Robin Lopvet’s altered and surreal images re-imagine scenes of his local neighbourhood

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Fascinated by the unlimited possibilities of post-production, the photographer explores a world without stereotypes and predictability

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The streetlights in Épinal go off at a certain point every night, say Robin Lopvet, in his recent video titled La d’ou je viens. This plunges the town into darkness and is effectively a curfew, but it also allows the inhabitants to see the city anew. 

Épinal is a small town in north east France. It’s dominated by a medieval castle, says Lopvet, just to remind you that inequality didn’t start yesterday. He grew up in one of Épinal’s housing estates. The video’s the narrative is sometimes bleak, but it also finds moments of beauty. “It’s like people were born with scars,” he says.

From the series La d 'ou je viens © Robin Lopvet.
From the series La d 'ou je viens © Robin Lopvet.

This is something that comes across in the still images which accompany the video. While they were all shot in Épinal, they are anything but a direct look at the place. Heavily and mostly obviously Photoshopped, these images turn a few black swans into a tangle of necks and heads, put a cat at the centre of a very long spiral of its own tail, and place a burning police car in the street in front of a jaded-looking crowd (an image inspired, Lopvet says, by the “anti-police feeling that you can have when you grow up in poor neighbourhoods”). The surreal images are by turns funny, disturbing, and absurd, as is always the case with his work. “I sometimes do ‘unphotoshopped’ photographs, but it’s rare,” he says. “With Photoshop I can easily go to mental spaces that are in my mind.”

Lopvet studied photography in Épinal and went on to l’Ecole nationale sperieure de la photographie in Arles, then the International Center of Photography at New York. His interest in post-production was inspired by a former teacher, Arnaud Claass, whose book Le Reel de la photographie suggests digital processes can take photography into other spaces. Lopvet is also a huge fan of the book L’idiotie (Idiocy) by French critic and writer Jean-Yves Jouannais, which proposes that the best way to avoid predictability is to embrace stupidity, mediocracy, and failure. “Absolute dope,” comments Lopvet. “The ‘idiot’ is the character who doesn’t know about certain things, so he is exploring the world without stereotypes.”

From the series Inde et 100 © Robin Lopvet.
From the series La d 'ou je viens © Robin Lopvet.

It’s an approach that’s paradoxically proving pretty successful. Lopvet has shown his work at venues such as La Villette in Paris, Fotofestiwal, Łódź, Poland, and Festival CIPAFE, Zhengzhou, China, plus won the Prix du Public at the ING Unseen Talent in 2017. He has also worked with early heroes such as still and moving image-makers Augustin Rebetez and Roger Ballen. But Lopvet, who describes himself as living and working in Arles, Paris and online, also has other, more offbeat yet more relatable career highs and inspirations. 

“Now I just look at stuff in my everyday life, and what is happening in the world, and internet memes of course,” he says. “I am lucky because one of my pictures became one of them. It’s funny to see [my work] become something else. You see the sandstorm with the dog’s head in it? It’s a digital collage I made.”

From the series D.O.G.S. © Robin Lopvet.
Diane Smyth

Diane Smyth is a freelance journalist who contributes to publications such as The Guardian, The Observer, The FT Weekend Magazine, Creative Review, The Calvert Journal, Aperture, FOAM, IMA, Aesthetica and Apollo Magazine. Prior to going freelance, she wrote and edited at BJP for 15 years. She has also curated exhibitions for institutions such as The Photographers Gallery and Lianzhou Foto Festival. You can follow her on instagram @dismy