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STEPHANE GIZARD talks poetic nudity

and art's relationship with censorship in the age of social media


words Filipe Phitzgerard - images courtesy of Stephane Gizard

Nudity and the depiction of the human body have been a huge part of what we all art; in fact, it is one of the foundations on which art stands on. Throughout the centuries, artists working with different media have portrayed the human body in its simplest and most honest form. From Michelangelo in the 1500s and François Boucher in the 1700s, all the way till modern days, nudity has been consistently present in the art world. Art in itself works on the premise that artists are free to observe, explore, depict and unveiled the emotions and desires inside them; even if that disrupts the world around them.

In modern days, creatives by the likes of photographer Ryan McGinley and photographer and director Matt Lambert have become famous for exploring nudity and sexuality from a raw and realistic perspective. Their vast portfolio includes incredible bodies of work that study and captures the relationship between youth, nudity, and sexuality. Following along those lines, but with a much more poetic approach to it, is Parisian-born and raised photographer Stephane Gizard.

Stephane discovered his passion for photography - particularly the relationship between light and shadow - when he was just ten years old. From then on, Gizard went on to develop a distinctive style of photography that moved from beautiful crisp portraits into poetic nude photography. Poeticism and tenderness are undeniable elements found throughout his body of works which places Gizard's photography outside a sexualized perspective of nudity. His portrayal of the male body is honest, raw, and romantic and just beautiful to look at.

Gizard has recently released his newest photobook titled 'We Removed Your Post Because It Doesn’t Follow Our Community Guidelines' which is somewhat a manifesto of freedom from censorship in modern days. We had the pleasure of speaking to Stephane during the current lockdown to find out more about his creative beginnings, what motivates him as a creative, and his relationship with censorship and social media. Gizard also talks about his book and what he intended to achieve (or stir) when he put the book together.

Filipe Phitzgerard: Thanks for taking the time to speak to us. You are based in Paris, correct? Were you born there as well?

Stephane Gizard: Yes, I am based in Paris. I was born here and I have spent all my life in this city.

F.P: How was teenagehood for you? What would you say defined you at that time?

S.G: I was very reserved, I didn't like sports and I was already smoking too much since my early years as a teen. Besides that, I had a normal teenagehood.

F.P: What was it that most influenced you growing up?

S.G: My environment influenced me a lot, that's for sure. I was already very sensitive to places, smells, and atmospheres. The lack of light and the grey tone of Paris has always made me love the sun and the search for light. I think I went into this journey to discover and explore light from a precise perspective. I wanted to capture its perfection.

F.P: When did photography become a reality for you?

S.G: I remember I was around ten years old. But it was only when I was 14 that my father bought me my first Reflex camera. It was like a revelation. I was fascinated from the first second I saw it. From there on, it was just an inevitable affair.

F.P: That's incredible. So, you started pretty early on...

S.G: Yes. My desire to capture the light and shadow was what motivated me from a very young age, and, this was something that didn't require much thought. It was meant to be.

F.P: Your photography definitely has that conversation between light and shadow. I want to talk about your book 'We Removed Your Post Because It Doesn’t Follow Our Community Guidelines'. We know that the titled for the book is pretty self-explanatory, but; can you tell us the story and thought behind it?

S.G: Firstly, I wanted to stick posters of nude photos on Instagram with the design of Instagram and this sentence of censorship. Then, the idea developed and I thought that this alert sentence would be a wonderful title because everything it said within it. As you said, it is very self-explanatory. I already had a lot of new photos I had been compiling and then when November last year came around I decided to put together a book with those images; the ones I knew would be flagged on Instagram should they go live on the app.

F.P: In your book intro, Arthur Dreyfus refers to the Council of Trent and the way the Catholic church condemned male nudity. I love how he can make a parallel between the mid-fifteen hundred with today’s society and still make sense. How do you see this parallel?

S.G: Unfortunately, history is an eternal loop where things don't change that much at every turn. We [society] believed that the achievements of the last 50 years would be unshakable and ultimately they are not. Everything is questioned. We must be vigilant. Censored. Respectable of the invisible rules of engagement. Modesty leads to deviance and deviance to political correctness. Throughout history, there has always been a conflict between our natural human urges and the state which wants to restrain and control the masses by censoring their emotions and desires.

F.P: Do you think the issue of censoring come from only the media giants or is it something intrinsic to humankind?

S.G: I think it is used by the media giants and those in positions of power to restrain natural human desires and urges.

F.P: Would you say there was a boiling point for you when you decided to take on the censoring issue and make a book? How was the pivotal moment?

S.G: Like everyone else, I see society changing, violence mounting, small extreme groups attacking, racism and intolerance happening as if there were no rules against it. There is a kind of political correctness that is unbearable almost like daily brainwashing. We are told what is good and what is bad... and yet, the scale that determines how much emphasis we should give something [to combat or stop it] seems to be tipping too much to the wrong side more often than it should. For example; artistic nudity is highly censored on social media and yet racist and violent content seems to find a way to remain available online. Things that can cause more harm are not censored as much as art. The media and the giants of the internet are responsible for this. For an artist, all this is to be combated.

F.P: Your work, in general, has always had that nod to nudity and the exploration of the human body, more precisely the male body; do you think there is a right or wrong way to portray nudity?

S.G: I don't necessarily think there is a right or wrong way; however, for me personally, I prefer to do it elegantly and poetically. Nudity for me isn't just and simply sexual but a form of poetically make the human body speak.

F.P: Have you gotten into trouble with Facebook/Instagram because of your work?

S.G: Many times. But now I've decided not to put pictures like this on social media. If people want to see sexy photos… they have to buy my book! ;)

F.P: Does censoring have a place and time?

S.G: I believe that censorship is not important when it comes to art and that the only real value is that which the artist inflicts in his own art. Once an artist has created the work it has to be validated by the artist himself before anyone else places a value in it.

F.P: I love how you point out that violence isn’t censored on the same level as nudity and yet nudity gets the hard-hit left, right, and centre. Can you comment on that?

S.G: Indeed, there is always this false modesty. Nudity provokes (and this is normal) desire, questions about oneself, and other feelings. Nudity puts the body into perspective and takes the viewer to explore their own fantasies. Religions have done everything to make us feel guilty for having fun with ourselves and with others. But violence... that is somehow reassured when censoring doesn't tackle it with the same intensity as it does with nudity. It allows the majority of people to look at it with detachment because, unlike sexuality, violence is not, I believe, innate in mankind.

F.P: When does censoring hinder art?

S.G: Censorship never hinders creation. The only obstacle is its diffusion to everyone's eyes. I mean, it tries to hide something that cannot be hidden.

F.P: Your book is beautiful and there is this great diversity of imagery from details of the body and beautiful portraits and full nudity – with a lot in-between – then we see these landscape shots of urban settings; how do these particular shots of the urban landscape fit into the book?

S.G: From my first book there were landscapes because I was also very touched by landscapes, details of architecture... I find that it makes the book breathe and gives a poetic dimension.

F.P: How do you tend to work when photographing nudity? Is there a list of DO’s and DON’T’s?

S.G: I am very directive and quick so as not to waste time. I always explain what I'm going to do and sometimes show examples already made in order to put the model at ease. There is a level of sensitivity you have to be aware of when photographing nudity as to not leave the model uncomfortable.

F.P: What is the process with your subjects like?

S.G: I select according to my own tastes; so that's how it starts. Then, it's all about trust. The model has to feel good and once trust has been established the process becomes easy. Photographing nudity outside the studio space is harder to achieve because there is a level of danger to it. But I think this forbidden side is quite exciting because it is a challenge every time you want to photograph in urban areas.

F.P: Can you talk us through the process of putting the book together?

S.G: I have been working for 7 years with the same designer. Once I had chosen the first edits we sat down and discussed what would make the book and what would be edited out.

F.P: If you could describe the core message in the book in a few words; what would that be?

S.G: Beware of going back into dark places in history! As I wrote in the book "Benito, Adolph, Joseph… If you had known Big Brother I would not be here, nor this book." Freedom is fragile.

F.P: Besides male nudity; is there anything in particular that you are instinctively attracted to when it comes to your work?

S.G: A face... there is nothing more beautiful in the world that can catch my attention and attract me to it.

F.P: Are you working on anything now while the world is in lockdown?

S.G: Paris… empty, abandoned but so magical. I have been photographing the empty city and even though you can't see people outside during this time, Paris is still beautiful. I'm lucky because I can do my job again, even outside.

F.P: Can you advise the other young photographers out there who dream of photographing nudity in an art-filled way?

S.G: I think it takes time and some self-confidence. I would never have had the courage to do this when I was 20 years old... taking photos of nudity doesn't have to be free, it has the potential to be a job. So you have to work, find your axis, your style and above all follow your instincts.

YOU CAN BUY STEPHANE GIZARD'S NEW BOOK 'We Removed Your Post Because It Doesn’t Follow Our Community Guidelines' HERE.


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