The photographic work of Myriem Karim, in a creative dialogue with her poetic practice, addresses our relation with space and matter. Inspired by experimental techniques, she observes with sensibility and discretion uninhabited natural landscapes, investigating traces and mutual imprints. Her images always tell the story of an encounter between body and place, focusing on their interactions and reciprocity. (In this interview, we take her series La Reine des Tamarins as a starting point to talk about her photographic practice and ask about her latest project, Arborescences.
You work with analog photography and are inspired by experimental techniques : your images seem to move towards a certain form of abstraction, an erasure of contours, a disappearance. Could you tell us more about your creative process?
My interest in photography lies in its ability to make impressions visible. Those provided to us by reality, the experiences we go through, our reactions to phenomena. It is this sensitivity that I try to translate into the photographic image. This is another way of "documenting" reality, of accounting for it. It is to give the possibility of expressing a sidelong glance at reality. So far I have worked exclusively with film for various reasons, the main one being slowness. An essential point in my artistic vision. However, I do not close doors. I believe in finding the right balance between the way things are done and what is being shown. We shouldn't prevent ourselves from trying something else if inclination and opportunity arise. As for the experimental character: I am self-taught in photography. I researched a lot on my own, and learned from books. This implies from the beginning a lot of trials, disruptions, surprises and a certain freedom taken and asserted towards standards, codes, expectations. But I see photography as an infinite practice in a way. It is always possible to seek, develop, try, go beyond what we already master.
Dance, philosophy, poetry : your influences are multiple. How do they enter into dialogue with your photographic practice?
I consider very important the idea of opening up possibilities. My influences come from various fields and I like the idea of having a clear and wide horizon, without restricting myself when it comes to my sources of inspiration. The intersection of different fields of knowledge is a promise of enrichment, an inexhaustible source of knowledge. The disciplines have things to say to each other and we should not be embarrassed to convene them together. Dance is the relationship to the body, the space, the skin, the air. There are the volumes, the shapes that we create. It is becoming aware of one's position in space, static or mobile. It's about interacting with what comes in your way. And finally, that's exactly what happens in photography when I go to a specific territory. It is always a question of asking ourselves where we stand in relation to the object observed and photographed. It's trying to enter the landscape; to be in a corporeal contact with matter. And this attitude, in itself, is already philosophical and poetic for me. We take the time to question our situation, our presence in the world. About what is inside and what is outside. So this fieldwork is intimately linked to phenomenology. From practice to theory, or vice versa, there is only one step (it still has to be taken!). The idea of intersection, of interlacing, feeds my experimentation and my photographic thinking.
In the text that accompanies La Reine des Tamarins, you talk about a "sauvage nature, original and bare, without a trace of human presence". What is the wild for you and how do you relate to it ?
There is something that touches me deeply in unhabited spaces. It often comes down to finding areas where the possibility of establishing human life has been (still is) difficult if not impossible. This is the promise of a nature without human beings. Of a nature that carries only the traces of its own history, and that lives and evolves in its proper rhythm. Places spared by our imprint. You can go there, appreciate them, wander around, but you are always invited, a guest. At some point you have to leave. I find that these places (the series La Reine des Tamarins brings together landscapes taken in the Mediterranean Sea off Marseille, on glaciers in the Monte Rosa massif in Italy, at the foot of the cliffs in the province of Aragon in Spain or in the Hérault Gorges in France,…) invite us to be discreet. They make us feel our otherness. Radiate with beauty and strength. This is what I call the "wild".
You quote A Balcony in the Forest by Julien Gracq. In an essay by the very suggestive title Eyes Wide Open Gracq talks about the relationship between people and their environment, invoking the idea of "human plant", of a rooted being, sensitive to the movements of the world surrouding, feeding, and shaping him. He writes: "I consider the man as a being constantly plunged back: if you want, the terminal tassel, the finest and most sensitive, of the nervous threads on the planet". Is it possible for you to find this harmony between human being and the world?
Yes and I would even say that it is essential, this harmony. It is fundamental to feel that we are actively involved in the world around us. The world modelling us. It is an incredible, intense and fluctuating source of energy and our lives are traversed by this flow. We are not static, on the contrary! The world moves and we move with it. We interact. And right now we are able to observe it. The pandemic shows us that we cannot evade the world we live in. We impact it and we are impacted in return: because even the infinitely small, the invisible, makes us falter. Beyond this situation, what strikes me as astonishing is the sensation of being somehow out of touch. Whether you are a city or a country dweller, you do not escape the logic of the Earth following its orbit, the changing seasons, the passing hours, etc. If I feel very connected to nature, it is also because I have had this opportunity (especially living in rural areas for part of my life) and have been used to the great outdoors, to freedom. I think that everyone should be able to develop their relationship with nature, even in the city: we can take the example of community gardens, urban farms, woodlands on the outskirts of urban centers. To act towards intimacy with the natural world.
Vegetals, plants and trees have become, after a long neglect, a crucial focus of investigation in philosophical and ecological thought. Emanuele Coccia, in his The Life of Plants : A Metaphysics of Mixture describes plants as "the most radical and paradigmatic form of being-in-the-world." Can you tell about your encounter with the natural reserve of Confluence Garonne-Ariège and its vegetation for Arborescences, the series created during your artistic residency 1plus2 Factory?
I discovered this natural reserve, located in the outskirts of Toulouse, thanks to the project of the Residence 1plus2 on veteran trees. It is a territory that stretches for 15km, along the banks of the Ariège and Garonne rivers. It is a forest where humans do not intervene. Living and dead trees, animals, insects are left there, suggesting the impression a massive and abundant whole. The reserve is a place with a certain poetry because it offers a chaotic landscape. During my first walk in the forest, I felt both foreign and intimate. Then, by dint of returning many times, I forged a familiar and warm bond with the place. The fact of having worked in immersion helped me a lot. When you spend a few days in the same place, roaming around the different paths, climbing trees, and wondering with your eyes fixed on the map what other places you have left to explore; I think it's okay to end up feeling "like at home", even though not you are not. This feeling of comfort among the trees helped me in their observation. Finding the right angle of approach was not immediately obvious. You are either below or far away or too close. I had to find the correct distance; find different scales to translate impressions of magnificence or, on the contrary, the subtlety of detail. Trees are complex. They are very much linked to the Earth, rooted in it; and at the same time they mingle with air, water, light. This multitude of factors should be considered when taking pictures of trees and forests. We have to adapt while, at the same time, all of this is appealing to our senses: we see the trees, smell them, touch them, listen to them. It implies something quite intuitive.
Looking at your landscapes I also think of Gaston Bachelard. He describes poetic reverie as a form of spatial imagination which “allows to become one with the world and the elements”. He affirms that "by the gaze and the poetic word the man adheres to the world". But we cannot dream with objects, he explains to us "we must dream with material elements", it is in matter that the imagination must take root. Does this resonate with your images?
I have actually read a lot of Bachelard. I am sensitive to its philosophical and poetic relationship to elements and matter. This is clearly an important inspiration for my photography, in its quest for revelation. He analyzes a phenomenological experience of the world through the prism of dreams and imagination. For him, there is an evocative, revealing power of matter. Recollections of material elements emanating from memory. Sometimes I almost have the impression that it is before language, as a kind of primitive relationship to the elements already inscribed in us. What is touching in his thinking is once again the transversality of fields. It decompartmentalizes the fields of science, philosophy and poetry. All respond to, permeate or oppose each other. It is an inventive way of thinking about how we are in the world. It leaves me dreamy.
MYRIEM KARIM - BIO
Musician, dancer and holder of a master's degree in literature, Myriem Karim (* 1991) is a self-taught photographer based in Montpellier. She works with analog photography and is interested in experimental techniques. In 2020, she won the Grand Prix of the Departmental Council of MAP festival in Toulouse, with the series Nous habitons la nudité de nos corps. The project Arborescences, created for the Residence 1+2 Factory in the natural reserve of the Confluence Garonne-Ariège, was exhibited during L'été photographique organised by the Art and Photography Center of Lectoure. She has been recently chosen as emerging photographer for the 2021 Residence 1+2 Photography and Science program.