Art editor Kristin LaFollette recently had this exchange with Issue #46 featured artist Kristin Fouquet. Here’s what Kristin Fouquet had to say about her chosen medium of black and white photography, the inspiration she draws from her hometown of New Orleans, her work as a writer, and more.
These black and white shots are stunning. I visited your online portfolio where you showcase more of your photography, and all of your work is in black and white. Why choose this aesthetic as an artist?
Thank you and thanks for your interest in my photography. As a child, I was drawn to black and white movies, especially Film Noir. I would watch these films and to my eye, nearly every moment could be paused and it would make a perfect still b&w photograph. Over the years, I found I was attracted to this aesthetic. Monochrome forces the mind to see the world differently- maybe unrealistically. While I have shot quite a lot of color photography (mainly for clients), I find b&w photographs create a mood with depth and shadow. In my novella, Surreptitiously Yours, the protagonist, Claudette Laurence, proclaims, “I wish the world were in black and white. The contrast simplifies the superficiality for me. Looking past the unnecessary, manipulative colors, there is texture. The truth reveals itself.”
Many of your photographs are portraits of people, yet your Weighed-In series takes a different approach and focuses on inanimate objects and backdrops. How do you decide what becomes the subject of your work?
There is a backstory for Weighed-In. In March 2017, a New Orleans musician, Ingrid Lucia, requested a photo shoot in a boxing gym. The reason I was there was to take portraits of her for her forthcoming CD (photo at left). While she was getting ready in the back, I found myself studying the environment and photographing these stills. So, while she was the central subject for that shoot, I was pleased to discover these shots were compelling on their own and I felt they needed to be a series.
I don’t always decide what the subject will be. In street photography, the moment can happen so quickly and I may or may not capture it. Sometimes, I don’t have my camera ready, but I know what the photograph would have looked like. I feel as long as I’m still seeing the shots, I will continue to catch some of them. With portraiture, the subject is obvious. Street portraits are interesting to me because unlike true street photography, the subjects are aware of the camera. This is usually a spontaneous arrangement with the subjects knowing nothing about the photographer and no time for trust to be established. The only time I feel I have complete control is with my conceptual photographs and self-portraits.
You described these still shots as a “photo essay.” In your own words, what story do these photographs tell? What do you hope viewers take away from Weighed-In and your work in general?
I want each photograph I take to tell a story. With a photo essay, my wish is that it tells a longer narrative. For me, this series of photographs conveys a story of an unseen boxer committing to a daily rigorous routine in the hopes of fulfilling a dream. Even though it’s not my dream, I sense the desire and determination in the pursuit, which I find noble. I hope viewers read their own stories in my photographs and take away something personal. I believe art should move us emotionally and assist us in developing a deeper understanding of each other. Great art should change us.
You mentioned that you weren’t sure about shooting these photographs at a boxing gym because you “viewed boxing more as violence than sport,” but that you developed a sense of respect for the boxers after the shoot. Talk a bit about how your art helped lead you to this new perspective.
My father was a big fan of boxing. He would anticipate the much-hyped televised heavyweight fights. I recall passing through the living room, catching sight of a swollen bloodied face on the TV, and becoming instantly nauseated. I definitely dismissed it as violence rather than sport. So, as I captured these stills, I did find my opinion altering. I realized the ring was the ultimate stage after many hours of preparation and practice. Seeing their training equipment, I formed an understanding of the commitment required for these boxers. As my respect for the players increased, I wondered if I could feel equally about the actual sport. I began to view it in a much broader scope. Perhaps what I rejected in the past as savagery for spectacle actually prevented violence. Boxing is a consensual exchange and provides an outlet for rage and aggression. I still have no desire to witness a bout, but I gained a new outlook on the subject.
You live and work in New Orleans. How does your location impact how you approach your work? What is it like being a creative in New Orleans?
Being a native, it’s difficult to gauge the full impact this city has had on my development, but I knew from a young age it was a special place. As an artist, I have been described as a psychogeographer and I suppose it’s true. The architectural beauty, music, and rich culture of New Orleans provide endless inspiration for me. I was fortunate to be born here. Nearly all of the settings in my fiction are in New Orleans, even if it isn’t immediately evident. I often include local architectural elements, cuisine, and music in my stories. Writers tend to love eccentric characters and New Orleans is definitely one in her own right. As a photographer, I’ve enjoyed capturing the city’s musicians, streets, denizens, buildings, and all aspects of the culture. The ultimate annual photo-op is Mardi Gras. It’s my favorite holiday. I absolutely love photographing people in costumes who are ecstatic in their revelry. I believe Carnival is the most magical time of year in this city.
I’m intrigued by the wide array of creative projects you pursue, including short films and music collaborations. Can you tell us a bit more about your creative process and how you decide what form a project will take?
I mentioned earlier how I would watch Film Noir movies and pause them in my mind as still photographs. Many of my short films are the reverse in which I take photographs and create a video of them. Several of my photo essays have become videos and my book trailers are my photographs set to music. With the commissioned music videos, it was a true collaboration between the musician and myself. Some were pure video and others were a combination of video and stills. When I’m creating a short film on my own, I try to let the subject matter dictate the proper process. I feel like I know when it’s right or at least I try to listen to my instincts.
You are also a successful fiction writer. Tell us a bit about your writing: What do you write about? Where can we find some of your recent work?
As a teenager, I desperately wanted to be a painter. I drew and painted hundreds of works before I was forced to be honest with myself that I was terrible. Even if someone liked what I had painted, it was a failure to me because I couldn’t reproduce the picture in my mind. This is when I started writing and I felt some success since I could at least describe what I saw. I write short literary fiction: flash fiction, short stories, and novellas. My stories are usually set in New Orleans with unusual characters who face interesting challenges. My first book, Twenty Stories (Rank Stranger Press, 2009), is a collection of flash fiction and short stories. Rampart & Toulouse (Rank Stranger Press, 2011), consists of three short stories and a novella. The chapbook, The Olive Stain and other stories (Le Salon Press, 2013), is a collection of flash fiction, short stories, a novelette, and a photo series. Surreptitiously Yours (Le Salon Press, 2016) is a novella. Surrendered Stories (Le Salon Press, 2019) is a collection of short stories with companion photographs. All of the titles may be purchased via Etsy, Amazon, or my blog, Le Salon Annex. More information and reviews are on my Goodreads author page.
How does your role as an artist intersect with your role as a writer and vice versa?
I love when art inspires art. I’m a visual person, so writing and photography are entwined in my mind. I’m lucky to have fans in both worlds, but some think of me more as a photographer than a writer. Photography is easier to produce for me, especially since going digital. It’s also easier to consume by the viewer. Writing requires many hours of revision. It also takes longer to read. The time invested for the reader may seem squandered if it wasn’t enjoyed. If you don’t like a photo, only seconds have been wasted. I’ve created all of my own book covers and a few of my books include interior photographs. Surrendered Stories, which just came out this year, was the first book where it was a true collaboration of writing and photography: four short stories accompanied by twenty-four photographs.
What creative endeavors/projects are you currently working on?
I’m writing a story about a New Orleans jazz club and the musicians who work there. The story will dictate the length and I won’t know what that is until it’s finished. As for photography, I’m always shooting what catches my eye. I’ve moved away from commercial photography and only accept collaborations of an artistic nature. While street photography and street portraits will always interest me, I have many ideas leaning toward the conceptual. The time and control I’m allowed on such projects make them more appealing at this stage in my life. And Mardi Gras is just around the corner in February.
What creators inspire you (artists, writers, etc.)?
Henri Cartier-Bresson’s street photography and portraits will always inspire me. I’m impressed by E.J. Bellocq’s Storyville portraits because they suggest the intimacy and trust established between photographer and subject. I adore the portraits and street portraits by Diane Arbus and the street photography and street portraits by Vivian Maier. For conceptual, surrealist photography, I admire Man Ray. I’m moved by the moody, fine art portraiture of Francesca Woodman. At a young age, I fell in love with the short stories of Guy de Maupassant. In my teens, I read J.D. Salinger, then Raymond Carver obsessively. I think my writing has been influenced by them. I’m inspired by Flannery O’Connor’s darkness and tension in her
work, the dialogue in the plays of Tennessee Williams, Edgar Allan Poe’s themes and mood, John Kennedy Toole’s comedic novel, the lush description by Colette, Dorothy Parker’s intellect and wit, and the vivid short stories of Alice Munroe. Also, I’m inspired by all the jazz composers and musicians. Jazz has been the soundtrack of my life.