Sophie’s Viewfinder

Article: Sezgin Çevik Date: May 2014

A PHOTOGRAPHER SENSITIVE TO THE HARMONY BETWEEN SETTING, OBJECT AND POSE, SOPHIE BASSOULS TAKES PAINS TO REFLECT THE WORLD OF THE PEOPLE IN HER PORTRAITS. SHE TALKS TO US ABOUT ISTANBUL, AFRICA AND HER PHOTOS.

Sophie’s Viewfinder
Sophie’s Viewfinder

Yaşar Kemal, Jorge Luis Borges, Jean Baudrillard, Charles Bukowski and many others… Sophie Bassouls has crammed close to 3,500 writers from around the world into her career as a photographer, which started at L’Express in 1957. Black and white portraits mark her powerful and original signature style. According to Bassouls, in its silent, static, colorless state black-and-white photography can reveal the unseen.

Q:How did you get into photography?
A:My first contact with photography was when I visited the exhibition “Family of Man”, I was 11 years old. I started out in 1957 at the photo service of L’Express and became photography editor of Le Figaro Littéraire in 1963. After that, my photographs were used in Jean Chalon’s biographies of writers.

Q:How did you get in the field?
A:One day I rang up the famous French poet Pierre-Jean Jouve and told him I was sending over a photographer to take his picture. But when he gave an emphatic “No, for only I accept to be photographed by women”. I had no choice but to take the photo myself. That’s how I got into in the field!

Q:Photography is said to be a difficult profession for women. What are your thoughts on the subject?
A:I worked at Sygma for 18 years and did every job there was. I saw no distinction there between men and women. There have been great women photographers since the beginning of photography. But women of course prefer not to go to war zones. I would have liked to go on war zone, but with children and family it was difficult. Frequentation of writers is less dangerous.

Q:Is there any interview you wanted to do but couldn’t?
A:Actually, as a woman photographer I have enjoyed a certain advantage. I was favorably received and not rejected. On the other hand, I recently wanted to shoot a portrait of Henning Mankell but was unable to get through to him.

Q:Do you do research on writers before you photograph them?
A:I first read the writer’s books and prepare myself so I know what I’m doing. But you can never be sure of the result. I prefer never to make a grand and definite plan for the shoot in advance.

Q:Where does your interest in Africa come from?
A:I went there to see friends… I experienced a tremendous shock and started going to Africa frequently. I especially love the Africa that preserves its traditions. Women’s costumes reflect the Africa that is still traditional, but the men wear jeans.

Q:What are your impressions of Africa?
A:Many countries are governed democratically, and even if there’s a problem everyone is tolerant of everyone else. There is a great human mosaic in Africa. For example, there are Chinese who have settled in the region for work. African people are very warm and friendly. When I go some place, they notice me. It’s clear that I’m a foreigner who comes from somewhere else, but they welcome me with great affection nonetheless. I have never seen any hostility.

Q:What did you feel when you came to Istanbul?
A:I was bowled over. I took some beautiful photographs. I kept clicking the shutter without even realizing it. When I think of Istanbul, lots of things suddenly appear before my eyes. When I take out the photographs and place them one on top of the other, I see that I’ve never produced so much work in my life!