Self Portrait by Xavier Murillon

Interview with Xavier Murillon, French photographer quarantined  in Paris. 

So tell me a bit about your background.  How long you have been photographing and what is your inspiration?

I grew up until the age of 9 in a suburb of Lyon called Ecully, in France. At 9 years old my family moved to Germany and I was placed in an international school for me to be able to integrate a bit more easily. I think these three years really forged my perception of the world, most importantly how we interact with people and I was exposed to many different backgrounds and stories from an early age which fascinated me. 

I have always been a very curious person, I have sought out many ways to express myself, either in the arts, with drawing, painting, singing, dancing, many different instruments, photography and acting, which later on became a career choice for me. All of these activities really nourish my creativity and give me different perspectives on how to interpret my life and the life of others. 

Regarding photography, I have been photographing on a regular basis since the age of 16 (I’m 23 now so around 7 years), and professionally since almost two and learned on my own and with the help of internet resources. I have been studying dramatic arts since about the same age, I feel like it is important to say because my photographic work is centered around people and stories. I shoot mainly portraits, I also worked with self portraiture a lot and the work I submitted is part of that. I feel very inspired by the people around me, the ones I see or talk to almost every day. Actors know how to tell a good story which is a plus when you are looking for inspiration! I think my work is very aesthetically grounded. I work very visually and am very visually stimulated so I always start with somewhat of an image in my mind of what I want the photo to look like. But the process of working towards the final product is very feeling oriented, how it feels in the moment and how the images I am working with resonate with me emotionally. 

The quarantine imposed in many countries making the photographers challenging the way the work, but also the way they look at their models under these unique circumstances. How did you find it yourself? 

With this particular shoot I knew I wanted to have a lot of red, it’s a very emotive color and everyone has a distinct relationship to it. I also wanted to challenge myself technically and chose to work with multiple exposure as a constraint. The theme of religion was not present initially, but as I started to experiment, it became more and more present, particularly Christianity. I think visually it imposed itself in the work, and so I decided to embrace it and push it in that direction as well. There are various painterly aspects to the photographs which are reminiscent of the renaissance where christianity was a very big influence on the arts. The red of the backdrop, the color of the skintones… The fact that it is a self portrait also plays with my self perception, and how others perceive me. I always include something in that regard in my work as to me that’s everyone’s war really : finding a way to be happy with how you view yourself and how others view you, and how it can change from instant to instant. And photography is an instant medium (or almost instant) and I think it works very well with this theme. I think in this case religion was a means of working towards that goal rather than the intent itself, as it is not a theme I work with very often. 

The quarantine imposed in France definitely made me challenge the way I view my work as a photographer, but I was already used to taking self portraits so I think it reinforced that rather than impose something new, which was very reassuring. For these photos I did not have another model other than myself which is a benefit and a downside. It means I have a direct understanding as a model of what the photographer wants, but it also means I am forced to play only one role at a time which is not the most efficient and most creative way of taking photographs for me.

How you finding generally the isolation? Did it supercharge your creativity, or as someone who works with people, and many times outside, did it make your work feeling more isolated, even dark?

I find it very draining from a creative perspective because I am very inspired by other people and movement and seeing different things, so being inside the same room for weeks at a time is definitely not stimulating, but I did try to use what I had available to their fullest potential which is a great skill to develop! I don’t think my work has become darker than usual, I try to use negative energy as a means to find solutions or different perspectives that could turn it into something meaningful, not necessarily happy, but that resonates with what I feel and possibly with others’ feelings as well. 

As looking at the pictures they make me feel very energized, I see a lot of movement in those ghost effect you mentioned. Was that difficult to achieve?

It’s interesting that you viewed those images as imbued with movement, as the process was very different! What I wanted to express was a feeling of togetherness even in isolation, having a presence with you at all times, that can be a duplicate of yourself. A presence that can help or protect or stand by or lift. I think to me that presence was more of a constant rather than something that fluctuates, that comes and goes, and that can be there especially when things are still and that you feel when you are most vulnerable such as in a small space.

Paris is generally a vibrant, busy city filled with artist and creative energy. What is the general vibe now amongst the artist community? How do they deal with this unique situation and what do you think the scene will look like when the quarantine is over? 

I think Paris and France as a whole is very worried about how everything will turn out regarding the arts. Every single artistic production has been stopped, theaters have closed, museums, cinemas as well, and creating has been a challenge for everyone. Especially young artists like myself who are struggling to create a path for themselves, have been slowed down very violently I feel, so the economic aspects of culture are very uncertain. We have a unique financial system in place to help artists create, that has been the target for reform many times and we are all scared it might disappear now, or be altered in a way that makes it less beneficial for artists. 

A lot of creativity has been pouring online however as we can still share that way, a lot of creatives have tried new mediums and are experimenting in ways they probably would not have before. It’s very hard to know what the french artistic scene will look like in a few months time or even a year from now. We all know that something will change however, but no one really knows how quite yet which is very exciting and terrifying. 

Words by Rita Tamas @rita_tamas_promotion

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