Begin with Jean-Francois Bouchard
How did your journey begin?
When I was 18 my mother gave me a seminal book by Henri-Cartier Bresson and I became fascinated with documentary photography. I collaborated with various student newspapers as a photo journalist but ended up pursuing other creative endeavours until about 12 years ago when I picked up my camera again. I do not think I will ever put it down again. I’ll probably bring it to my grave.
You consider yourself an activist and a witness, what is your main focus in photography?
Like many photographers before me, I am interested in marginal groups of people. I am finding my own voice by showing how the humanity of my subjects is ultimately more important than what sets them apart from mainstream society. I am fascinated by the people I meet, their singular life stories and, in the end, the fact that they are mostly just like all of us. They want the same things: love, security and comfort and purpose. The differences appear to define who they are but they don’t.
In your series Transpose you explore a very complex reality, can you tell us about this project?
Transpose is a project on transgender men shot a few years ago. It became a small part of a pivotal moment in society when minds became ready to embrace - or at least discuss - new ideas about gender. My objective for the project – at first glance a simple series of portraits of men – was to challenges viewers to see beyond the obvious. The photographs were presented with very personal stories that added depth to the images. Many viewers had a very emotional reaction to the work and I think it helped some people go pass their prejudice. The exhibition was presented at the Arsenal in Montreal and Toronto. It later was showcased as a 10–page feature in German magazine Stern. More recently, it won the Nannen Prize award… That made my mother very proud!
What is the most important lesson you learned from the transgender community ?
The quest of transgender folks to be able to be themselves is such a painstaking journey that it made me realize that most of us are very, very lucky to have a much easier path to our true self. It is very precious and we should fight like hell to be able to be the same person, without artifice, whether it is a work, with our families or friends. Many of us adapt ourselves to the context we are in and its a pity.
You tell the story of each subject, is there a particular story that stuck you?
All the stories had an impact on me because they came from my subjects and were extremely articulate and personal. So many things stuck me. Are do you deal with your spouse in the sex reassignment process? What does it mean to your parents? Work colleagues? When and how should you share the upcoming change? What if you are a parent and need to explain your choice to your teenager kid? To what extent are you going to use surgery? Hormonal therapy?… The list of questions and life-altering decisions is endless.
What is the Change you would like to see in the world through this project ?
All my projects aim at encouraging people to think with less prejudice about others, even very singular people. In the end, we’re all in this together. I used to do that quite literally through documentary work but I am starting to see the power of conceptual work to push this agenda forward. It gives me more liberty and I use it to create stronger emotions and deeper thinking from the audience.
Do you have a quote you live your life by or think of often?
F#ck status quo.
Humans are slaves of habit. The comfort of the known makes us intellectually lazy. I try to fight that as much as I can (I am losing most of the time!).
What do you usually do in your free time?
I am always free. It took me 25 years to achieve this highly enviable state. If I did believe in God, I would thank him very minute and sacrifice virgins in his honor every day. It’s a good thing I am an atheist, I guess.
List the three most important values that you practice in your work and business life.
My most revered belief is that collaboration is the most important trait of human beings and the ultimate driver of success for people, organizations and society. History has shown over and over again that the most effective collaborators shape the future. This may seem odd since being a photographer might appear at first glance as a solitary pursuit. But for me, it has become a team effort. I am supported by fantastic technicians, curators, collectors and, of course, by Olivier Gagnon, the sexiest and best curator-producer alive! That makes it a collective effort for me.
What are your projects for the future?
I am working on two ambitious exhibitions that I will show in 2018 and 2019. For the first time, my shows will include installations and even sculptures. This is both thrilling and nerve-racking since I need to master new mediums. This is easier said then done if you are a bit of a perfectionist freak when it comes to fabrication… But, hey, f#ck status quo, right?
Follow Jean Francois Bouchard on instagram @jfbouchard1