The Art Of Picture Taking
In conversation with filmmaker Catherine Dauphin
AT THE TIME of its inception, photography was considered less a fine art and more a scientific method of reproduction. But anyone who has dabbled in the craft will argue otherwise; that there consists a very specific artistry in the photographic medium. We spoke with 26-year-old, self-taught filmmaker Catherine Dauphin, who is based in Luxembourg, about moving images, still images, animating life and her short film The Art of Picture Taking.
Q + A
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got into filmmaking?
I always wanted to be a writer but after finishing my academic literary studies in Paris, I found myself attracted to photography. I think it was the immediacy of the medium and the direct contact with reality that lured me in. This naturally led to filmmaking.
What genre of filmmaking interests you the most and why? Do you work with any other artistic medium?
It’s hard to name only one genre. But I’m not much interested in social realism or, on the other side of the scope, major entertainment, be it comedy or action. These two types tend to dominate the screens today and I feel like none of them express the kind of reality I’m interested in. I like filmmaking that infuses some magic to its story, Wes Anderson and Jacques Demy movies for example. But I also like naturalistic dramatic comedies, mumblecore, low-budget films by the Duplass Brothers, Lena Dunham, Noah Baumbach. Other than filmmaking, I’m getting back into writing and I’m starting to act too.
Do you take the same naturalistic, or mumblecore-style, approach to your writing and acting as well?
Writing is low-budget by nature! You can write alone, for free and the possibilities are endless. You don’t have to restrain your story because of financial or practical matters. So when I write, I find that I’m more attracted to surrealist genres. But in the approach, it remains spontaneous and naturalistic. It’s about reality, just a slightly different one, a kind of magical realism. But the only writing of mine that has been published is a biography of French photographer Pierre de Vallombreuse, called Y a-t-il la lune chez toi? So there is still a long way for me to go if I want to be a writer. Today I’ve found that it’s nearly impossible to make a living out of writing and if you’re a nobody, even just getting published is hopeless. Perhaps I’ll make a mumblecore documentary about the endeavors of young writers in modern society — it’s a good subject for me. As for acting, yes, I would say it’s the same kind of approach. I like improvisation and working with non-professional actors. But I’ve only started recently, so I can understand and direct actors better in my films.
A lot of artists still struggle with their creative process in terms of what comes first — the imagery or the concept. Can you describe your creative process for us? Which comes first for you?
Usually it’s a feeling or an atmosphere I want to express and I try to build a story around that. So I don’t remember if it’s the image or the idea first. But I like to have a free process and to discover things as I go along.
You use the word “discover” to describe your creative process and your short film “The Art of Picture Taking” features a protagonist that you’ve described as “a wandering young man.” The idea of the “wanderer” is quite a prominent one in the image-making world. How much of your own image making is done through wandering?
Yes, most of it has to do with wandering and I like to film when I travel because the places are still new and untouched for the eyes. That’s what happened when I shot The Art Of Picture Taking in Seoul, I was only there for a few months. Often I will see a place I like and then I’ll plan to come back to it, or even write a scene that could take place in that location so I can film there.
We noticed the “wandering young man” in the short film is using a Lomo LC-A+! Have you used LC-A+ yourself? Do you have a favorite Lomography product?
Yes, it was my own Lomo camera! It’s my favorite product too. I think it’s a great camera, a classic and it’s brought me a lot of joy. Unfortunately I’ve lost it a year ago in Paris. Perhaps someone else found it and is happy with it now.. Also, I’ve never tried it, but I’m very intrigued by the LomoKino.
The LomoKino has a very unique photographic point of view on cinematics. And undoubtedly, there have been films with a photographic quality and photographs with a cinematic quality. What is your take on the interwoven nature of still and moving images? Do you apply photographic concepts and theories in your image making?
Film can do things that photography can’t do and the opposite is just as true. I’ve never really thought of this but I guess I enjoy street photography a lot, seeing people caught unaware in their everyday life, minute details that reveal themselves in the photographic instant, and there is no staging in this kind of photography, just the framing. But somehow “ordinary” reality can be even more dramatic. And when you have no money to make a film, it’s empowering to think this way, to realize that you don’t need an expensive set to make a good movie because there’s already a lot of dramatic potential out there.
Just go and make your art.
Indeed, this way of thinking is quite an empowering one — not allowing your creativity to dwindle due to lack of a blockbuster budget is certainly sage advice! Do you have any other advice for young and eager filmmakers and photographers out there?
Don’t listen to anyone. Just go and make your art.
What are some projects that we can expect in the near future?
I’ve just finished two short documentaries, one called Who is Albert Fallen?, following friends of mine who have an electro band in Paris and are trying to make it. The other is called Memory, about an ex-factory-worker in Luxembourg who comes back to see the steel factory he worked at for 40 years that has now been turned into a creative hub. Other than that, I’m writing a play and I’m working on my first feature film!
And last but not least, we’d love to hear where you draw your inspiration from! Are there any artists whom inspire you in your filmmaking practice?
Right now I love Patti Smith, Agnès Varda and Miranda July. I’ve spent almost a decade being taught about male artists, I’m trying to make up for lost time.