French (* 1971 )
First off, where are you from?
I was born in Paris in the early 70's. My childhood is essential to the understanding of my optimism and sense of adventure. I still cherish those early years of traveling to Alicante, London, Berlin, NYC, LA, and the south of France, and my work is often connected to those memories. The 80’s and the 90’s weren’t as exciting for me, except for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, my trip to Suede in 89, and the album Invisible Touch by Genesis. I wasn’t a good student in school and didn’t feel pressured to do well. I was much more interested in sports, art, and history. I discovered a real taste for knowledge later when I went to college. I studied Literature and cinema at the Sorbonne in Paris, specializing in script writing. My education was really more theoretical and literary, so I am fairly self-taught with photography
How did photography come to you?
I’ve always loved all kinds of images. When I was a kid, My brother Matthieu and I used to go to the Louvre after school. We loved 18th and 19th century paintings more than our homework. It was a bad habit that followed me throughout my studies, and I frequently visited places such as Paris’ Videotheque, where I discovered Nouvelle Vague. I also spent a lot of time wandering at the Pompidou center with Paul Klee, Kandinsky or Giacometti. At this time I was keen on major french magazines such as Création, City, Actuel and Les Inrockuptibles where I could discover a lot of good photography (which wasn’t as easy to find as it is today). Fine art photographers were mostly visible in magazines, advertising, and record covers. Conceptual photographers such as Jeff Wall or Sophie Calle were much more difficult to come across. My father had a special influence on my photography, too – he was pretty good at taking photos, and I included some of his family pictures from my childhood in my own work, just like I did with with other previously-made pictures. Actually, I came to photography in the 90's quite naturally, as I was surrounded by a complex mix of pictures giving me a special visual culture. Photography became the perfect synthesis; it was modest and spectacular at the same time.
We are currently standing in your Marais apartment in Paris. How long have you been living and working here?
I’ve been living here since the late 90's. I’ve always loved living spaces that look like working spaces. Shipping boxes, industrial furnitures, naked walls. Over time I’ve actually emptied my living space, giving it a more “Scandinavian” feel. I have teck furnitures, norway ceramics, and danish lamps. I recently aquired a cheap polish 1980's piano. I wanted it to be modest and simple like in the movie “Barbara.”
Your place is very simple, quite barren, almost austere. Is that crucial for the way you work or even for your personality ? More generally speaking, to work from home you need a lot of organization and will. Are you self disciplined?
Living in your own studio definitely requires a lot of organization and self discipline. Usually you don’t want to mix your personal and professional lives, but for me it’s different. I like to blend things…even in my own work, you will often find documentary and fiction mixed together. I’m not overly obsessed with organization. I often work on several projects at the same time, and that’s not easy to do. You need to be free to work on spontaneous commissions that consume a lot of time and concentration. This is why it’s so important to keep your spirits up. I would be lying if I told you there was no stress, solitude and anxiety about work sometimes. The best way for me to refocus is to take a break and do yoga, sports, and cook good meals. Then inspiration always comes back.
What is your typical working day ?
There is nothing typical about my working day. It’s all about my available energy at the moment. When I have a shoot, for Monocle or Liberation for example, I check my gear, check the route and then on the way to the shoot on my bike I start to think of it and mentally prepare myself for the work. When I get back home after the shoot, I let the pictures stand – almost like a cake mix – and take care of other business such as my other projects, my website, my agenda, preparing for future trips, etc. Most of the time I’ll work late into night, listening to France Culture radio station and taking short breaks to play the piano.
What is your typical hanging out day ?
Hanging around makes me feel guilty because there is absolutely always something to do. Actually when I hang out I never stop everything…I’m always busy doing something like working on a future book design, searching for iconography about a place I’m about to visit, reading a book again and again like Jean Francois Chevrier’s book about Jeff Wall, or allowing myself to get out for a coffee break with a friend…but I’m of a protestant background which makes me feel bad about doing absolutely nothing.
Your personal work is getting more and more attention every day. How do you manage to make the art world take an interest in your work? How do you draw their attention ?
I think it’s about everyone’s personality. Some people are very pushy and manage to draw attention, but eventually they end up with a bad reputation. Still, patience and politeness aren’t enough either. You need to be somewhere in between, but personally I think it’s all about timing. Be ready and contact the right person. Generally speaking, art dealers, gallery owner’s and photo editors aren’t robots. They’re more sensitive and instinctive than one might be led to believe. It’s essential to create a desire, kind of like dating. Build and maintain your relationship based on trust. In order to do that, I try to avoid too frequent newsletters and cold emails, I prefer to meet people in person. I’ve never planned anything actually. Although I started to make books with Brune Edition in Rouen and this is a good strategy to draw attention from more different people. My first book, Tropism, was a real success for that specific goal. I have 3 limited editions book projects with Brune Editions to come, and the next one is about Detroit city. Make sure you have the guts for it, and go engage your audience when you feel ready.
I found your website, thomas-humery.com, very interesting. I think the ‘all over’ way your pictures are displayed stands out like an artwork itself. Pictures are sequenced like on a gallery wall and we can choose our own pace when we watch them. The pictures seem to get hooked to each others to live. Also, through your website, I realized you are not showing your commercial work. You chose to give only a simple client list. I think it’s an essential issue for most photographers like me, who try to lead a personal, artistic “career” with their personal projects and a commercial one at the same time with commissioned works such as editorial or fashion stuff… Please tell us a little more about it.
I wanted my website to become a real space. This how the idea of virtual “walls”, larger than the screen, came to be. I think it’s a pretty uncommon display and it brings a new way of reading on every visit. The accumulation is there on purpose to create a kind of density, a mass effect that I like to force multiple visits to the website to see every detail. It also conveys a global vision based on the overall mood. I just love the encyclopaedia aesthetics with an inventory feeling. This way of displaying conveys a certain equality between the pictures and I leave the watcher the opportunity to build up his own hierarchy.
About the commercial work: of course there are connections, sometimes similitudes with the personal work, but I’m afraid that showing them would break the vision I want to build with the personal work, and it would be more confusing and sterile on the artistic point of view.
This is where a blog comes in handy…it’s much better for showing commissioned work and other photographs I don’t want to share on my website.
Any future projects you can share with CULT ?
I have a lot ! First, there is the book I previously mentioned. It’s a project I’m going to shoot in Detroit. I’m going to try to give a different vision about the city’s decay than the previous visions we already saw with other photography projects. It’s part of a residency funded by Revolve Detroit, an organization that brings together the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, local investors, and artists. The book will be released both in Detroit and Paris for Christmas. Then I ‘ll work on a personal exhibition in Galerie Nec in Paris in 2014 with the releaseof a new book I’ve been working on in Stockholm every 4 months since 2012. It will be pretty intense, but that’s why I love my job! To me, it doesn’t even feel like a job…it’s how I live.
Photos and interview by Alex Crétey Systermans, Paris, July 2013.