RAW Streetphoto Gallery in Rotterdam is known for producing vibrant exhibitions that show the artworks from experimental emergent artists. For the first seasonal exhibition of 2020, RAW Streetphoto Gallery invited Céline Pannetier, a French photographer, specialized in color gothic photography. Pannetier has introduced the issue of urbanisation as a well established and present theme in her most recent projects. The urbanised city of Barcelona is precisely the location where many of her projects have been born. The Mediterranean climate of Barcelona plays an important role in her artistic processes. The sun in Barcelona is a tool, Pannetier uses to give meaning and aesthetic quality to her art. The theme of her current series “The Straw Conspiracy” orbits around urban consumerism, irresponsible sustainability, and tourist gentrification- all of which are symptoms of an urbanised society. In this series, Pannetier has used the sun as a natural tool to create a strong contrast between light and dark. This is similar to the Chiaroscuros that predominated around Europe in the early phase of the High Renaissance. Nevertheless, instead of using paint, she manoeuvres the uncontrollable sunlight to her benefit. The Straw Conspiracy develops in el Mercado La Boqueria Market, an old market of Barcelona. This used to be a central food market where the local merchants supplied fresh products to the families living around the area and its visitors. The market has lost its original purpose, now, and it has become an attraction to the 13 million tourists that overwhelm Barcelona every year. The original nature of the market has drastically changed in the previous years and today the fruit and vegetable stalls are practically outnumbered by the takeaway stalls that are recognisable for overusing plastic products. The irony of the plastic overdose is that the suppliers of take-away food have to spend money repeatedly buying single-use plastic items. This series speaks about the lack of sustainability. Also, this series depicts a parallel narrative in the shadow. The shadows cast by the sun can be interpreted as turmoil or warmth, but essentially they are not meant to have a fixed meaning: the audience is encouraged to create their meaning through a mental conversation with photography.
To dive deeper into the secrets and artistic development of The Straw Conspiracy, the team from RAW Streetphoto Gallery interviewed Céline Pannetie.
What follows are the questions answered by Céline Pannetier.
RAW Streetphoto Gallery: Before jumping into the details about your most recent works, we are intrigued to know more about your early development as an artist. Earlier, you told us that you are born French but moved to Barcelona, Spain. Do you think that this geographical movement was catalytic for your artistic development?
Céline Pannetier: Most definitely. Moving from Paris, I found in Barcelona a very special place that offered me the ideal conditions for investigating seriously my relationship with light and contrast. Its Mediterranean light creates vibrant colors, dense contrasted shadows. The gothic district, that is in some parts a bit of a maze, also provides me with ever-changing shadow areas where the sun would spot only a few details. That is what, instinctively, my eye goes for. The weather has also a clear impact on the regularity, I am going out and shooting on an almost daily basis.
RAW: In the realm of photography, we understand that finding the tools outside the camera that help you build a profound composition is a lengthy and complex process. You use the sunlight and the shadows as tools outside the camera as a tool that provides meaning and aesthetic criteria to your art. Do you remember the moment you started developing this artistic relationship with the sunlight, shadows, and shades? Also, could you give advice to any emerging artist who is struggling to find organic tools for their artistic development?
CP: That’s a tricky pack of questions. In order to answer those honestly, I have to admit first I was totally helpless with the flash and that helplessness drove me crazy. I was fascinated by the high contrasts and density of the colors I could admire in daylight flash photography (needless to say I was a great admirer of Martin Parr’s work from an early age). Almost instinctively, I trusted the sun and Barcelona to make the trick for me, using those sunlight beams as a natural flash. Of course, you guess, I have also no control over the sun, so I developed kind of a “Sunflower” strategy, to know when and where the sun could be my perfect accomplice. That was kind of a long process, two, three years roaming the streets almost every day. Five years ago, after a life-changing event, I felt the urge to take the camera and get out, regardless of the results. I guess the photographic tools I developed reflect somehow the personal, emotional tools I finally got hold of.
In regards to your second question, I do not feel I’m in the position to give advice. I did though follow the best piece of advice I was given. Go out and shoot, every day, anytime, always. At some point, repeatedly having to face the same, call them problems, struggles, stones on the way, instinct and imagination take over and you start to develop a personal answer. That means, perseverance, and maybe most importantly, enjoying enough what you do not to allow bad days or poor results to stop you.
RAW: You have mentioned that photography is almost like meditation. in your own words, “when looking through the viewfinder, comes the silence, and the choreography of light, shadows, and colors takes over”. Nevertheless, some of the visible themes about your project, The Straw Conspiracy, irresponsible sustainability, and tourist gentrification, are hard to imagine in serene meditation. How do you manage to maintain a balance between sensible topics and a peaceful state of mind?
CP: I sincerely stand by that statement! When shooting, I’m really enjoying this almost meditation state, hardly thinking, all senses focused on movement, light, colors, shadows.
That might sound kind of weird but the thinking usually comes afterward. That's quite the opposite of how my parents intended to educate me, hahaha!
Until now, most of my projects are born from an almost instinctive first batch of production. It’s as if my senses took over to point at a question I would later want to address seriously.
Investigating, structuring and elaborating the narrative always come as a second phase.
RAW: The Straw Conspiracy develops in el Mercado La Boqueria Market, an old market of Barcelona. Have you thought about expanding this project to other cultural heritage sites that are also suffering from mass tourism, gentrification, and unsustainable waste?
CP: NO, most definitely, this project is about this very place. It's the market I visit almost every day, where I buy my fresh fruits and vegetables, and that’s a very personal statement (although I know a vast majority of my neighbors feel the same). The countless and devastating effects of mass tourism will most probably be present in my following projects because, sadly, it's part of Barcelona's reality nowadays. But the Straw Conspiracy Project is completed the year France banned the use of single-use plastics. I wish it could now travel and be exhibited as a testimony of a, hopefully soon solved, problem.
RAW: Your project, The Straw Conspiracy, started being exhibited in RAW Streetphoto Gallery the 12 January of 2020. RAW Streetphoto Gallery is situated in a megacity of the Netherlands that suffers from similar symptoms as el Mercado La Boqueria Market. Do you think your exhibition had a strong impact in the eyes of our visitors?
CP: I do not know. I do hope so. Clearly, although I’m telling a story about a marketplace in Barcelona, I’m also talking about any place where mass tourism came to rule.