“Does what happens inside show on the outside? There is such a great fire in one’s soul, and yet nobody ever comes to warm themselves there, and passersby see nothing but a little smoke coming from the top of the chimney, and go on their way.”
― Vincent van Gogh, The Letters of Vincent van Gogh
Charity Thomas is an incredibly talented photographer based in Paris who has been chameleonically experimenting with different forms of visual arts before dallying with narrative photography in the upmost creative way. In her subtle photographic works, time is unstirred, the visible reality is charged with memories and emotions and oscillates between imagination and tangibility. Even if Charity uses classical genres such as still life, landscape or people, there is a close interlacing with a constant state of change, an escapism under the surface. The artist is thus pushing the visual world to touch the inner one and produce a transitional experience within the viewer which is different from what the actual visual appearance suggests. The observer effect takes Charity Thomas’s work from the candid type of photography (where the slice of life moments are captured invoking the sense of “now”) towards the staged photography, acting conceptually.
I was particularly drawn to one of Charity’s projects called “A touch of sadness” and its reflections of light and emotions being thrown back from the surface. The photos included in this particular photographic project were taken in between the Normandy countryside (where both the main character of the series and Charity grew up in) and the busy cities they were trying to build their young adult lives in. When the relationship came to a breaking point this series was born. It’s a form of recollection, a retrospective like reminiscence of a specific period in time of that relationship.
"A touch of sadness" reflects on the beauty and complexity of a relationship. It marks a chapter in a story. The series began in 2009, as a new photographer I was exploring the medium in an almost obsessive way, and photography became an important part of my everyday life.
Since then, people close to me, who share my daily life, have become a part of my work. Often they forget the camera, sometimes they’ll get tired and irritated by it, and other times they might play along with me. The photographic act has become a collective act for me. I explore the stories we act and tell to ourselves, each other and to others.
I question photography as a medium, particularly its role in the intimate sphere and its relation to memory and imagination. This questioning was triggered early on by our traditional family photo albums. What stories do those albums, full of happy and important events, really tell? I was intrigued by the stories in between the pictures, and often wondered what part was exaggerated, left out or imagined. I questioned the limit in between appearance and truth. It got me thinking about the relation of photography to the autobiographical process, its relation to time, expectations and deceptions, memory and loss, and so its ambiguity with fiction and reality.
The pictures I create try to link my inner world, imaginary worlds constructed during childhood and adolescence (greatly influenced by English literature, 70’s music, my passed family history/haunts, and a Victorian inspired lifestyle I was brought up in the middle of the Normandy countryside), with the world I live in and the people I live with today.
With "A touch of sadness", I explore intimate moments, suspensions in time, and the spaces in between events. I capture the nothingness of the day-to-day life. And, it’s often in the banality of it that strangeness, mystery and poetry appears. I’m in search of the poetical aspect of the moment that resides within the fragile balance in between reality and fiction, the ordinary and the wonderful, wake and sleep, exteriority and interiority, childhood and adulthood, consciousness and unconsciousness.
Fictions are created from banal situations and one could question what was really lived or what was acted for the camera. I’d say it’s entwined. What’s important to me is the interaction of the person photographed with the photographer. That interaction creates a space where the picture is revealed disclosing the complicity and/or complexity of the relationship.
How did you first get into photography? Tell me a little about yourself and your background.
I was born in Worcester, England, brought up in Normandy, France and am currently living in Paris. I come from a very creative and imaginative family. I went to the Beaux-Arts of Caen in Normandy. I first experimented with video, collage and painting. I moved on to stop motion created with photographs of characters in sets mixed with family archives. After discovering the dark room at school I got into analogue photography, which got me really questioning the medium. I worked for a while on a combination of photography with text, on the link and the space in between the pictures and the words. After passing my DNAP diploma I decided I wanted to really specialize in photography and experience living in a big city, so I went to study photography and contemporary art at the University Paris 8. By then I was photographing my surroundings and the people who shared my life in an almost obsessive way, constantly experimenting, trying to link my entourage with my imaginative world.
I studied the works of photographers who photograph the intimate sphere; my master’s dissertation was entitled “Histoires de Familles, le photographe conteur de la sphère intime” (“Family Stories, the photographer storyteller of the intimate sphere”). I finished my studies with a book entitled “Ripples”, which is a fragmented and poetic visual narration inspired by my family history and the 19th century English literature-like atmosphere I grew up in. The photographs used are a mix in between family archives and staged photography, printed on silk paper and sketching paper with transparencies, repetitions and "mise en abyme" effects in between the images.
Is your work reflecting your personal thoughts and feelings? If so, what has your photography taught you about yourself?
Yes, it reflects my inner world, my personal thoughts, feelings and imagination. I try to convey the poetical and literary vision my surroundings inspire in me. I explore the relation of photography to memory and imagination in storytelling. I question and play with its ambiguity with fiction and reality. It has taught me a lot about myself, it accompanies me in trying to understand my rapport to the world, how I evolve in it and it helps me give an existence and meaning to a part of me I generally find difficult to express.
Where do you get the inspiration for your work?
I get my inspiration from the environment I grew up in, the nature, the wilderness, the stories, the events and the music of my childhood and adolescence. I was brought up in beautiful isolated Normandy countryside, in a sort of parallel world created by my parents, a space in between England and France and in between times: a bubble strongly influenced by a selected aspect of the English culture but constructed in a very rural part of France. I was surrounded by the British worlds of authors such as the Brontë sisters, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, I played make believe with my sister in the brook at the end of the garden or in long grass fields like a couple of Edith Nesbit’s railway children and got woken up in the morning by Led Zeppelin blaring away full blast. My home life and the outside world at school were such different worlds to me and so very separate. I experienced both cultures in a fragmented way. Each one today is linked to different aspects of my personality; like fiction to England, reality to France or the past to England and present to France. I’m a bit of both nationalities at the same time but never really fully one or the other.
Through this I’m inspired by the “in between”: “in between” worlds, moments, fiction and reality, insanity and sanity, inside and outside, presence and absence, interiority and exteriority, past and present, separation and fusion. I explore the fragility of balance and the fluctuating aspect of things, fragmentation, flaw, timelessness and escapism.
You capture an interesting blend of people, places, and conceptual photography. Are you attracted to any of these, or are you more into experimenting with style?
I situate my work in between the candid and the staged photography. I photograph myself, people and places around me: people and places I feel close to in some way, that I can create or tell stories with, be it mine or theirs or both of ours combined, people and places that have stories to tell that resonate with my own, that have something of that “in between”.
Could you please give us more details about your future plans and project ideas?
I’m working on two new projects: the first one links the English countryside I came from to the French countryside I grew up in and the second is more vague but I’ll be working with transparencies and textures. Both projects explore separation and fusion. I can’t really say more for now as both are still in the research stage. They may evolve completely differently than intended. I also have plans for my book Ripples. There is only one existing final copy of it and its dummy. So far it has mainly been exhibited as a unique art piece (at the Gallery Michèle Chomette in Paris last for the JANUS contest, for a educational exhibition in Normandy, and its dummy was shortlisted and exhibited for the Photobook Fest Rock You Dummy Award during le Mois de la Photo in Paris last year). It got more and more difficult to exhibit it without it getting too damaged, so at the moment I am looking and working on the possibilities of making this project more accessible by having it edited in multiple copies.