike races, 70′s movies, French rap video clips from the 90′s or romantic painting.

The landscapes seem unspectacular, empty places between suburbs and country side, can you tell us more about those places, were you there on “non sunny” Sundays?

Earthworks due to roads modified all those landscapes. I just removed the road by the way I framed them. I saw a lot of very similar earthworks in the suburbs, the parking lots or the commercial area where I shot the stunts and I started to think of them as independent images. They were like a “décor”; something made to look like something it’s not. They always have something that reveals they’re not all natural: sometimes it’s a line too straight or a strange relief. I am interested in them for two reasons: they present an ambiguous relationship between waste and built-land and their topography and land shapes are fully mastered for a specific purpose, to develop the flow of traffic.

At the same time, they can be useless and have no designated function like for example a garden, park, or sports field … but they are still the scene of something, things are happening.

Between “the city” or “the countryside” which one inspires you the most?

I grew up in a suburb of a small town, in those places there is no city and no countryside. A Nike Air covered with mud, this is what inspires me the most.

I know you lived a time in Bordeaux and I always felt that there was a rich artistic scene emerging in this city. What do you think of this?

“Everything’s dirtier in the south”.

In relation to the text by Julien Perez*, I am curious to know how important is cinema, or moving images for you?

Cinema is looking at the world through the same dispositive as photography but their possibilities of building our perception of it are different. Basically cinema uses stories and different narrative elements to dig into the meaning of things when photography takes an image in the flow of reality and turns it into something like an object. From that point, some elements from movie making like mounting, traveling or rhythm are really important in my work. On another point, I am also concerned by the cultural background cinema represents as a source for stereotypical images. I talked earlier about wanting a French feeling in the landscapes, but I also thought about Westerns. It’s interesting that an image can bring a feeling of closeness while also having elements of somewhere else. This kind of impression allows the images to be linked to others.

*The text by Julien Perez comes has a pamphlet inserted in MATADOR book.

Is that why Matador has its own narrative story?

It’s not the purpose but there is still that title and some explicit images. When you have images then a story is always possible I guess; maybe more under the form of a fictional interpretation than a proper narrative or dramatic story.

What would be the sound of smoke?


How do you consider words or texts regarding photography?

To me photography is a propellant and text, when it’s linked to it, has to light the wick. I don’t like it much when the text talks properly of the pictures, when it’s a comment on them or when images are illustrating it. A text that goes with a photographic work has to take the same direction without facing or digging it.

You told me that you are working on a new series about hydroponics agriculture; could you tell us more about it?

For a while I worked on a set that I’ve called still life. Some parts of it are images about hydroponic culture and also a few landscapes. It is almost finished and an extract will eventually be presented in a small show in a few months. As it’s not all set for the moment I prefer not to tell much more about it.

Your series Hauka is about fashion counterfeits, what is your relation to fashion and what do you want to reveal through this series?

Hauka is a reference to the documentary The Mad Master by Jean Rouch. It takes place in Ghana which was an English colony in the middle of the 50′s and talks about the sects of the Haukas. During the rites of that sect, the members embody via trances figures from the colony such as the captain’s wife, the train driver or the governor. What amazed me at first in those counterfeits was the contrast between the obviously cheap quality of the scarves and shawls and the luxury brand names on it. This contrast turns the objects into some kind of strange totem. They show the fascination that people have for the idea of glamour, prestige, and exclusivity which is linked to the brand names by a strong long-term work on image. Those elements also mean economic power. So those counterfeit scarves and shawls are a desperate cheap projection in that world, the sign of somebody wanting to be someone else through the rules of another world: a big fiction. The link I’m making between the Haukas and my totemical counterfeits is the strange way to belong to a circle you’re out of anyway. It’s not really about fashion but more about luxury and the social and economic success each sign represents. I must say I am fascinated by the magnetic power of those signs.

Something to add?

I already have some pictures of hydroponics culture but for strange reasons not every home-gardener is okay to let me shoot their installation; I need 2 or 3 more. If somebody who reads this has an idea to help me find those 2 or 3 missing locker-gardens: don’t hesitate to contact me. And nothing in the pictures will be identifying; I swear.

Conversation with Nicolas Hosteing, Paris, March 2012.