PIERRE CARREAU: Somewhere beyond the sea

PIERRE CARREAU is a French photographer and water-sports enthusiast. In 2004 he moved with his family to the Caribbean island of St. Barthélemy and has since been immersed in the subtle variations of light from the tropical sun and the endlessly changing soul of the sea. These subjects are the focus of his project, AquaViva: a series of spectacular photos which explores the fascinating nature of waves, the sea and light.

Interview and translation from French by Will Kitson

photo by Pierre Carreau

photo by Pierre Carreau

Do you remember your first artistic impulse? Tell us about it.

My first artistic impulse came about during adolescence. During a day out at la Foire du Trône – a famous carnival on the edge of Paris – I set about looking for atypical clichés. The idea was to go on the most sensational rides and to take the most adventitious photos. I used my left hand as an anchor, for my safety and stability, and took the photos with my right using a compact camera. It goes without saying that it was out of the question to carefully frame the pictures or pick the perfect moment to take them. The result was a series of photos as surprising as they were aesthetically satisfying.

Retrospectively, I’m surprised by the uncanny similarities between that collection of photos and those of my current series, AquaViva. The most striking of which is definitely the need to involve an element of chance in my creative process. I create a suitable context but the final result isn’t entirely mine.

You studied business and worked for a number of years in the IT industry before deciding to become a professional photographer. What sparked this change?

When the moment came for me to choose a career, it seemed inconceivable to follow anything other than a traditional path (largely due to family and social reasons). The promise of travel and the desire to get started in life directed me towards a career in international business. However, over the years I realised that the reality of my professional life was bringing me further away from my personal ambitions.

Above all, though, the change was sparked by a profound need to be myself. The business lifestyle was too restrictive and didn’t allow me to fully express my personality. I felt as though I was wearing a suit in order to act a role, conveying values which weren’t my own and doing all I could to reach financial goals. It became unbearable.

Today I’m totally free to manage myself as I like in accordance with my beliefs and convictions. It’s a luxury which I would have been devastated to let pass me by.

photo by Pierre Carreau

photo by Pierre Carreau

Tell us about your interest in water and light. How did it come about? Was there a particular moment that triggered it?

The aquatic element is one which is omnipresent in our lives. We are essentially composed of water and it is indispensible to our survival. But at the same time, we are all land-creatures for whom water can be extremely dangerous. This paradox is interesting to explore, a combination of fear and abundance where everyone finds an equilibrium which suits them.

As far back as I can remember I have always felt a sense of well-being when I’m close to water, whether it’s a lake, a river, a stream or the ocean. These are places of escape, conducive to meditation.

Water is also a fascinating element in the sense of its physical properties. Varying between solid, liquid and gas, it is always changing. Water is constantly moving and adapting to every environment.

From a purely aesthetic point of view, water is an extremely rich substance and a great source of inspiration. It can, in its different states, take on all possible forms imaginable. The phenomenon of waves, where great expanses of water become living, amplifies this infinite diversity.

Light is at the root of all photographic approaches. The interactions between water and light are fascinating. While water is often transparent it only takes a slight shift in angle for it to become reflective like a mirror. Water – capable of breaking down light into a rainbow of stunning colours – also reflects its surrounding shades. It has no colour of its own to speak of, yet it perpetually reflects the colours around it.

photo by Pierre Carreau

photo by Pierre Carreau

You’ve said that one of the goals of your work is to ‘transfer the waves’ energy to those who view them.’ Tell us about this. Do you evoke any particular processes in order to achieve this alchemical approach?

At the root of this goal there is my assessment that the majority of contemporary artistic creations have the aim to denounce the nefarious aspects of our society. In an environment where information is omnipresent, the scope of this type of message is, in my opinion, relatively limited. To spark awareness in people’s minds is no longer enough and it’s important to offer solutions; however, this is as presumptuous as it is complex. Being aware of this reality, my aim is to capture the positive energy of waves and transfer it to those who wish to receive it. This energy acts as a benevolent force, subtle and powerful at the same time, which can help in overcoming the difficulties which we confront. As individuals we can only very rarely affect those negative influences which impact our state of mind; it is much more effective to minimise them by utilising a decisively positive attitude. When this doesn’t come about naturally we must draw from our resources in order to change our perception of reality; it’s in this vein that an input of external energy is of great value. Beyond this, I’ve experienced the benefits of a virtuous circle which was unexpected. This comes about when people respond to my work, and it’s these instances which fill me with a great intensity of emotion.

photo by Pierre Carreau

photo by Pierre Carreau

You’re also passionate about surfing and water sports. Do you find that these activities stimulate your creativity?  

I don’t feel that practicing water sports directly stimulates my creativity. However, being close to the elements and observing their forces certainly contributes to their presence in my series, AquaViva. Over the years of being in close contact with water I have felt a certain intimacy set in. The experience and the familiarity of water have helped to reduce my fears so that I can instead enjoy a state of wholeness and fulfilment that comes with it.

When and where do you feel most creative?

It would have to be in my bed before sleep! It’s a moment of calm and meditation which is good for the imagination. The only worry I have is whether I’ll remember my ideas the next day …

A shape to describe your current state of mind …

Definitely a circle or a sphere which, for me, symbolises harmony and tranquillity. Certainly not shapes with harsh angles and ruptures.



Published: October 1st, 2015

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