SIZED recently curated a series of photographs by the French Algerian photographer, Billal Taright, for SIZED SELECTS. Entitled, Dauphin, the show is the artist’s first presentation of his work in the United States, and is a personal investigation into the relationship between person and place – probing how space acquires its sense of intimacy, secrecy, and security.
Taright presents two series alongside one another to create a narrative that reflects the affinity that exists between poem and picture. Here, Taright explores the subdued precarity that accompanies the irresistibility of European grandeur.
Can you please introduce yourself to people who might not be familiar with your work?
I live in London and I am a photographer. I was born and raised in Paris. I come from a French-Algerian family. Each of these places has had a strong influence on me. I am really interested in that relationship, between person and place. I think that is why I have been drawn toward interiors and portraiture. For me it’s a kind of investigation. A mapping of the material evidence of living.
What was your entrance into photography?
It was after my first year at L'Ecole Nationale Superieure des Arts Decoratifs in Paris that I began to develop an interest in photography. It was around that time that I took a camera with me on a family trip to Berlin. When I returned to Paris, I presented what I had photographed to my teachers, and they subsequently pushed me towards the photo and video department. I fell in love with the medium in the printing labs. We used to print all our work ourselves and I found the process so magical.
When and where do you feel most creative?
In my head and when I walk alone. I am looking at my surroundings constantly. I live on a cloud.
Dauphin is a series of photographs shot in two locations. Can you tell us about the villa where you shot the black and white images in Northern Italy?
In 2013, I was working as an art director for a fashion brand and was on a shoot around Lake Como in Northern Italy’s Lombardy region. When I found out that the second location was the home that Luchino Visconti had grown up in, I was thrilled. I love films and Visconti is one of my favorite directors.
Since I have a habit of always carrying my first camera with me, a small Nikon with a 50mm lens, I was ready to take pictures. So, during breaks or when I found myself alone in the house, I opened doors and snapped away.
Grand homes of grand families have always attracted me. But there is something specific and aberrant about when these grand homes have to be opened to the public for tours, photo shoots, or weddings that fascinates me. It’s difficult for me to put to words, but there is a sense of nostalgia that becomes quite burdensome in this process and slowly leaves a tarnish on the place. There is something about a house that cannot be kept as it is meant to be that I like in a photograph. These layers are important to me.
My favorite discovery was Luchino Visconti's closet with his tweed jackets labeled "Tutti di Luchino" alongside some film props.
What were you aiming to capture during this shoot?
I wasn't sure what I was capturing at the time. I was just taking photos and framing what was in front of me. I just remember being very excited and in awe of the place. A place that raised one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th century.
The color photographs are of your friend, shot in London. Can you tell us a bit about him and what you hoped to highlight in these portraits?
Yes. Emile de Ganay was introduced to me in Paris by a mutual friend when I was doing some research on Château de Fontainebleau. Emile is French-Austrian, grew up in Vienna, and has a family home, Courances, near the town of Fontainebleau. I saw him as a kind of modern dauphin.
“Dauphin” being the title given to the first sons of the Kings of France. The last dauphin was the son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Louis the XVI who was French and Marie Antoinette who was Austrian. Their son, the last Dauphin of France, Louis XVII was born in 1785 just before the outbreak of the French Revolution. He was imprisoned along with his family in 1792 and would never be freed. He died in his prison cell at the age of ten, far from the luxury his birth promised him, falsely.
It's the story of the last Dauphin that causes the title to hold such a melancholic connotation for me. I am not a royalist or hold any kind of nostalgia for the monarchy. However, I think there is something very universal in this story. A story of high expectations that aren’t met. A young life that ends too early. How even when someone is born into the most privileged situations that even they cannot escape the realities of life.
How do you think the two series complement each other? How does this tie into the name of the exhibition?
The story is that when Luchino Visconti was casting for Death in Venice he searched for "the most beautiful boy in the world." Visconti, although an acclaimed director, managed to ruin the life of a young man that he cast into playing the young boy in this complex film. My show is about how even beauty can fail. That beauty can disappoint. That everything is vulnerable. No matter how grand. It is a melancholic pursuit, but it’s also beautiful in its own way. Like a ballad.