Elea Jeanne Schmitter is a French photographer, conceptual artist, and researcher. Elea obtained her Bachelor’s degree from Concordia University in Monreal, Canada. She also studied photography at Ecole Kourtrajmé in France. Her current artistic practice focuses on an exploration of social, cultural, and political issues, as well as on experimentation with various techniques and materials in artmaking.
Let’s start with the basic question. How did you start your career in photography?
I started photography when I was 11. I got my first camera and started to shoot. I lived in a very secluded house and village, I had a lot of time to get bored. At 18 I wanted to integrate a photography school in Paris but the one I wanted to join only accepted people from 20 years old and more. So, I studied law for three years waiting for this moment. Life went by and I finally went to Canada to studio Art History and Photography. I came back to join the school “Ecole Kourtrajmé” led by the artist JR and the film director Ladj Ly. That was the professional starting point of my career at the end of 2020.
On your website, it’s written that you are not only the artist and the photographer but also the researcher. What is your main interest in research?
Research for my practice might include exploring the social, cultural, or political contexts of their work, investigating historical or contemporary artistic movements or practices, or examining the use of specific techniques or materials in artmaking. I think that my law degree has given me some ways to think and approach a subject more rationally sometimes, which is for me important as I try as much as I can to offer an open perspective on my work to the viewer. But research can also be a form of performing and being immersed in the subject I want to study.
Once you also said that your artistic practice included true love and spirituality. What do these things mean for you? How do you apply these concepts to your photographic work?
I think my work is not directly oriented toward those themes, but those are personal beliefs that inhabit myself and my projects necessarily.
You are indeed a conceptual artist. Which media along with photography do you use or would like to use in your artistic practice?
I do performance, video work, and installation sculpture also.
How did the idea of the project 40 ans 70 kg come to your mind? Have you been somehow influenced by these let’s say stereotypes by yourself?
I heard the author of the book “Invisible Women” Caroline Criado Perez on a podcast in 2020 summer, I decided to buy the book and was so flabbergasted by what I read that I decided to work on that as a photographic and performative project. I was doing a road trip at the time I listened to the podcast, and I remember wearing my seatbelt incorrectly because it would hurt my chest after long hours of driving. That was my very first connection to one of the numerous examples concerning the gender data gap.
40 ans 70 kg is not the only project where you explore the notions of body and women’s positions in the world. For instance, the other project is Ta Mere. Why does this theme interest you so much?
The project 40ans 70kg that I worked on was not just a mere assignment, but a meaningful opportunity for me to explore a topic that had deeply resonated with me for the past decade. I had always felt a strong connection to the subject matter, and my research and personal experiences had only reinforced that feeling. Through this project, I found an outlet to share my insights and contribute to the ongoing conversation around this theme.
And was there any trigger that made you go deep into this problem that resulted in those photographic projects?
My journey towards this realization had been gradual yet profound. Over the past ten years, I had experienced a deep awakening that had reshaped my identity and outlook toward the world. As a woman, a friend, a spouse, and a member of society, I had redefined my position and perspective, thanks to the work of countless individuals who had paved the way before me. Their efforts inspired me to take up the mantle and become a part of this ongoing discourse, not as a standard-bearer, but as someone who could facilitate dialogue and inspire others through my work.
In pursuing this project, I sought to break new ground and explore fresh perspectives on these age-old themes. I wanted to delve deeper into the subject matter and discover novel ways of approaching it, to spark new conversations and challenge existing assumptions. For me, this was not just another assignment, but a personal journey of growth and self-discovery, one that I hoped would resonate with others and inspire them to join the conversation.
You were born in France, and you are living there now. But you also studied in Canada. Do you feel there are different perceptions of art in general and photography in particular depending on the country?
The contrast between the European and North American approach to art and photography is undeniable, and I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to learn about this medium in a completely different cultural context. This experience has had a profound impact on my vision and understanding of photography, shaping my perspective in a unique and meaningful way.
During my time in Canada, I was fortunate to encounter and be influenced by some of the most talented and inspiring photographers of our time. The works of Jin-me Yoon, Jeff Wall, and Genevieve Cadieux left an indelible mark on me, inspiring me to explore new avenues and approaches to the medium. Genevieve Cadieux, in particular, played a pivotal role in my development as an artist, providing me with valuable insights and guidance that have stayed with me to this day.
You took part in several international art and photo festivals such as Festival Cadaques in Catalonia and Photo Brussels Festival in Belgium. Is there something special for you in taking part in festivals? Do you feel there is any difference between showing your works as part of the festival and in an exhibition?
It was a remarkable experience to showcase my photographic work to a completely different country and culture. I believe that your work takes on a different perspective in these new environments, even before engaging with the locals. Being present in these unfamiliar territories can alter your perception of your work. I love the energy that the festival brings to the work and the conversation that emerge from the presence of different artists being shown.
What do you think about your upcoming exhibition as part of Belgrade Photo Month? And how do you imagine the city of Belgrade? Do you have any expectations from the city and the festival?
I am very excited to share 40ans 70kg here! And also to discover all the other artists present!! I always tend not to look up a city that I don’t know on the internet before. I have a strong feeling that I will feel comfortable in the city, maybe because of the water running through!
Do you have any commercial projects apart from art ones? I know that you published your works in different magazines, such as Numero, FishEye, Acumen. Do you also present social photographic projects there? Or do you publish more commercial shoots in magazines? Do you distinguish between your commercial projects and art projects?
Yes, I do have commercial projects sometimes, but I tend to choose them carefully.
What I published was from my 40ans 70kg project and reviews. I do separate my commercial and art project work.
Have you ever published photo books? How important do you find it to produce photo books for contemporary photographers?
No, I did not publish a photo book yet! I think it’s a very good way to spread your work more easily, but it is also for me a different field in photography practice. Some photographers think of their work as a book, it’s a whole other world from my perspective.
No doubt that with digital art being more and more popular and with the increasing popularity of social networks, photography is also changing now. How do you see photography in the future?
The democratization of the image through social media has undoubtedly had a profound impact on the way we consume and engage with photography. With the rise of platforms like Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat, we have seen a massive influx of images flooding our screens every day. While this may have led to a certain level of saturation and even a sense of overwhelming content, it has also created new opportunities for emerging photographers to share their work and gain exposure.
Despite this shift in the way we consume and distribute photography, the power of a well-crafted photograph remains. A good photograph can evoke emotions, capture a moment in time, and convey a message or story in a way that no other medium can. It has the power to connect with people on a deep and personal level, transcending language and cultural barriers.
As photographers, it is essential to understand and navigate this shifting landscape. We must learn to adapt to new technologies and platforms while still holding to the essence of what makes a good photograph. This means exploring new forms of storytelling, experimenting with different visual styles, and finding new ways to connect with our audience.
At the same time, it is essential to recognize the role that consumers play in shaping the way photography is received and interpreted. The rise of social media has given consumers more power than ever before, as they can share, comment, and critique images in real-time. As photographers, we must learn to engage with our audience and use their feedback to improve and grow our work.
In essence, the evolution of social media has created both challenges and opportunities for photographers. It has forced us to adapt and innovate, while still holding to the core principles of visual storytelling. Ultimately, the power of a good photograph will always remain, and it is up to us as creators to continue pushing the boundaries of visual art and exploring new possibilities in the digital age.
Tell us something about your new project. What are your plans for the future? Any new projects, or ideas?
I am currently expanding the project on urbanism and the lack of gender study regarding the way cities are constructed and organized. I explore themes such as security, movement, journey, and origins of imagination.
Were there any funny stories that happened to you during your career that you can share with us?
I made a photo shoot for the series 40ans 70kg with pork trips for photography that concerned heart attack symptoms. Women have symptoms like nausea, and stomach ache and I wanted to represent them through trips. That was an absolute nightmare to shoot, so stinky, and nauseating … me and my assistant almost throw up. Would love to add some smell to this picture because it left an even greater impact on me and this unfair heart attack subject. Despite the difficulties, I feel that the inclusion of the smell would have added an even greater impact to the photograph and highlighted the unfair reality that women are often misdiagnosed and more likely to die prematurely from heart attacks.
What do you enjoy most about being a photographer?
I believe that photography can serve as an excellent excuse to initiate encounters and discussions with people that may not have otherwise occurred. In my experience, photography is the final gesture that attempts to encapsulate the dialogue and connection I have established with my subjects. While the act of taking the photograph itself may only constitute 10% of the overall process, the remaining 90% involves building meaningful relationships with the people I photograph.
In addition to traditional documentary photography, I also conduct post-documentary projects where I fully immerse myself in particular situations or environments. Through this process, I can recreate and reenact the gestures and actions of my subjects in a controlled studio setting. I find that photography serves as a catharsis in these situations, allowing me to more fully process and understand the experiences of my subjects while also sharing their stories with a wider audience
And what do you think about collecting photography as art? Have you ever sold your works? Do you collect art and especially photography?
Yes, my works belong to private collections, I do not collect art yet but I did some art trading with photographers’ friends.
Let’s imagine your works could be exhibited in any museum in the world. Which museum would it be?
I think that a Moma PS1 could be great!!
The important part of Belgrade Photo Month is a contest for young photographers. What would you advise these young ones who are just starting their careers as photographers?
My advice would be to be optimistically contagious. Not to wait for people to make your career evolve but to make them want to jump on your train going.
1. Your favorite photographer: Paul Graham
2. Best photography exhibition you’ve ever visited: Evangelia Kranioti
3. Which profession would you have, if you weren’t a photographer? A healer
4. If you could photograph anything in the world, what would it be? Amazonia
5. Place in Belgrade you’re looking forward to seeing the most. The River
Interview by Tatyana Valova, curator of Belgrade Photo Month
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