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Martine Franck | Interview
Martine Franck in conversation with John Berger

JOHN : Martine,Whydon't we begin at the end? A story becomes a story when its end is known. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden became a story after the Expulsion, not really before. Cinderella has to lose her glass slipper.

Yourbook - which is haunting because the pages turn as if they made a single story (although in reality you were making many separate reportages) - your book ends with eight photographs taken on ToryIsland, out in the Atlantic off the west coast of Donegal in Ireland.

The place is so bare it has no trees. Its extremity is to do with the fact that you can't go any further on land and in this it's like other places along the western coast of Europe - the Hebrides, Land's End, Finistere in Brittany, Finisterre in Galicia.Literally,the end of the earth. NowI want to ask you about landscape. What are the first ones or the most striking ones you remember as a child? Or the most reassuring ones? Where would you like to be buried?

MARTINE : John, I am in the Channel tunnel, precisely in a no man's land; it's like closing my eyes and letting images, words, come up to the surface.

You ask about landscapes. Myearliest memories are of the desert: huge fierce cacti erect, rocks, sand, dried-up river beds - almost monochrome apart from the occasional tiny flower that surprises by the intensity of its colour. We had gene to live in Arizona for a few months on account of my brother's asthma. I became acutely aware of this landscape clutching on to a runaway horse. If I had tallen off, it would have been on to rocks or prickly plants. I was lost; I didn't know where I was going; I was prisoner to a bolted horse that wanted to get rid of its mount and go back to its stable. Curiously enough, I associate this terrifying episode with my first lie. The day-school I attended was on the edge of the desert, and every afternoon we would rest on a large wooden balcony overlooking the desert and a plump matron would hand us out a book for our siesta. I demanded a book in French; she looked most surprised and asked, 'Can you read French?' 'Yes',said I haughtily. A little later she caught me out gazing at the book upside down!

I have never really wanted to think about where I am going to be buried, but now you ask me, I think I want to be cremated and my ashes spread under a beautiful tree. I like the idea of being recycled into the earth - but not right away, please!

JOHN : Martine, The runaway horse and the first lie - as you call it. Aren't both of them to do with a jump or a leap ahead? (Later you would read French, and often kids' fibs are like that - little prophecies, no?) For some reason, the two stories together make me think of your photograph of the little girl in the Pushkin Museum, reading the title of a painting. Another runaway animal in the painting! And this goes further than an anecdotal coincidence, for many, many of your pictures are to do with anticipation or a leap ahead. The old woman in Ivry, joking with you about the picture you are about to take, is using the right tense. Future immediate. Can you see what I mean? Of course there are exceptions. But often there's the 'leap' - either physical, like the kids on the wall in Donegal or the juggler in Paris, or else psychic, like the petits rats at the opera waiting to go on and dance, or like the Tulkus learning to becomewise.

Not all photos are like this. There's your portrait of Paul Strand. I didn't know you knew him. He was a great . tree of a man, wasn't he? His pictures were of the historic present, don't you think? Sometimes they were almost like dams to keep the water still. Your's dart forward. Did you always want to be a photographer? Never an acrobat (of some kind)? I keep on coming back to the term anticipation. What children and actors play with continually.

MARTINE : John, No. I never wanted to be an acrobat, but I did enjoy ski racing as an adolescent and, as a child, leaping into the water. My father, amongst other things, was a distinguished yachtsman and raced in two Olympic Games as captain in the 6-metre class. We would spend many a summer and Easter holiday sailing, but I have never conquered my fear of the sea or, should I say, respect for the 'elements' that are so unpredictable. The most recent picture I took for this book, the huge wavecrashing on the rocks at Tory, scared the wits out of me; I kept trying to get closer and yet was fearful of the unexpected wave or of slipping on the rocks and breaking a leg or being stranded where no one would have found me. I kept saying to myself,what a stupid way of dying!

My grandfather killed himself falling off the dike in Ostend while photographing my two cousins. This can happen so easily when looking through a lens; for a split second nothing else exists outside the frame, and to get the right frame one is constantly moving forwards, backwards, to the side. A movie-cameraman is often guided, held, when filming; a photographer rarely.This year I am the same age as when my grandfather died.

Photography came as a substitute. I was painfully shy and found talking to people difficult; a camera in hand gave me a function, a reason to be somewhere: a witness but not an actor. A photograph is not necessarily a lie, but it isn't the truth either. It's more like a fleeting, subjective impression. What I like so much about photography is precisely the moment that cannot be anticipated; one must be constantly on the alert, ready to acclaim the unexpected.

JOHN :Martine, We're saying the same thing. You:'One must be constantly on the alert, ready to acclaim the unexpected.' And me with my future tense and anticipation. This is something very specific to you. Of many photographers it's not necessarily true. For example, Luskacova, Weston, Salgado, Walker Evans. And Henri [Cartier-Bresson] is different again. His 'decisive moment' is chosen or seen, as if from the sky,where all time is laid out. But you are waiting for what is going to happen unpredictably. There's something of Tom Sawyeror Huck in you! Look at the Carnival picture in Cologne! Look at the first twelve pictures in the book. Or look - because it's not a question of kids being the subject - look at that marvellous picture of the old women in Cabourg. Look at all three of the women in it considering the baby - an expectancy which is close to devilry. The girl on Tory with the doll is a self-portrait! Admit it. (Have you ever taken a self-portrait? Fax me one, if you have.) Lili Brik is planning mischief. And the fabulous composition shows her  already half-way there!

Does one get less shy with age? Shyness is a strange thing. It's not quite the same as being timid. Because there's an element of curiosity in shyness, no? It's to do with daring. That's the paradox. It's the adventurous who are shy.

Perhaps fear is never conquered. But an antidote to fear (contrary to what people imagine) is speed. You sailing. You on your skis. Me on my motorbike. Maybe it's an atavism of the nervous system. Fear meant running! What allows an image to suggest speed is pretty mysterious. For instance, for me, your very still picture of two gulls on a cliff face on Tory; and, equally, the following photograph of the nude couple on the beach. What speed! And with speed we're again talking about anticipation and readiness.

How did the theme of the monks come about? Was it like any other project for you, or was it special?

MARTINE : John, Yet another coincidence: you ask me about the Jittle monks and today I shall be photographing the demonstration to commemorate the Tibetan uprising against the 'Chinese (10 March"1959). I remember, years ago, you mentioned Susan Meiselas as being a Shakespearian messenger for the resistance in Latin America and now for the Kurds. I would like to think of myself as adding a grain of sand in favour of the Tibetan cause. How can you show the Tibetans' plight without referring to Buddhism - their whole culture i.slinked, and these young lamas I have been photographing over the past few years will one day become the spiritual leaders of the Tibetans (hopefully, not only those in exile). Like our Middle Ages, it is in the monasteries that their culture is preserved and transmitted. Their life is some what similar to an English boarding school, without the competitive emphasis on sports; it is Spartan, disciplined, they wear a 'uniform' and are educated to become an elite, but wit!}a lot more affection bestowed upon them than in England. Monks can be very motherly. My mother gave me Mark Twain to read as a child, also Conan Doyle.Sherlock Holmes and Hitchcock are still a passion of mine, and that brings us back to the mystery of life, the unexpected side of reality that is constantly taking us by surprise, off our guard. I think, basically, that is why I never get bored photographing.

You have been asking all the questions. MayI ask one? Are you happy?

 

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