What pictures can tell about father and son

By Ruan Fan(chinadaily.com.cn)
Updated: 2016-06-19 08:53:31

Father and son, France. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

What is a father? What is a son? What bond links them? Blood? Love? Legacy? Inheritance?

Having photographed fathers, 30 to 80 years old, standing up, bare-chested, with their sons, whether months-old or already in their fifties, French photographer Grégoire Korganow looks for the answers in his photo project: Father and son.

During his residency in Chongqing and Beijing, where he took a series of portraits of Chinese fathers and sons, Korganow shows the unknown side of the country – which the photographer says is quite different from what he saw of Chinese residing in France.

During his stay in Beijing, Korganow gave an exclusive interview to China Daily website, in the interview, he explained how he arrived at the idea of the photography project and some intimate moments he shared with his subjects.

Below are excerpts from the interview.

What inspired you to do the "Father and Son" project? A question raised by your son Marco?

I started the father and son project in 2010. This project was born from a question of familial relations asked by my son Marco, who was 5 years of age at that time. Marco was born in Rwanda, and was adopted by me and my wife when he was 5 months old. His skin color is black and ours is white. The photos « father and son » was at first an attempt to explain to my son the resemblance, heredity and the nature of the connections between a father and a son. It was also the time when my father grew old and I was needed to live close by to look after him. The first portraits were therefore taken with my son and my father.

Father and Son is also a photographic work about the masculine figure. It puts fathers and sons in close proximity, a body to body closeness that's often lost when men became adults. This new state of being allows them to reach for a nearly forgotten tenderness. In my photos, men of different generations and cultures come together. It's a sensational voyage through time in the world of men.

Do you have preferences in choosing your subjects in your "Father and Son" project, as you seem to like taking photos of disadvantaged groups in society?

I do not choose the models for "Father and Son". The residence in the country that welcomes me puts out an announcement, asking for volunteer subjects, whom I will then interview in person. What interests me in the work of "Father and son" is to present men in a sensible manner. I'm interested in presenting them through a different prism than their usual image: authority, courage, and power. I see them in their fragility, in their doubt and their pain…

Father and son, 2016, China. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

The project has also included some Chinese fathers and sons, what kind of people are they? Can you describe the relationship between Chinese fathers and sons from what you've observed during the shooting session?

Before coming to China, I've questioned myself whether Chinese fathers and sons will give themselves in tenderness with abandon. I thought that they might be too modest and the body to body contact would not be as evident as, for example, Brazil. I was surprised to note that the native Chinese men are very different from the Chinese residents in France that I had the chance to shoot. Some took each other in their arms, others kept a certain distance. I experienced, during the photo shootings, certain absoluteness in the bond between the fathers and sons in China.

Why do you decide to take nude photos? Do you have difficulty getting your subjects to undress?

I take photos of men half naked for a number of reasons: first, I work with the human body, the stigma and metamorphosis of it. Also, as this project was born from my son's question on skin colors, I made bare skin the central focus of my work. At last, without clothing, there's no social reference and no back stories, the men who present themselves are equal in the eyes of the observer.

Do you have any particular moments that made an impression while shooting the project? Or stories to tell?

I will tell two stories that occurred during the shooting of the project in China. I remember there was this little three-year-old boy who didn't want his photos taken. He refused to remove his T-shirt. The father spoke to him for a long time until the child finally agreed to the shoot. I sensed that this shoot was very important for the father, who was more than 60 years old and had a very serious illness. There was this other father who came in with his teenaged son and his old and dependent father, during the shoot this man was deeply touched and very solemn. I do not know what happened in his life, because I do not speak Chinese, but I know he wanted those photos. Those two examples show what interests me the most, that the father and son who came in for the shoot are also doing it for their own benefit. I do not need to know their reasons, it's enough for me to feel the intensity of their motivations.

Father and son, 2011, France. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

You said you wish to raise the question in your audience of "What is a father? What is a son? What bond links them?" What is your answer to these questions?

Each photo is a fragment of my answer. I have not finished my exploration. I am surprised by the richness of the subject and will continue to search for the various answers that describe this mysterious connection that unites the men.

How do you wish to define your work, portrait photography or photo journalism?

Neither. I wish for this photography to be free, and anchored in the reality. It has both documentary and artistic dimensions.

If you go

The exhibition opens though July 10 at Sanyingtang Gallery in Beijing.

Father and son, 2014, Brazil. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Grégoire Korganow and his son. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Father and son, 2011, France. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Father and son, 2015, France. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Father and son. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Father and son, 2015, Brazil. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Father and son. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Father and sons. [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

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