Jim Naughten photographie l'histoire

Né en 1969 en Grande Bretagne, Jim Naughten étudie la peinture au Lancing College avant de s'intéresser à la photographie à l'université de Bournemouth. Son premier livre Conflict and Costume vient d'être publié aux éditions Merrell. Sa série Re-enactors sera exposée cette année à l'Imperial War Museum. (Interview en anglais.)

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Hereros © Jim Naughten

Jim Naughten speaks with Photographie.com about his Re-enactors and Hereros series, and about his approach to portrait photography. 

Photographie.com : How did you become a photographer ?

I started life as a painter, and then I picked up a camera at art college and that was that. I loved the process, from the cameras to the dark room.

Photographie.com : Your series Re-enactors tells the story of people who gather each year in Kent to transform into historical characters from the two world wars. How did this project start ?

I was looking for a big portrait project along the lines of Richard Avedon's 'American West', a series that I loved from college days. I wanted to make large format and very detailed prints to exhibit. As a child I built model tanks and soldiers, which was a very common thing for British boys to do. When I came across the Re enactors, I knew I had my project. It was as if all my childhood toys had come to life, and there was a great sense of familiarity when photographing them.

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Re-enactors © Jim Naughten

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Re-enactors © Jim Naughten

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Re-enactors © Jim Naughten

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Re-enactors © Jim Naughten

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Re-enactors © Jim Naughten

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Re-enactors © Jim Naughten

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Re-enactors © Jim Naughten

Photographie.com : Your other major project, Hereros, documents the identity of the Herero tribe of Namibia. 

After college I bought a motorbike in Cape Town and road around Southern Africa with my old Hasselblad, and I came across the Herero tribe then. I photographed them, and found myself mesmerised by Namibia and its people. I decided to return (something like 15 years later !) to photograph them with my upgraded skills and camera equipment as the story behind their costume is still quite unknown. The dresses were introduced at the beginning of the last century by the German settlers, and the military cloths come from the battles the Hereros had with the Germans. If a Herero killed a German he would take and wear the uniform. It's a paradox that these cloths became a symbol of their cultural identity.

I wanted the focus to be on the clothes, so the images are all full length. I went to Namibia for four months and worked everyday, travelling around to Herero villages and settlements, photographing at weddings, funerals and ceremonies.

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Hereros © Jim Naughten

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Hereros © Jim Naughten

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Hereros © Jim Naughten

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Hereros © Jim Naughten

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Hereros © Jim Naughten

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Hereros © Jim Naughten

Photographie.com : In your portraits, you often isolate the subject from their daily objects and environment. Why ?

Yes, I like to work with 'real' subjects, or at least with real people, rather than models. I tend to need a 'hook' or something that interests me, and then I will work out how to make the pictures. A lot of the work is done in the editing and post production though, so it's really a kind of documentary that I adapt to make my own images.

With both the Re-enactors and Hereros images, I want the focus to be on the sitters, so I use a kind of backdrop to isolate them, a roll of paper for the Re-enactors and a desert for the Hereros. It also allows the imagination to wander, and in the desert images so much of the history is unwritten and unknown. I think this is reflected somewhat.

Photographie.com : You published this year your first book called Conflict and Costume. What does this mean to you ?

It's a good feeling to have a book published. When a book or a good body of work are made, they are around forever (hopefully !)

Interview by Roxana Traista

10/07/2013