Across a daily 2 kms path to and from work, Jean-Christophe Polgár embraces the challenge and wonder of observation, of seeing thoughtfully through the familiar to what may be strange. On these short journeys Jean-Christophe finds the majority of his photographic subjects that begin his own artistic journey to know, as he says, “Art is Challenge.”
Please tell us about yourself, Jean-Christophe:
I chose the nickname of 'kiko the gnou' from the beginning to use on the Internet, as a personal joke. However, I use more and more my real name, Jean-Christophe Polgár, to avoid before becoming totally schizophrenic, as well for my viewers.
I was born and live in Paris, France. I work as an architect, but I'm also an IT manager and webmaster for an ONG (non-governmental agency). I did some work as accompanist pianist in classical music in the past, and occasionally work as artistic supervisor for a classical music records label. I'm interested in anything scientific and computer (some would call me a geek), as well as music, literature, etc. (some would call me an intello)
Other than having practiced photography with an old reflex camera in the past, photography disappeared from my life until last summer when I had enough time to play with my new iPhone and look at the different apps. So my first 'iphonoegraphies' were holiday shots. What I immediately liked was the fast and mobile creative power of the apps within the phone.
What are your favorite or most frequent subjects, if any?
At this moment, I don't have unfortunately the choice to choose my subjects. Ninety-nine percent of my photos are invariably taken on the same path from home to my job locations, by foot and subway. Always the same 2 kms! I tried to adapt to street and candid photography, which were totally new for me, and I enjoy it more and more, even if I'm yet a very poor street photographer. In this boundary, I think I'm really interested in the relation between the man and the city, its architecture, its hardness and violence. I realize I often come back to the question of loneliness in big cities. I also notice, after the fact, my obsession for walls. I often use to think our walls are sometimes more alive than the walking people in front of them.
But in a word, my favorite subjects to shoot are real subjects, what is not so obvious. This is perhaps basic, but I first try to have a subject when I shoot! This is really a vast question, but at last, I try to express an intention. I love cats, but 90% of cat photos are meaningless for me, because I'm only viewing cats playing with a ball, which doesn't represent any interest or doesn't ring a bell, except for the cats fetishist or the vetinary students maybe. If you see shining eyes of a black cat in the background of a deserted street, it refers to a lot of symbols and aesthetic codes, and you can begin to play with them. Or, why am I so attracted by ruins photos? And I'm not the only one--Is it porn, amoral, sick, or awful exploitation of misery in Detroit by snob artists, for instance? Or is it representing an universal feeling? That our world is falling apart? A symbol of the incapacity of our modern societies to be egalitarian--or whatever?
Even if I don't deny the fun aspect of iphoneography, all this is constantly questioning me, as every picture isn't--or should not be --innocent. We are living in a society of images, and I think we have the duty to think about it, to learn its codes, at least if you intend to do something interesting. My architect mentor keeps saying "Art is difficult." I believe in work in art; I don't think this is just for fun or natural skill. If you can feel it--and I think most of us have felt this little or sometimes big stomach pinch--a part of you is living for art and know this goes far beyond the image surface, even if you can't learn or explain it.
How would you describe your style or your approach to your photography, Jean-Christophe?
With regard to style, I don’t know. I must say I'm a very changing guy. I cannot do the same thing for a long period of time. This can be a quality as well as a flaw. But with iphoneography, you can do and express everything you want! You have tons of tools for that. That's probably why it became little by little a passion for me. I shoot everything quite by instinct, with almost always a willing expression of an idea, a concept, a mood, a feeling, beauty or ugliness . . . I think you have, after that, the means to express yourself in quite every photographic streams, and this is perfect for me! But to refine my answer, I love making allusions in my pictures, to a book, a movie, a piece of music or whatever the pic made me remind of, and probably unconsciously what made me take the shot at the first place. That's my pumping side, and I assume it totally.
While everyone probably agrees to say that the tool is not important in art by now, which is a common thought among iphoneographers that I share more or less, I cannot disavow my geek side. I am the first to wait for better lens, more resolution, faster shutter, and the rest. Furthermore, what I love with the iPhone is every part of the process: the 'classical' and 'traditional' one, that is, observation; "the" instant, the photographer 'eye'; but also all the technical stuff such as the lens capabilities, the use of unusual apps, and the new sharing tool, among others.
As this is taking more and more importance in my life--also meaning shooting the day… and shorter nights--I discovered precisely that "Art is difficult"! As a musician, and someone who works with other artists, I already knew it, but photography in general is new for me. I was totally uncultivated in this field, and the more I practice it, the more I feel myself moving away from my goals. I'm really admiring a lot of my fellow iphoneographers who are able to do wonderful works at any time, with constant personal expression. I must say I'm never happy with what I'm doing right now; I'm always searching. But I like it! I'm aware that this 'intello' side of me can be an obstacle sometimes, putting everything in question, complicating everything, making me reading, thinking, viewing other's works, but this is my kind of working. I have to digest all those--maybe useless--hard debates to make them clear, conform that to my sensitivity, and then I can move on. This is not a question of elitism or knowledge; I think digital photography art is amazing because it's accessible to almost everyone by now. However, I realize that I learned much more about myself by taking photos of my environment and the other people!
Please tell us about one of your images, the experience behind it:
I would make the worst choice for a favorite photo of mine I take the occasion of this interview to introduce the image before it is definitely forgotten, my least liked photo, the most unusual and neglected one (138 views/2 favs on Flickr!). Probably the most intellectual and less aesthetic - even if I find it beautiful! This is “Tout peut arriver dans la vie, et surtout rien” ("Anything can happen in life, especially nothing.") It was taken at summer vacation, in a city in South of France. Taken in the worst conditions, at night, with only one streetlight. This is a small crossroad, with an old french car lit by the spot, with slight mist, only visible by the natural flare of the streetlight. I took it with SlowShutter, probably my fav app, and my less used! I used it, as a car was passing, turning at the crossroad. This is the strange backlight on the left and surreal illumination of the slightly fluorescent paint on the white sidewalk. SlowShutter just captured the tracks of the headlights on the road, and not the moving car. Everything is cold and empty. At first sight you probably thought "this is ugly!" Yet, I have the feeling of a presence, or at least maybe, the possibility of a presence. I really like that image because it was a challenge for me, as I wanted to express that particular feeling at this moment, a desperate and yet hoping feeling, a common and yet particular space, and the most important, with the most "honest" manner. Even if SlowShutter is already a trick, an effect, it was among the few processing I did.
I know that every reader probably will find it's crap, but I love it, also because you know this is a crap photo taken by a mobile phone, with these hard tones, the strange blotch texture, like jpeg artifacts, the contrast, and more. In a way, this is a point I abandoned last year, and that I would love to continue now. At this moment, in every phase of processing of my pics, there is the one which I'm doing to hide what would be the absolute proof that the pic was taken with a mobile phone, even if the lens is really better on my iPhone 4! And it was really difficult for me to keep and publish the photo like that, as it was, not to mention that this is far away from my usual "classic" style! In this case, I tried to reject all my usual tricks, all the grunge, the grain, the retro colors, and the rest. I find it very illustrative of the words of Michel Houellebeck, a somewhat controversial French writer, who wrote about hardness and loneliness in our cities, in an apparent very objective way, which is not at all objective, of course.
What are your influences, Jean-Christophe:
Despite the fact that I love to explore things which are probably the strangest to me, I'm trying to find that balance between reality of the captured moment, and the mystery that can be extracted. That is what I found the most interesting in photography, and probably the most evasive or illusive. And also, I wanted to show that we are now used to some aesthetic, but usually don't make the effort to look at what the image can tell more than show. I probably missed it there, but at least I've tried, and I'm willing to continue!
I think I am mostly influenced by painting, as I had classical drawing and painting formation, and architecture. But more and more photographs, as I am documenting myself, is an influence. Also, I'm trying to search a way by and for myself, and I don't really look at other photographs, as I don't have the time for this anyway. Even if I admire a lot of them in the world, I would not name all of them, it would be too long.
I think we are in some way in a turning point with digital photography, and I'm glad to be part of the huge stream of mobile photography. Its place is probably somewhere between art and leisure, it has a lot of arguments from the both sides, and it manages to link them together. We can see that in the "artistic" photo circle, they are more and more interested in the huge shared public photography. See what is exposed at the Les Rencontres d’Arles 2011 in Arles, France, this year. But, they are looking at that phenomenon from the outside. We are IN it, totally, and we have probably the means to make the reflection progress. I don't know how yet, but I want to think about it.
What is in the future for you and your photography?
With regard to what is next for me, I'm feeling more and more concerned; I realize I have to think more about it. Some would probably say: "Don't think. Shoot," and it is indeed the reality of an artist: he acts. But, for instance, I realized that Marcel Duchamp exposed his "Fountain" in 1917! This was almost a century ago! Even Alfred Stieglitz made a photograph of it! And when you talk with most people about a modern art piece, they still have instant aesthetic considerations: “Do I like it at first sight”? “Will I put this in my living room? No, for sure”! “I could have done it myself,” and so on. But when you continue the discussion, and if your speaker is open enough, you can make him or her realize that an art piece is not just a pleasure for the eye (I'm also thinking about "Piss Christ" photography by Andres Serrano. It joins aesthetic and fantastic reflection about a subject. And yet, you can see the first reactions of people to the work without really thinking about it).
At this moment, I don't want to shoot mostly without purpose. This is really a vast discussion, which could be probably resumed by: "What is Art”? For me it is as interesting as needed. I will probably keep myself a bit off all the sharing networks, which I cannot follow because of they are so time consuming anyway. I'm setting up a self-hosted website where I will publish more constructed projects and thoughts. To summarize, I always think that nothing is black or white. I mean, I don't have definitive thoughts about mobile photography. I like to search, experiment, think about, this is the way I progress.
What I'm feeling about the community is probably that I need to meet the people. I don't feel really comfortable with internet discussions. I think it's great because we know each other--sort of--I think we rather make ourselves images of everyone through what they share all over the world. Still, I really need to meet real people to discuss with them. For that, I intend to organize a kind of great meeting event for the next summer, in the south of France, near Arles, for us to meet each other, with exhibitions, shows, whatever. I think we can find dozens of great ideas. I want to create artistic emulsion among us, interact with the public, show that we are not just a bunch of Apple-slaved monomaniacs (aren't we?). For me, the problem is, until you talk with people, this is not really constructive. Even with this interview (and I'm very pleased of it!), I'm sure most people will misunderstand what I'm saying, because I cannot interact with them (and probably also because this is boring).
For those new to iphone photography, just to contradict myself in a way, I would say: have fun! And experiment a lot! I think you can begin to do interesting personal stuff when you know your tools. Then, you know how to realize an idea; this is not just random tries with the apps - which is also fun of course! I would say, use your iPhone everywhere, this is the first interest in shooting with a mobile device. And also, even if it sounds 'cliché', express yourself!
What are our favorite or most used apps?
Before, Photo FX was my graal, but now, I'm using a lot Filterstorm, because of the multiple exposure brush control. The brush control in Photo FX is less practical. I shoot mostly with Camera+ or the native camera app. Then, I apply various desired effects to the photo. After that, I mix the different results in Filterstorm, and I crop when needed at the end.
My personal website is still under construction at this time. I also have an exhibition in Avignon, France, which will close next week. I have a lot of plans to help and promote iphoneography in France. I think we are late here, because of our traditional way of thinking about art, but I would talk about this when it's more real. I have also dozens of personal projects in my head. I hope some of them will come into being! Unfortunately, this is also the problem: I don't think art can be a hobby!
I thank you very much for this opportunity, and also, if anyone is passing by Paris, I would love to meet you for a drink and discuss in real life! - Jean-Christophe Polgár
You can see more of Jean-Christophe’s photos at: