Antoine d’Agata

Documentary photographer and French filmmaker Antoine d’Agata is in Geneva for a focus on his work. Two of his films are showing at the Sputnik: Aka Ana, Tokyo 2008 and Atlas 2013.

Facing him, images of incredible violence come to me; I see him again in the depths of Aka Ana’s Tokyo where the body is bought, drugged, decomposed, where sexual pleasure is bestial, enjoyment traversed by death.


Are you “A Lost Man” Antoine d’Agata?

Before Danielle made her film, we had a long conversation several times and during the filming, I spent a lot of time with the main actor Melvil Poupaud. The character of Thomas Koré is therefore imbued with many truths and he has become a kind of plural double. There was this very strange closeness because I saw everything that transpired from this character and it was disturbing. But it is impossible for me to recognize myself in this film insofar as it is another body, other movements.

Photographer of the magazine Magnum Photos, I ask him to explain to me why he stopped photographing to favor a cinematographic approach which will therefore give birth to his two films, screened at the Sputnik:

There are many reasons why I, at some point, gave up my device. The first that comes to mind is that I was getting bored with photography, it had become too easy. I always liked not to control things, I always tried not to control them, to put myself in a position of powerlessness, incapacity, and violence and I began to control too much the time of the photograph, the blur, matter, texture, light. I needed to regenerate myself and return to a brutal relationship with reality. And in this, the film was an ideal tool. But also because it had become easy for me to lie with the images: in a time of one second, all it takes is the chance of a blur, of a color that spreads and deforms to make an image. With the film, I came back to the importance of truth, and the intensity of a situation; I also wanted to return to a sharper, more precise image. To get out a little of this vagueness that brought me somewhere but also locked me up.

Coming back to the truth of the images and forcing myself to work with a rawer, purer, more “true” reality. The film forced me to take responsibility. The voice of women too: for the first time, I gave voice to these women who are absolutely more important than images. That’s what makes this movie for me. And giving back this word forced me to go further in my relationship with them: this relationship has become deeper, and more complex. It’s a vicious circle, as always, which forces me to go further, to seek more, to give more, to steal more, to take more.

In my head, I hear these words: “You call me Iku (n.a. which means “I cum”) but my real name is Izumi”… “Sayo”… “Saki”… “Kei”… “Nao ”…. The words were spoken by the seven women of Aka Ana (Red Hole) in the Shinjuku district.
“You don’t understand the world, you swallow it, that’s all”.
“My body takes pleasure but my heart remains cold”.
“You widen my feminine wound”.
“I want to open the world to you, but to be your mirror, no”.

What are you looking for Antoine?

What I seek above all in a general way, through photography or film, is not to do photography or cinema. What interests me is giving myself the means, whatever they are – political, artistic – to live my life in the most relevant, intense, violent, true way… possible. Photography allows me to go in this direction. The main thing is there. My ideological, political, and aesthetic positions; wanting to restore photography to the status of art, of gesture and action and not simply of gaze, are only consequences of this essential desire to put life and art on the same level. Which is almost mission impossible but trying is the only thing I have. It is a great adventure to live in this utopia.

What did you learn about the human condition?

I did not learn anything. It may seem too easy to answer like this. I rather feel like I’m constantly falling. The horror is limitless, the tragedies are endless. I don’t get used to anything, I don’t resolve anything, I don’t give up anything and I don’t back down from anything. These women, who a priori are foreign to me, touch me and challenge me. So when I decide to know them, to know them from the inside, to feel them, to touch them, to love them, I have no limits. And in this world in which we live, when we set ourselves no limits, these women in any case who carry all the heaviness and their personal tragedy on their shoulders, they give everything. The words of these women and the women themselves continue to offer me and give me an understanding, a visibility on existence. It is this intensity that makes life worth living. And it is this pain, the magnitude of their tragedy that makes them more worthy, in my eyes, than those who live in the comfort of their own security.
I am aware that I will never be equal to them: they have only the emptiness, the pain, and the nothingness of their own destiny, while my need to tell the story imposes on me a relationship of profitability, to do something of this pain, of this emptiness, – a language, a material, a story – which in one way or another is destined to be “consumed” by people who do not live their lives with the same courage or the same need. Even if I try not to betray what I see, what I live with them, everything I feel, I am in an impure role, they are absolute, in the most naked and brutal truth of the world. ‘existence. Do you understand what I am telling you?”

Yes, I believe… Art and photography in particular, according to Antoine d’Agata, can only exist in existence itself.

To be an artist is to live as much as possible

Making books, images, and exhibitions are compromises, he tells me, which allow him to maintain freedom of movement. Ideally, he would do nothing. Just live as righteously as possible. Over time and his experience, he realizes that he lives in a more extreme and intense way since he practices photography. Although his existence before photography has hardly changed: he made the same gestures, in the same places, and with the same sincerity. The status of the artist does not interest him when I ask him if he considers himself as such. His freedom lies in this “continuous attempt, to try, to give up nothing, every day, to forget everything that has been done, to reset the counters and to start again in another place, with another woman”.

This renunciation is his freedom. Antoine d’Agata, a free man…

The credits of Aka Ana’s film scroll down, and the room, packed, is silent.

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