Alain Laboile is a well-known photographer who lives in France. He is a father of six, who has made his children his great photographic subject. His book At the edge of the World is a collection of images depicting different moments in his children’s lives. Guardian 20 caught him with to know more about his grand project to catalogue “La famille”.
Q: Your photographs brim with magic, the kind we all find in childhood. How long have you been working on “La famille”?
A. I started this family album in 2006, but it especially began to fill up after the birth of my last two daughters, Dune and Nil, in 2007 and 2008.
Q. How did the children initially react when you started photographing them?
A. My youngest children do not pay attention to the camera and are willing participants simply by indifference.
Those in the middle heartily play along and, although they are aware of the photographic work in progress, it does not affect their behaviour.
As for the elders, the over-consciousness of their image makes them harder to shoot naturally.
The immersion in the game with the youngest makes things easier.
Q. You photos present viewers with glimpses of their own childhood. How did you manage that?
A. Everyday I share these photos on the internet. I realise the universal and timeless dimension of my photographic work by reading testimonies of other people living all over the world.
It is fantastic to be able to share daily pieces of our family life, and find a positive response to this simple life close to nature. Immersing someone in their own childhood through photography is very rewarding.
I cannot count the stories of people remembering themselves in the countryside with their grandparents, or recalling the smell of summer vacation... My photography acts on people like the “Madeleine de Proust”.
I like the idea that someone could delve back into his own life by looking at pictures of a random stranger on the web.
What is sure is that this photographic vein based on family is not a calculation nor a conscious decision on my part. However, these universal comments necessarily influence my photographic production
Q. What prompted your decision to shoot all your photos in black and white?
A. The use of black and white probably reinforces the feeling of universality and intemporality. It became imperative spontaneously.
Q. What would be you ideal location to shoot?
A. A huge studio, where my models, my favourite shooting places and my natural lights are available permanently, without getting out of my house.
Q. What do you recollect of your own childhood during the process of photographing your children?
A. I don’t have many memories of my childhood, but my three brothers and I lived, as my children do, close to nature. Thanks to my photographic work, I create a catalogue of memories, a testimony that I’ll pass on to my children
Q. You are a sculptor primarily. How did you happen to veer towards photography?
A. In 2004, as I needed to put together a portfolio of my work as a sculptor, I acquired a camera, and thus developed a taste for macrophotography, spurred by my passion for entomology.
Q. What did you learn about your children while photographing them?
A. We have six children between the ages of six to 20. They all have a good relationship with each other. When I photograph them together, I completely become aware of the complicity, the solidarity and love which connects them. Of how they take care of each other.
Q. “La famille” – how would you describe it?
A. Becoming parents is in itself an adventure. Nobody is really prepared for it. We evolved in the course of the births; try to adapt ourselves to the personality of each of our children so that each feels good within the sibship. We together went through the upheavals of adolescence, and the adventure is far from being finished. My series “La famille” tells it through the expressions of the children, the metamorphoses, the memories which the pictures evoke, and the anecdotes to which they send back such a narrative of an epic.
Q. Any other project you are engaged in?
A. I am working on my series “Reflection Around the Pool”, which offers my children the opportunity to assume a role improvised within a few minutes. This time, the exercise differs from my daily practice of photography that seeks to capture the spontaneity of the moment. These little scenes make them take part in some sort of a theatre and this is what they like.