What Have You Done with d’Agata?

Desislava Şenay Martinova

The workshop I was invited to was Studio Vortex which was led by Antoine d'Agata, a photographer who managed to live an unaltered life no matter where he has been to, who never cares about anything but himself, and who has come to terms with things and perceive what is going on around him through his own eyes. I went to Arles with a one-way ticket. It was a time when I was not sure where I would be or what would happen to me the next day, a time when I could not interfere with things, a time when my whole world felt like crashing down around me. The people I came together with were also in a situation not really different from mine. After all, we were people who exist through telling our own stories in a way, from all around the world, no matter what we live through. Every bird could only fly with their own kind.

I sort of knew how to make a new life for myself. In Balat, where I spent 2 years before I came to Arles, I used to search for the safest corners of the flats I was living in, if I was upstairs I set traps at all the doors against every threat as a caution till I get to that safest point, and I usually could not sleep out of uneasiness. The stories and the reality itself, within the claws of the fears, became all flared-up and jumbled. In the upcoming days, I started to behave the same way on the streets as we began to give lectures that we had knew of, learned and dreamed of all our lives or rather we believed that was the case, in the school I was working at. The fears became visits, and good things started to come about in between all those ruins and fake fears, just like the chaotic dreams recurring since my childhood days, full of blossoming roses within the marshes. That was what happened to me just like those people who were breaking bottles in the dead of night and jumping down at each others' throats, the musicians who played their best when they are having some drinks at some nook to have a good night's sleep just like an end of day z reading, as they were going back home from noisy taverns, those who were sleeping and waking up with the most beautiful landscape of the world but next to some dumpster, in the shade of some public toilet, the cinematographic women on those famous windows with cigarettes in their hands, those who could laugh when their hands are bleeding, running in the icy cold, eating and wearing whatever they could find on the streets but still could walk around looking at the skies.

Our troubles were one, as were what we shared. At first, I felt like a lizard running between snakes in the danger of losing its limbs or dying at any moment, then, somehow I started to feel I have grown with every step, feel the wind under my wings. I could see beyond the cement, run uphill, I started clambering with those men for whom I set those traps, hand in hand. Even the attributions felt difficult, I was bothered by them like those jackets cut out for particular poses. Man, I am talking about literally the unhappiest people in the world, not those depressive people for whom even breathing is an excuse, I am talking about those twisted roads within nothingness, the dead ends… The stories you would say once you heard them "Is that all! / Our troubles are nothing in comparison! / This is hell!" And to survive, in a period I had given up the idea itself, their routine in those days when those who were preaching "Carpe diem" were taking the elevators to get to their flats after darkness fell, yet we were alive, we were living deadly to survive. And to me, the only way to tell all those things is through images. Seeing, living, displaying. Just like Sisyphos, starting anew, ex novo every day...

Going to some place where you don't have any idea about with a camera, taking photographs in a place in which you know anybody, may sound scary. But the main point is to find places where you can be accepted just like anywhere else. Because the reason we were in Arles was not to prepare a touristic portfolio, it was about how we would express ourselves...Why I was expressing myself, because I didn't want to forget. And just because of this, I had to record in the exact way I wanted to remember. I can remember what d'Agat​a told us the very first days: "This is a small town, you can hardly find anything going on around here except the feria, and that's only for two days, and don't get into any trouble, after all you are not from here and it doesn't matter where you are from for the people to smash your faces in, besides what you will find, what you are going to tell should be you." In that moment, everybody had weird looks on their faces. Those looks coming from completely different troubles. Looking at the same horizon every day from the coast, swimming in the same sea every day or walking around the same streets every similar night might sound boring to some, but if our troubles are ourselves, something occurs when we do the same things over and over again fearlessly or when we know what we are looking for. Just like Sisyphos...

For one thing, Antoine is not like the usual tutors, the instructors we dream of, oh surely he is not one of those famous juries, you can tell what crosses his mind from his wild eyes, the questions he asks, the way he is trying to guide you is about you and there is no shortcut, no clue or example to that. You have to find it on your own. If you haven't resolve that point, then it's doom and gloom. After all, all those issues will boil down to some photograph appearing before some people, and a blank canvas had long became a work of art on the walls. You have to fill the new one on your own, one way or another. Through your fears, your joys, addictions, passions.

Just as I had made a life for myself, it was the same in Arles. I didn't worry myself to death as to what I would photograph. My troubles were different. The farmers coming from the surrounding villages to celebrate the coming of spring for two days and a handful of tourists staying up all night wildly, people whose emotions even unbeknownst to them overflowing just as the famous arena and streets of Arles were flooded with the blood of all those animals. I am talking about a group of people seeking their own selves staying on their course no matter what, on that weekend showered as if with photographs, like finding an oasis in the desert. Some of us found themselves on the old walls of the city, some followed the water, still some sat up all night inside a deserted building, and some in some nomad's tent where they felt at home...

We were searching for things that would be a mirror to us in a place full of the delirium of those artists we knew to be our deities, where they ran, cried, hid for nights and days, where they perished and existed as such, as we were walking among the centennial buildings.