Stark portraits from a former communist republic

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“Gilles burst into my consciousness when I was judging a competition in September,” remembers Stephen Mayes, executive director of the Tim Hetherington Trust. “His Albanian study exploded with passion and vigour, which seems to flow effortlessly from frame to frame. He takes documentary to the realm of emotion and metaphor, with a rock-solid technique that never falters.”

A former company executive, Gilles Roudière left his job in 2005 to move to Germany and dedicate himself to a hobby that progressively turned into a passion. He learned everything by reading library books and studying photo agencies’ websites. The day he became a photographer was the day he “stopped ‘understanding’ images, but ‘felt’ them instead”, he says. The Berlin-based photographer is profoundly interested in what makes a ‘space’ a ‘place’, and has therefore grounded each of his projects so far in a defined territory. “What is most important is how a locale is experienced, and the photographic translation of said experience, more than its straightforward depiction. I have no interest in objectivity. I want to be as subjective as possible,” he says, comparing his practice to poems, especially haikus.

With Shitet (meaning ‘for sale’ in Albanian), Roudière wants to summon our guts more than our minds, creating a stark black-and-white portrait of the former communist republic, which borrows its visual codes from French photographer Klavdij Sluban and Japanese post-war photography. Roudière was aided by the country’s striking landscapes, kitsch urban décor and its harsh sunlight, which allowed him to create the high-contrast aesthetic he prefers. “Deep blacks help construct an image,” he says. “They refine it by highlighting what is essential and removing either the anecdotal or the overbearing narrative elements.”

He hopes to explore other areas outlined by unstable borders, such as Greece, Israel and Palestine, but he also wants to break free from these binds to create a transversal series, in which his vision becomes the sole thread. “I have more than 400 rolls of undeveloped film lying at home,” he reveals. “From these a project should evolve that defies geographical ties, and thus an appreciation of an intuitive approach to photography emerges.”

See more of Gille’s work here.

First published in the January 2014 issue. You can buy the issue here.

Laurence Butet-Roch

Laurence Butet-Roch is a photographer, writer, PhD student in Environmental Studies at York University, and Graduate Research Associate at the Sensorium: Centre for Digital Arts and Technology. Her research unsettles mainstream representation of environmental contamination in Canada through participatory visual discourse analysis and collaborative photographic approaches.