by Kofi Fosu Forson
Fabienne Perrier, French photographer living in Dijon, France after twenty years out of the realm of photography met Sandra Nicouette. She quickly became her muse, sharing a life together of photo shoots and parties. Their age difference allows Fabienne to shine in Sandra’s light. As a woman who has been warned of the body as taboo, she is able to mold these genuine and stark nude images of Sandra. Much the same, Sandra has an aversion to her own body but in partnership with Fabienne, they both enjoy a mutual respect for friendship and art. Their lives together have taken them through a world of Hell’s Angels. Fabienne sought comfort among these men, a woman from a sad world. She was able to express an identity of defiance, view these Banditos as masculine yet relative to the sensitivity of artists. Living in this world, Fabienne has been able to come to terms with the child inside of her. That child is Sandra Nicouette.
Kofi Forson: Sandra is your muse. You are both French. Where in France do you live? When did you first meet?
Fabienne Perrier: I'm living in France, in Dijon exactly, country of the famous mustard (Obama likes it if I remember correctly.. hah ah ah). I met Sandra in 2009, when i decided to make photography again, after 20 years without shooting. She has accompanied me since. We moved together in this area.
Forson: What recollections do you have of this meeting? What attracted you to Sandra?
Perrier: At the beginning, it was just a curiosity. I wanted to regain control with a camera. You know, I come from the argentic philosophy and I was a real rookie in the numeric world. Sandra had never been a model. It was a true meeting of two personalities. Sandra is like me and is also very different from me. She shows this extrovert part that I hide from myself. This is our complicity. When I photograph her, it's me I'm talking about too. We learned to communicate together through images. For my part, I refer a beautiful and sensual image of her. It's a mirror game.
Forson: (Sandra) What attracted you to Fabienne?
Sandra Nicouette: It was my first collaboration with a photographer. First it was just a test, a game but after it became a real pleasure because I trust in Fabienne. She helps me to have a better self-worth. She is the only person who can embellish me. She doesn't judge me and I love her photography!
Forson: Tell me a bit more about the relationship between you and Sandra. She is very adventurous. She travels with a wild crowd. But so have you.
Perrier: As I said, Sandra shows on the outside what I am inside. I'm more contained, more controlled. The age difference probably. It also has a question of education and family environment. I come from a stark and sad world. Sandra taught me fantasy, daring and lightness.
Forson: Is this an example of a mother and daughter relationship or more so an artist and her muse?
Perrier: It's a real relationship between artist and her muse. In Greek mythology, the Muses are the daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne. They act as intermediaries between artists and the Gods. Sandra is the intermediary between the gift of seeing what God gave me. I like to interpret it this way. This is my little mystical side.
Forson: (Sandra) What is your relationship like with Fabienne? Besides taking pictures do you hang out together? Do you party together?
Nicouette: First, Fabienne is a friend. She has invited me to holidays. We go to restaurants together. We have parties. We talk together about everything. She is not just my photographer. She is my friend too and I think it's very important.
Forson: There is an understanding between you and Sandra. In these images of her she is fierce. How have you been able to tame her? Can she go beyond these photographs to the extreme? How much of this is you telling her how to behave and Sandra being herself?
Perrier: Just a few words. Sandra and I, we understand without much explanation. It is a relationship of absolute trust. She knows my glance on her body and her mind. I direct her very little. I submit to her the idea and give her a lot of freedom. Sandra knows that I will not betray her image or her soul because, as some say in African tribes, taking pictures is capturing the soul. I strongly believe in this. Taking pictures of strangers is very difficult for me. I would be a very bad photo journalist.
Forson: (Sandra) Would you ever pose nude for Playboy? Or is this art, what you do with Fabienne?
Nicouette: I think it will be very difficult for me to pose nude for another person. I love to work with Fabienne and it's a real collaboration between us. I think it's very important to having complicity with the photographer.
Forson: Working with Sandra allows you insight into her world. How would you describe the youth in France today?
Perrier: The youth in France is multiple, diverse and multicultural. It is open to the world (much more than we were at the same age). It is very resourceful, adventurous and it's a real asset in these major upheaval moments. The youth know these great material difficulties but it bears the foundations as a new world emerges. They may be harder but also more fragile and more united than our generation. They face more dangers (drugs, alcohol and unemployment) but they are also more adventurous, brave and funny too.
I love this generation with great tenderness. They have a maturity that we missed at the same age. It's better to be a friend of the youth rather than its enemy. After all, they are our future.
Forson: (Sandra) You studied at The University of Burgundy? What were you like as a student? Were you a party girl? Or were you more concerned with getting a degree?
Sandra: Yes, I studied at The University of Burgundy. I'm a teacher in primary school. When I was a student, I worked a lot in order to get a degree but I partied a lot as well! I tried to find a middle ground.
Forson: (Sandra) Were you into sex and drugs?
Sandra: I hate drugs!!! I have never experimented with drugs. I am afraid of drugs. For me sex and love must be together. Indeed, I had several boyfriends but I don't love sex just for sex. I need love for this.
Forson: (Fabienne) As a photographer are you a documentarian or journalist? What do you hope to capture with the camera that the human eye can not see?
Perrier: This is a great question. Thank you for asking Kofi. I'm not a journalist who, in my opinion, takes a look or witness to the world, looking for emotion that words can not be translated. Looking for the fragile and fleeting moment that I see tells me with her being. This is a true dialogue between what I see and what the other wants to show me.
I'm more intimate than a photo journalist. I try to provoke more than demonstrate. My past is enriched with ten years of psychoanalytic psychotherapy and I keep that curiosity on the human soul. The individual remains a great look for me. Photography for me is to listen before watching. Listen to each other during a session. And then there is this great attraction and a wonder for life, this energy perceptible by all senses. I choose the view. I have much pleasure in photographing a flower, architecture or a reflection in a window. I think it is the light of life that I try to capture the deep source. It is a relentless pursuit, a "grail".
Forson: How is this different from working with a subject like Sandra? What do you see in her as a model?
Perrier : Sandra is something very ardent, a powerful emotional charge. Something inside her screams: Look at me, I'm alive!
Forson: (Sandra) When you are posing for Fabienne what do you think about? Do you think of music, being at a club or disco?
Nicouette: I try not to think! I talk with Fabienne. We talk about everything. We laugh. We talk about our lives. I try to empty my head.
Forson: You have a tough attitude. How were you as a girl? How did you learn about boys?
Sandra: I had an Italian education. My parents were very strict. I discovered boys when I was 18! I am authoritarian but sensitive with boys. I know what I want but I can make incredible things just for men.
Forson: (Fabienne) You are a bit of a rebel, lived with and traveled with a biker gang. How was life on the road?
Perrier: Yes, I lived a small part of my life with a gang (few months only). Life in this world is a political act. It is a rejection of formatted company conventions. This is part of a family with its rules, codes and acute sense of community. It is a challenge to the legality sometimes and then I discovered the invisible compromise between polished societies as we try and sell each other a world more raw, more gross but true.
Living with the Hell 's Angels or Bandidos is to live in a man's world , a world of males. And the goddess of this world is called Harley Davidson of course. It was she who rules the concept of freedom of movement. Take the road is to overcome the standards is to appropriate the world. The bike has the advantage that you stay in closer contact with nature and the environment. We get closer to the essential and a fundamental need, breath.
It escapes the narrow single thought. But I think the most important is to understand that these men, when you know their history, we all have this in common, at some point in their lives have been wounded by life. They have this in common with artists. They wear significant emotional wounds that their way of life is their means of expression.
Forson: How were you as a woman able to survive among wild men?
Perrier: At the time, I was looking for myself. I was looking for my own identity, my own way of expression. I was also an isolated woman who needed a supportive environment. This may seem contradictory but in this world of savages, I found a lot of protection and respect, moral and physical. I have a very poor father figure, too short, and at the time I tried to build my very strong male pins. I was a child in this universe.
Forson: What was the greatest lesson you learned as the only woman traveling with bikers?
Perrier: I learned that I could be loved, respected and protected. I learned the value of a clan. I learned how to belong to a tribe. I learned that you can not live completely alone. We need to build the group. There I learned the concept of femininity. They taught me to accept mine. I owe them a lot.
Forson: Generally bikers are viewed as men with testosterone. (They have courage) But in your photographs you depict them in nature as well as in the streets. How do you express the sensitive side and courageous side to these bikers? Is there a difference? Or do they explain the complex side of man?
Perrier: These are men who are very protective. Masculinity does not exclude all sensitivity. I always had the suspicion that behind affirmation of manhood hides a extreme sensitivity. These men are all wounded by life. They are all in the eyes something a little sad. We all carry within us the child we once were. These men give an expression of a rebellious child who can be misunderstood and mishandled. I can understand. I had this childhood as well.
Forson: (Sandra) You modeled with these bikers. Were you intimidated or turned on? Was it a sexual feeling?
Nicouette: hahaha ! I like bad boys! But kind bad boys! In the past I had bad experiences with men who have a bad life style so now I like men with big personalities but wise. I'm not intimidated because in the past a lot of my friends were bikers.
Forson: What is it like for you to be in nature? Do you feel free?
Sandra: I'm happy everywhere.
Forson: What is the difference between life as a city girl and life in nature?
Sandra: i think this is not very different it's just a way of life. Now, I live in the city and I like this because it’s easier to party, go shopping... but in the future I want a little house in nature with my family, my garden and my fireplace!
Forson: (Fabienne) You are able to capture images of the city as well as nature. What is your greatest struggle as a photographer? How are you able to capture the vulnerability of a bird in flight with the everyday survival of life in France?
Perrier: Fine question! .... It is an internal struggle that of the unconscious attempting to access the conscious. For me, the best photograph is a gift of the unconscious. It is he who pushes the button. And sometimes the fight is fierce refuses to be transgressed in his beliefs. And sometimes he wins. I feel it right away and I position the camera, I make a pose, I expect. Demanding naked pictures of Sandra is a perfect example. This exigency bold is what was missing from my unconscious to access a realization. Nothing happens by accident. It then accesses its own truth. The bird in the city, it is the truth that takes the body and flies to freedom of being.
Forson: As a photographer you have an eye for the perfect image. What are your thoughts on composition? Is it color? Is it the graphic quality? What elements do you take or put into a successful photograph?
Perrier: For me, the perfect picture is the balance between light and shadow. I like black, essential to reveal the light. For color, it exists only through the prism of light. It always comes back to the primary sources, shadow and light. The manipulation of light is my main tool. For framing, essential for the acceptance of the human eye, my only reference is the number of old gold, that which governs the universe. Ancient Greece, thank you.
Forson: You talked about psychoanalysis. How would you psychoanalyze the relationship between a mature woman and a young woman? What is the sexual lesson between them? Does she learn from you? Do you offer advice? Or do you live your life through her?
Perrier: Sandra is the little girl that I could have been at the time and was not born. This is also the friend of my daughter. There is a family concept. Rather, it is what I call a gift of life that loves to complete the missing existence and the fact that in its own way parts. I don't know what she learns from me, you must ask her. From my side, I sometimes advise her difficulties and I try to highlight and reassure in the image she relates to herself.
Forson: How is your sexual persona different from Sandra? Is there a similarity?
Perrier: I do not think there is much difference between us on this area except that in my case, sexuality and the body have long been taboo because of my education. My relationship to the body, sex, pleasure has long been complex and not always well assumed. My job as a caregiver helped me change my perspective on the body and put it in its reality, its truth. The question deserves to be expanded in the notion of pleasure in a comprehensive manner, the pleasure of being, enjoyment of life, pleasure to do, pleasure loving.
Forson: Could you have the same artist to muse relationship with a man?
Perrier: I would!!!
Forson: There's a strong dichotomy in your relationship with men and Sandra as your muse. What do you value in a male persona?
Perrier : Courage, honesty, respect, tenderness and humor are key values for me. The question is interesting. It's pretty funny the poses you know because I decided to take a few sessions of psychotherapy in this regard. Come talk to me in a few weeks and I will tell you.
Forson: The movie Nymphomaniac is soon to be released. How do you separate nudity as a sexual being and with it s respect to art? Do you refrain from exposing yourself as a woman? Somehow you magnify it in these images of Sandra.
Perrier: Nudity is a state. Our first condition, that of vulnerability, fragility, this truth of our human condition. In French, we have an expression "laying bare" which means "to be helpless ". Nudity is endangering our own temple of life and it is also a mental challenge of facing its own mortality. Nudity is the access to the "trouble" door.
Sexuality is this disorder, constellation of fantasies with part desire, pleasure, enjoyment, love, power, life, death. Sexuality refers to the perception that one has of oneself and the ultimate self-expression towards oneself and the other. Sexuality may have an interest as a political act against the dictates of religious, social, physical reality to assert and claim an almost animal human but his exposure is in my view an assault on an equally important area, the imagination, the creative potential that every door exposes.
Too much sexuality allows the individual's ability to choose and live their personal perception of this disorder. This as an act of freedom claimed becomes a compulsory figure which murders eroticism. I love the concept of the suggestion that allows one to choose one’s own perception. To show sexuality is guiding an impulse that we do not master really, making us believe that it is instinctive.
Sex is not for show, it is to live. It's easy to do art with sex. The real challenge is to make sex with art. That is the real aspect and I like to believe that it is with this respect that magnifies sexuality. I hope that my work reflects that.
I have not yet seen the film by Lars Von Trier, but I saw the teasers and this is the message that I understood.
Sexuality remains our first and last mystery.
Forson: (Sandra) What respect do you have for your body? What is the difference between sharing with your boyfriend and the general public in the photographs taken by Fabienne?
Nicouette: I don't like my body and my face. It's difficult for me to like myself and Fabienne helps me to accept myself with her photography.
I'm happy to see that Fabienne can make very beautiful photos with my body. It's very important for me and my self-confidence because through Fabienne, generously, I accept to see myself naked.
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Kofi Forson is a writer, POET and PLAYWRIGHT living in NYC. His current blog is BLACK COCTEAU, a mixture of philosophy and art on modern culture.