Brigitte Bauer – Dogwalk
16 May 2016 . By João Bento
Brigitte Bauer was born in 1959 in Germany. She has been living and working in Arles, France, since 1987. Bauer works with photography and video. Her most recent project is called ‘Dogwalk’ (2011-2014).
João Bento: When did you start your artistic career? On your website it is written that ‘Ostdeutschland’ was photographed in 1990 but, apparently, the images were somewhat forgotten until 2009. Your first significant project was ‘Montagne Sainte-Victoire’, made between 1992 and 1994 – would you agree?
Brigitte Bauer: Indeed, my career started with ‘Montagne Sainte-Victoire’. With that series I had my first exhibitions and first purchases for public and private collections. The photographs from ‘Ostdeutschland’ were taken in 1990 – just after my diploma at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure de la Photographie in Arles – and they were not part of an elaborate project. They were just pictures that I took on my first trip to former East Germany in the summer of 1990, in the period after the fall of the Wall, before the reunification. I forgot about these images for a long time. I only came back to them in 2012 when the Ecole Nationale asked some of their former students for a contribution to the book ‘Qu’avez-vous fait de la photographie’, published to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the school.
How do you describe your artistic practice?
My work is mostly about the exploration of the mundane and unspectacular places. After ‘Montagne Sainte-Victoire’ I realised that I was not interested in places of significant beauty and special meaning (‘Montagne Sainte-Victoire’ has a long tradition in painting). I often go to places that are really ordinary and where I might discover something interesting, like paintball players in the forest (‘Jeu de forêt’, 2008) or couples in the streets of Alexandria, Egypt (‘Fragments d’intimité – Alexandrie’, 2005-07). Another part of my work is more personal, as the questioning of cultural identity in ‘D’Allemagne’ (2001-2002) or the recent ‘Dogwalk’, which is concerned with an aspect of my everyday life. In general, my approach looks documentary but I think that every photograph is a construction of some sort and sometimes in my work there are elements of ‘mise en scène’ that might not be so obvious to identify. For example, in the projects ‘Aller aux jardins’ (2010-2011) and in ‘AlexWest’ (2009/2012/ongoing).
What is the relationship between the collective project ‘France(s) Territoire Liquide’, Paul Wombell and your project ‘Dogwalk’?
The idea behind France(s) Territoire Liquide (FTL) was to gather many photographers – from different backgrounds, various locations and different ages too – and collectively investigate the French landscape(s) of today, following the example of previous group projects such as DATAR in the 1980’s. The four photographers that started FTL wanted to work with an independent curator and chose Paul Wombell, for his long experience and excellent skill. I was then invited to participate, as one of the photographers. There was no money and everybody had to do the work within his or her own means. That is one of the reasons why I decided to do a project ‘at home’. Also, I had never created work in Arles before and I have been living here for 26 years now. I started ‘Dogwalk’ at the end of 2011 and I stopped in March 2014 to be ready for the big group exhibition at TriPostal in Lille, in June of that year. Paul validated every project, he was heavily involved in the presentation of the work at the exhibition and he wrote all the introductory texts.
How much of this project is about the nature of dog walking and how much is about the things you saw while dog walking? Do you think it is appropriate to make a distinction?
The two depend on each other so it is hard to make a distinction. All the walks took place in areas where there were no cars and where it was safe for my dog Charo to move around. I more-or-less adapted to her rhythm and I noticed things that I would not have seen if I had been walking alone. For example, when Charo brought her stick back to me, I had to bend to collect it, so I got a new perspective and saw things from a different angle. I paid attention to stuff I usually do not notice, like things lying on the ground, pieces of garbage or little flowers. When I saw Charo putting her nose in the air, I wondered what she was smelling and how such a smelling world could be. “Dog walking” also means “routine” and “repetition”, both of which can be very useful for seeing things. Normally I don’t go back dozens of times to the same places but this time I did. I took many pictures of the same place or the same object on different occasions. I decided to keep no more than 12 images from each walk. Still, I finished the project with nearly 3000 photographs to choose from.
Can you tell me about using a mobile phone camera to develop the project?
It was the first time that I used a mobile phone camera (a Samsung Galaxy S) for ‘serious’ work and I was really surprised by the quality of the images. Of course, I will not be able to make big prints, but that is not a problem because I consider that these images do not need to be enlarged. 30×40 cm is okay. Using the camera menu, it is possible to make some adjustments, like the way it focuses for example, which is useful. What I missed was a shoulder strap to have it around my neck! It would have been useful, especially when Charo asked me to pick up and throw the stick!
From the kind of images that you have shown, one could imagine that you only walked Charo during the day and that you did not go out if it was raining. Did you experiment making photographs during bad weather and at night?
Sometimes it was raining and I took pictures, but there are only a few images with bad weather because the weather does not get like that so often, here in the South of France. I never go out at night for these walks - in most places where I photographed there are no streetlights so I would not be able to see anything. I live in a house with a big garden and therefore I do not need to go out with Charo early in the morning or late at night.
What kind of dog is Charo?
A crossbreed, Border Collie and Malinois (Belgian Shepherd).
Charo is an interesting name – where does it come from?
Her name is Spanish, it is the diminutive from “Rosario”, and is also the main character from a series of books by Spanish writer Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, where Charo is the prostitute girlfriend of Pepe Carvalho.
How old is she?
She is 14, born in April.
How did Charo come into your life?
Charo came from an animal refuge. She was born there and we got her when she was 6 weeks old.
Have you had dogs before?
No, I would have loved to, but when I was younger my lifestyle (travelling a lot, living alone, in little flats) made it difficult. But my parents had a farm and I grew up with many kinds of animals.
Some photographers have made work with or about their own dogs as a way to recognise their importance. Could this be a hidden dimension in your work?
In the beginning it was not. When I started thinking about FTL I just thought about where and how I could do a long-term landscape project. Then, quickly, I became conscious that Charo is really at the heart of this work and I am glad to show in this way how important she is in my life. Seeing how we live with our own dogs, and observing friends with their dogs, I consider them to be 100% family members. Not like children of course – I would never call Charo “my baby” or such a thing – but as real companions.
In Lille you showed three groups of images (‘Classements’, ‘Promenades’ and ‘Poteau rouge’), plus a video from Charo’s perspective (‘Charo’s video’) and a single image of Charo (‘2014-02-23 15.51.37’).
What was your intention for presenting a photograph in isolation? It works for me as an establishing shot, one that says “this is a project about walking this dog, in this particular landscape, at a particular moment in my life.”
Yes, you are right. For me it was important to show a single image of Charo, but not in a specific situation. This one is meant to be a kind of “generique” (representative) photo that stands for all the others. Also, every photograph that I took during this project could be shown as a single image.
In ‘Classements’ we see different objects, views and situations that you found during the walks. The series ‘Promenades’ shows several locations where you walked with Charo. ‘Poteau rouge’ is a piece showing one particular place on different days…
The promenade along the river is one of my favourite walks. It has a red structure located more-or-less in the middle of the walk that I noticed every time. It is a strong visual object in the landscape that I knew even before I had Charo. For the exhibition I combined images from many of these walks in one piece and I always positioned the “poteau rouge” images so that, in the end, they made a vertical line of red structures.
What was people’s initial response to your work in the exhibition?
As far as I observed, the reactions were very different. Some people were not interested at all, they just passed by the different frames, while others paid great attention to every piece of the work. Frequent questions were about the number of pictures, the frequency of the walks and people wanted to know how I chose the pictures out of the 3000 that I took. Some found it amusing and others were really interested in the fact that an animal was a real partner in this work.
Brigitte Bauer is currently showing ‘Dogwalk’ with France(s) Territoire Liquide at MAPRAA in Lyon until the 25th of May and has an upcoming exhibition at Parcours de l’Art in Avignon from the 1st to the 23rd of October 2016.
Brigitte Bauer’s website: brigittebauer.fr
This text was also published on Animalia Vegetalia Mineralia, a journal written in Portuguese and English dedicated to ecomedia and ecocritical studies: animaliavegetaliamineralia.org