Laetitia Boulud


concept / avi pitchon
Two photographers – Laetitia Boulud and Alex De Jong, discuss each other's photographs. they investigate the subject of photographs – the 'what is going on' in photographs, the relationships between the actual thing/situation/presence that is captured and the meaning it triggers for the viewer. Phototalk charts the way this relationship ignites what Barthes refers to as a sense of adventure and as a “mad love”.
There are some crucial elements that disturb the regular flow of photographic dialogue – a disturbance that forces not only creativity in the means of conducting this conversation, an opening up of further frontiers of possibility in the field of meaning. First, it is revealed that one of the two photographers, De Jong, had lost his eyesight. He cannot, therefore, simply see his own or Boulud's photographs. This pushes the medium towards a new language of translating the seen by transforming seeing to hearing and to touching. While Boulud discusses De Jong's photographs in conversation, the opposite to this process is created by her finding ways to describe to him what is in the photograph in different ways: the process – the adventure – of unveiling the objects, of holding and touching them.
De Jong is terminally ill, an integral element in the very same conversation, and it enters it by 'accident' simply because it is the theme of the photographs Boulud wanted to hear about from De Jong. It may also be the subject of a retelling of a dream. That which is experienced, that which is remembered, that which will go away with the witness – are all discussed with the immediacy and urgency of actuality gradually replacing the calm and distance of theory. Phototalking thus constitutes their laboratory of a poignantly 'time-based' practice, the building of a common archive through conversation: focused, raw, precise and at times hilarious.

the studio / seeingistouching
Through objects and time streams, through sound and photographs we show the workings of our brain, the insides of our mind. We separate all sensory input streams from each other and from their input. This creates a form of synesthesia in a tangible and traceable way.
How we got there was by exploring blindness as a form of visual perception. We set out to re-think blindness as visual processing and then we ended up re-thinking visual through blindness by enacting photography as non-visual gesture.

This is in itself constitutes an exploration of how mind perceives reality and why it is seeing of all the senses that traps us in conceptual and dualistic perception. Instead we present infinite gesture that leads to communication with oneself and then with the world. We do this through creating a disconnection between how the brain sees or perceives and eye-seeing. For this we use ordinary tools like household objects, cameras, sound, writing and the tracing of dreams. 
In Alex's practice of Dzogchen, such a practice separating eye-seeing fro the other senses is called  'the dark retreat'. As artists we are also mediators in making that this perceptual synesthesia accessible. For the duration of phototalk the space is a laboratory we share with the viewers that come to the show, it is the enactment of bodily practice. 

luminosity / alex de jong

From when my vision first started changing, I remember the feeling of combined dread and excitement. The fear produced in me by the strange colors I was perceiving, by objects abruptly appearing and disappearing, by the way everything acquired a painful luminosity. Yet, all this was exciting too, in a way, because of the visual spectacle, because it demonstrated so excellently how the visual orld we take for granted is a mirage, an illusion. Now, the dust has settled, at least some of it, and my new way of seeing has become as common-place as the old. Along with the shifts, my understanding of the visual world has changed. The change is mainly a cognitive one. There is a story about how it may be easy to declare the world an illusion, “but why would you want to forego the sight of the ships, their sails radiantly red in the setting sun”. I might have thought, that with changes of sight there might be changes in everything. But it is surprising how much continuity there is in my life and in my work. Looking at it from the outside, you might suppose there are caesurae separating then from now, before from after.

For a while I thought there might be a before and after, because everything I had to learn was so strange, so different. As my brain adapted to its new inputs I had to find a new way forward for my process. Like I can't see faces, although I remember what the faces of the people I love are like, I couldn't look my photographs in the eye anymore either. Then faces started to fade, and the painful rewiring of my brain meant the images within the frames meant increasingly less to me. Yet I had to find a way to connect to them if I wanted to remain a photographer. I would have to find a way to get access to my photos through someone else. I would have to trust this person, and no longer strive to translate what I shot to what I remembered, or what I thought I perceived.

When Laetitia contacted me I thought she was doing so for all the wrong reasons, because of a romantic notion of blindness perhaps. I remember her first questions grating on my soul. The wounds were still too fresh, the experience too raw to do anything with those questions, except launch into a rational defense of why it was I wanted to be a photographer and a blind one at that. I became comfortable in working with my editor, but not, or not right away in working with Laetitia, because I felt I would soon be approaching an edge from where I would have to jump. I would have to face the blindness and photography square on, not hide, but integrate the capturing of images that I still loved with all the notions of loss, of pain, of my longing for sight, through my body. If I thought I could somehow separate the photography, the process that I knew, from my physical experience of blindness, I was wrong. As Laetitia proceeded to probe ever deeper, to pull away the skin, as she started in her mind to let in my work and to let her work touch me in the most raw way, I had to start letting sight in. I didn't welcome this and it had to be forced on me. Phototalking started out being a rational way of getting access to photographs. It concerned what was in the frame, but not more than that. When I had to deal with my frustration at not being able to get the images that Laetitia was phototalking to me, I had to start focusing on the short circuits my perception was causing, while keeping my longing for sight intact. This was a painful process, but necessary. I would have to find sound in a photograph, and scent, but most of all - touch.

between worlds / laetitia boulud
Alex is 46 years old, he is a photographer and a Tibetan Buddhist monk. He is a teacher.  He is an artist. He is a husband. He is a father.  And Alex is my dearest friend. Since the end of 2006 we have been working as a team. For two and a half years, email was the only formal way we chose to communicate: only writing. In 2009 we started using Skype-talking. Later we met physically.
Around four o’clock in the morning. I am used to waking up, preparing coffee, lighting a candle, sitting behind my laptop surfing my mind through the net. It’s the hour in between, even before the birds wake up in Tel-Aviv. 
After 12 years of wondering about and seeking for the relation between seeing and not seeing in the context of photography, after looking for the organ related to it, after looking for those cells and for this blood, my mind, like at the beginning of that very day, began to feel fresh and clear. I posted a question on a blog: "can blind people enjoy the art of photography?"  That morning, something of an answer awoke me. What I had been looking for appeared there: 100 replies within an hour. Only one stood out. The only words that made any sense and surprised me: right on that other side of the divide, bridged by a wireless connection, a man introduced himself as Lodro Rigzdin. He said: "I am a photographer and I am losing my eye sight". I was talking with Alex De Jong. On his online profile information page, he  gave two details: I am male and I am taken. He was enthusiastic and smart, I started smelling revolution. Alex went through an operation. It had something to do with removing the tumor located in his brain. That operation left a remarkable scar: 6 months later Alex had lost his eyesight. 
My investigation started to deepen and I found out that he also had another profile on that site, which was named: 'urbandiscount', and there I found a whole different story. Later he told me that this was his profile from before he lost his eyesight. Years of shooting. Documenting his life. I googled him in all these guises and I found some writings, some videos. Like I did with his photographs, I read his words and listened to his recordings. I remember going through his photo stream. Hypnotized by his images, for they revealed what I thought one could see in the deepest way. He later explained to me that to him it is the mind that sees, not the eye. Alex' photographs interested me. He had shot 8300 photographs. One after another I looked at them. I started questioning him about them. I asked questions about his technique. I also asked questions about the story behind them. I was working at the time on an exhibition called 'please touch the art'. And I suggested to Alex that he be my guest artist in that show. To present his photographs and a video. And to frame a dialogue box of one of our talks and place it between his flow and my stream. It was going really slowly but it kept me busy.
But something was wrong in the picture. Everything that had to do with the cancer was a closed box for me, I knew it was going on, but never went in there. Only every couple of months when I sensed a specific silence coming from his direction I wrote a few words, and prayed for Alex' health. So as his health gradually worsened over time, I felt the clock was ticking, and I started to speed up. I couldn't and I still can’t bear the idea, that much of the shows we planned will be posthumous for him. I think this moment of urgency was probably the life savior of our mutual work. He invited me to meet him in person. Just a month before that we started discussing life and photography more. I didn't really know what I was doing at the time, one thing was clear - I needed to be in contact . So I intuitively picked a few photos and started phototalking with him. After a while my need for feedback regarding my own photos started to raise its head. I started to develop a dual relationship with the blindness. And very soon I found myself forcing my own work into the Alex universe. That provoked some resistance. By describing my photos to him it was clear I didn’t get through. My pieces of cardboard meant absolutely nothing to him, unless I found a way for him to feel what's in them physically, vocally, textually, and this way of doing photography had nothing to do with the one thing I felt comfortable doing - shooting. Communicating in this manner was really the only thing that was silent enough, that I didn’t need to explain and that could be my safe 'speechless' place. My razor of confusion was sharpening silently. For me, there came the point of starting to peel apart the skin from the bone. We took the speed train in our dialogue, we started on a journey. We developed a vocabulary for the place we are arriving in.



when milk started pooring from the sky. photograph: laetitia boulud - Laetitia Boulud