Secret-Sharer: An Interview with Raymonde April

In 1999 Montreal photographer Raymonde April completed a project that integrated art and architecture called “Le Monde des Images.” Both in its title and methodology, it could easily describe the whole of her omnivorous practice. The work was, indeed, a world of images and included everything from family to found photos. April’s photographic projects are characteristically multi-layered and multi-formed.

The following interview with Robert Enright was conducted by phone in Montreal on March 31 and April 2, 2008.

Border Crossings: Did you become interested in photography by looking at the photographs your father had taken?

Raymonde April: When I was a small kid I looked at family albums, like anybody did. I remember when I was six years old being really scared looking at negatives because they reversed the world. People were careless in their treatment of negatives; you looked at the photograph very carefully, but you had all of the negatives stuck up in a shoebox, where they just rubbed against each other. My parents used to say, “That’s just the film; we don’t need the film.” But I became more interested when I was 16 or 17 and in Cégep. A friend had shown me how to develop film in his darkroom. At the time I was very impressed by documentary cinema, all the sociological and ethnographic Quebec films Pierre Perrault did with the National Film Board. I think films were my big fantasy, and photography was a way to reach some kind of fiction without having the crew, the cameraman and the sound. But I lived in Rivière-du-Loup, which is a small town, and there were a couple of magazines I could buy at a newsstand. One was Photo, a French magazine where I could see the kind of documentary work Robert Frank was doing, and there was Ovo, a Quebec magazine that showed Montreal urban life. In Rivière-du-Loup there was nothing comparable. I was trying to emulate the kind of documentary photography I was seeing in the magazines. Then when I got to university and read Proust, the project changed; I wanted to create images and not just find them. I still took tons of photographs, at parties for example, just to remember things, but there was a clear distinction between what I was doing when I was posing for self-portraits and everything else. I couldn’t use both together.

BC: When you decided that you would be a workable subject for your photographs was it based on convenience or was there something more philosophical going on?

RA: It was convenient because I never had in mind what I was going to do. I improvised all the time. I couldn’t ask people to perform something so it was a lot easier to use myself. I think because I was reading so many autobiographies–Proust, Anaïs Nin, de Beauvoir–this way of talking about yourself as if you were another person was philosophically present, too. But it wasn’t so conscious.

BC: What made you decide in 1986 to use your family as subjects and how do you think it has affected the work?

RA: I started to use my family the same time that the landscape became important. I wasn’t close to my family; I had left Rivière-du-Loup, gone to Quebec City and Montreal to be an artist and then went back. It had to do with my own desire to be with them. I thought I had to leave in order to become myself, and I never thought that Eastern Quebec would be a significant subject. I wanted to take all my influences from somewhere else; I wanted to see the world. Then I went back to work in the summer and, suddenly, it was like an inspiration.

BC: Are you always on the lookout for an image?

RA: In some ways, yes. That’s how I make images. Making images instead of letting them go. Maybe it’s a way of keeping and preserving. That’s not so much about art photography as about seeing the world and some kind of sharing. It’s not easy, and because it’s not easy you have to rely on description: on the sound, the colour, the light, and on the conversation that was happening at the time. Everything that surrounds it becomes obliterated, but it’s still contained in the image. I think attentiveness is the basis of what I do, and everything else is technique, formal exploration and formal decisions, labour, energy and taste…

To read the entire interview, pick up a copy of issue 108!