Let’s start with a small presentation who is jean manuel?
Father, married for nearly 30 years, photographer. We live in Paris, our daughter is the result of french-italian-portuguese cultures which is a richness. A man in his mid-fifties struggling to save his freedom.
When did you start taking pictures? Do you remember what it felt like?
Frustration, everything starts from frustration that’s an energy I like to deal with. Transforming negative into positive, playing upside-down games is a very photographic process. I bought my first camera when I was 17, I was convinced it was the perfect tool to seduce women… I’ve never stopped !
I don’t usually get into the specifics of the technique used, but your lith prints really impressed me, how did you approach this technique?
I didn’t study arts or photography, I don’t have any theoretical knowledge, any formal background, everything I do must be very practical, no concepts in my work. I take it as an advantage, I have no idea of the conventions in photography, I’m used to try and try again improving my knowledge. Few years ago I made a swap with a friend; she got a print, I got a box of chemical products. At that time I was -once again- out of money and had to handle with expired paper friends were throwing-out. Without any result using classic developer I tried Lith bottles from inside the box, that was the beginning. Since there I’ve practiced, tested hundreds of different papers and never stopped searching for old expired paper boxes.
The first images posted on Instagram -Paris lockdown- were shot with a large format camera -one again a swap- and paper instead of film inside the back holders. I saved few boxes of Kodabrom from a rubbish bin, properly developed with Lith results suit me.
Your works range a lot, some are very graphic, others enter the scene without frills, others are stolen shots. You seem to have a very spontaneous approach. How do you relate to the subjects you come into contact with?
I think there are two aspects in your question. First one is the subject: Usually, we photographers, consider subject what’s in front of the lense. I consider subject everyone in contact with the work. Every person who visits an exhibition, who opens a photographic book should be considered as a subject -in the sense of relation to an author/ity- for the photographer. Of course contact with these category is very different from the “conventional photographic subject”, both sides interest me. The second is spontaneous : Being spontaneous is a great advantage in photography, the question is how to be spontaneous in difficult territories -each one has its own boundaries-. Experience has convinced me time and empathy offer all the opportunities a photographer need. I can shoot a roll as soon as I go-out but I also can stay hours, days without taking a picture, just trying to erase my ideas, avoid my preconceptions. Being “part of” generates a mutual respect, once it’s clearly established, being spontaneous is logic. Creating conditions for being spontaneous is an important part of my personality. That explains why I’m used to street photography and why every exhibition I do is always different.
Personally, I don’t like the way street photography has taken a turn, too much focused on style exercises and captions, but I find in your work a lot of honesty and truth, Which authors have influenced you? If there are any.
Many persons have had a deep influence on the way I can see the world. Some are photographers, some not and it starts from my parents, my wife, my daughter, my friends. I can not give you a complete list but Curtis, Atget, Giacomelli, Arbus and some japanese photographers are strongly present on my bookcase. I still spend hours watching new works, trying to satisfy my visual and cultural curiosity; probably less than years ago. The older you become, more time becomes precious for your own work, your life. Actually there is a contradiction here : I have that deep curiosity for new and older works, meanwhile I put lots of energy trying to erase my knowledge just to be more naive, to go my own way without any influence. For the last years I have extended my research to a larger range of arts with a great interest in the works of J. Beuys, S. Polke, R. Heinecken for their creativity, M. Tichy, E. Schiele for the eroticism in their works… and of course W. Flusser, W. Benjamin, F. Nietzsche… Always duality : going into the richness of what has been done and trying to keep children eyes ! Once again there is a second aspect in your question : the way street photography has evolved. There is a lot to say about, we’ll reach the usual point of the decline in any process of democratization -H. Arendt developed that in her essay “The crisis of culture”-. As a practitioner I consider every tool -camera, internet, books, exhibitions…- which helps to facilitate the use of the eyes as an entrance door to the world of image, and then imagination. Imagination is essential in the understanding process - while working on quantum physics A. Einstein discovered we can not understand something if we can not build a mental image-. Our contemporary lives, standart educations, mass media’s don’t stimulate imagination. Stimulating imagination is a natural need for human being, the more we practice eyes education the more doors we can open. The more culture we learn, the more imagination we develop, the more solutions we’ll find to perform the world, our lives and lives of the ones after us.
Tell me about the time you laughed until you felt sick.
Last night, we were having dinner together and I had to translate into portuguese an italian expression, very good moment… Happens once a day !
A photo you’re particularly fond of? Show it to us.
This picture, the day my daughter was born. I put distance, aperture and speed on the Leica, my wife took this beautiful picture. I have thousands of pictures of my daughter printed, on my head, but this one is very special even if I didn’t shoot it.
Tell me an anecdote, something curious that happened while you were shooting.
When I bought my first camera, 17, I put a film inside. Then I brought the film to the photographer shop and came back next week. The price was very cheap, there were no photos, I didn’t snap properly the film. It happened few times, and one day the price became very high. The lady at the counter couldn’t understand why I was so happy to pay 20 times more than usual.
One or more obsessions. If you have any.
Women, freedom, beauty, curiosity, tolerance.
Thanks for the talk!
Thanks to you and all the people who spend few minutes reading this.
Thanks to you who have read this far!
If you want know some more about my photography and my books you can find me here: