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Photographer Gregory Herpe reflects on 2020 and gives us a glimpse into his artistic future

Gregory Herpe

Singulart had the pleasure of exchanging with the photographer Gregory Herpe. During this interview, the artist told us about his plans for the year 2020, and told us more about what awaits him in 2021.

Singulart Interview with Gregory Herpe

2020 has been a difficult year for many. As an artist, how do you see your role in these difficult times?

Let’s say that in the most important moments of humanity, we can always count on artists to leave a mark, a trace so that future generations will know what we have lived through. David painted the Rite of Napoleon, Charlie Chaplin described the brutality of the Great Depression in his film “Modern Times”, and Toulouse-Lautrec drew the Paris of the late 19th century better than any journalist could have done. Artists are witnesses to their times.

As an artist and photographer, my role is to look around me, and to create by being inspired by what I experience, what I feel and what I see.

What does design mean to you? Has this meaning changed or increased over the past year?

Creating photographic work is a clever mix of instinct and vision. It is not a question of taking out a camera in your hand and taking pictures at random. I have to feel emotions to share them afterwards. If I don’t feel anything when I take a picture, how will the audience feel any emotion when they look at my work? That’s what creating is all about: opening up and feeling things, then telling them in your own way.

In the past, I had often approached history from another angle, that of oblivion. I photographed the I.R.A. soldiers in Belfast when everyone thought this war was over.

Before that, I photographed the endangered species, the lions, the gorillas, in Africa, which were not given enough attention (fortunately things are changing). I usually like to talk about what our society doesn’t see, or has not yet seen.

In 2020, all my solo exhibitions have been cancelled or postponed to “later”… My lectures on photography too. Fortunately, I had the chance to do an artist’s residency in the Netherlands in May and maybe for the first time I decided to work on a really topical subject: Coronavirus.

So I made a series of 52 black and white and grey masked portraits of children, men and women. The initial idea was to make original masks protecting from the virus but very quickly I found it more interesting to broaden the theme, and to make other masks, those that protect or hide us from our fears, phobias, addictions, demons, or our deep personality. It was very enriching and I could continue to work with the masks!

This project has kept me on my feet all year because I don’t know what I would have become without it… crazy no doubt!

Have you had the opportunity to show your work? What were they and how were these carried out?

Exactly, yes! A miracle of art, this work, produced in artist residence, was exhibited from the summer in beautiful group shows talking about the pandemic, at the Hilversum Museum (Netherlands), at the Beaney Museum in Canterbury (England), then in Paris. Actually, I just published the book of this work “A Coroner World” which I am selling on my website and which I would be happy to dedicate to all buyers!

Prior to this, I also had the opportunity to exhibit my photographs from Azerbaijan, the Center of the Mediterranean Architecture, the Chania International Photo Festival in Greece, and the ArtMuc Art Fair in Munich. I also had and two group exhibitions in Portugal and Norway. As I said before, my solo exhibitions have all been postponed to 2021 and 2022, but I’m doing well anyway.

And then I had a lot of publications in the press in the Netherlands, France and Great Britain, which is important in order not to lose the link with my public and my collectors.

Fortunately, the year 2021 seems to be a little better! What do you expect most from next year?

What do I expect from 2021? A big acceleration! We were at a standstill for a year and it’s still going on now, so I want to exhibit and work three times more than in 2020.

Last year, I started a new series on Drag Queens in Europe, and I went to Amsterdam, Helsinki and Paris to photograph them. I want to continue this project in other European capitals and show these artists from a more emotional angle. In May and June, I’m doing a solo exhibition organised by the Paris City Hall, in the 17th arrondissement and I’m expecting a lot from it because I need to confront myself again alone in front of the public, and then I have the project of a big solo exhibition at the Orangerie de Chamarande, next to Paris (Marina Abramovic, Ben, Philippe Pasqua have been exhibited there…).

I also have projects abroad. I have thought a lot about my place in this world. I’ve lived in several different countries, the last two years in the Netherlands, and I’ve been in Paris for the last 6 months, and yet I feel deeply that this is not my place; not Paris, not Amsterdam, not London…

My place is in the movement, between two planes, on a ferry in the Baltic Sea, on a dirt road in Cambodia, or crossing the border between Tanzania and Kenya. 2020 has prevented me from travelling as much as I would have liked, to make my photos but also to feel the breath of my life.

I must regain my place in 2021, in this movement that inspires me and makes my heart beat.

Is there anything you would like to share with other artists?

I don’t know if I have anything to say to artists. We are all different. We react differently too, in happy moments or in difficult ones. I believe that this whole crisis should serve as an opportunity for us to take the time to think about what we really want, to refocus on what is essential, what makes us stand. I’ve always been an artist and I’ve never done anything else. That means I’ve made a lot of sacrifices too, because this path is hard. But no matter what, I can’t or won’t live any other way.

We must not give up, never give up, even during this complicated period because tomorrow does not exist! Tomorrow is to be created and we will all bring our rhyme to it.

May the prodigious show go on and that you can bring your rhyme to it…

Walt Whitman

What will be your rhyme?