The British Journal of Photography

In the studio with Noémie Goudal

By Taous Dahmani

2022

Ahead of her major exhibition in Arles this summer, we visit the photographer’s studio in the bohemian district of Belleville in Paris

Words by Taous Dahmani
Photography by Cédrine Scheidig

French artist and photographer Noémie Goudal’s studio sits in the heart of the Belleville district in north-east Paris. Like many working-class areas of capital cities, Belleville has undergone significant gentrification in recent years. Historically, this part of the city teemed with artists’ ateliers, and today it retains its bohemian atmosphere, built up by the many generations of artists who have lived and worked in the area. En route to meet 38-year-old Goudal, I am reminded of another photographer who, at the same age, walked these very streets: Willy Ronis (1910–2009) photographed the neighbourhood as early as 1947, turning his work into a revered photobook in 1954. Though Paris has changed much since the postwar period, Belleville still bristles with the same energy thanks to its numerous cafes, bars and workshops.

Goudal’s studio is located away from the bustle of the main boulevard in a quiet alleyway. It is early April, the sky is blue but the wind is chilly, so it is a delight to be enveloped by the heat of a fire stove upon entering the studio. Goudal’s practice is predominantly rooted in the outdoors, but the artist welcomes me into a space resembling a country house living room, where we sit at a large wooden table for coffee. Next door, a second luminous room opens up. With a glass roof and bright white walls it has the appearance of a laboratory and it is this workroom that houses the evidence of Goudal’s creative practice. She describes her studio as fluid and ever-changing, always adapting to her latest projects. Currently, Goudal is preparing for two significant shows opening in July: a solo exhibition at Les Rencontres d’Arles (04 July to 28 August 2022) and an installation/ performance at the Avignon Festival (07 to 27 July 2022).

The Belleville studio is one of two workspaces occupied by Goudal. Born in Paris in 1984, she moved to London to study graphic design at Central Saint Martins. Following a master’s in photography at Royal College of Art, she set up her first studio in the English capital. Her practice mixes photography, film and installation to explore the politics of landscape at the intersection of ecology and anthropology. Her work has been exhibited worldwide in a number of renowned institutions and events, including The Photographers’ Gallery, Foam and Venice Biennale. Ultimately it was love that brought her back to Paris in 2016, and today she works between the two cities.

Working from the inside

Earlier this year, the artist exhibited her paleoclimatology-led project, Post Atlantica, at Edel Assanti gallery in London. The multimedia work will form part of her show in Arles and mobilises her archival imagery of tropical forests, engages at length with the history of scientific discoveries, and uses innovative photographic and filmic devices.

As Goudal states: “Photography is a tool for me, a simple instrument, in the same way as video, installation or performance. But what I’m most fascinated by is the construction of images and what one can make-believe inside an image.” Traces of Post Atlantica’s process and samples of the distinctive jungle collage are dotted around the studio.

Goudal’s art begins inside and works its way out. The Belleville studio functions as a base, and is filled with illustrations and scientific articles. She displays her inspirations on the wall and pairs them with tests and prints; assemblages that mark essential milestones in the progress of the work. A typical day in the studio is punctuated by visits from journalists, gallerists and collaborators, as well as team meetings. As such Goudal uses nearby libraries and the cafe next door to carry out her research. Books and other reference points feed her passionate investigations into paleoclimatology (the study of past climates) and instruct her many trips to natural environments, where the landscape has been crafted by geological and climatic history. Like the scientists who inspire her, Goudal’s creative process also requires image-making “expeditions”.

Goudal’s work sits at a juncture between fiction and reality. Imagined scenes and scientific evidence attach and detach to coincide with the photographer’s intent and artistic gesture. The studio is at the centre of the unexplored landscapes, and it is here that images of tropical forests are reproduced, manipulated, deconstructed and multiplied. Goudal questions assumptions about the world, and highlights what we do not know about its dizzying movements and rhythm. The work offers an interpreted visualisation of these phenomena and little-known scientific events. The artist tells me about the scientific discoveries behind Post Atlantica: the coal found under the Antarctic ice, and the ice strata that hide tropical forests. The work functions as a translation of complex ideas into sensory experiences; perfectly incarnated by her video installation Inhale, Exhale (2021) or the triptych and film Untitled (Waves) (2022). The challenge is in conveying the unusual encounter between art and paleoclimatology.

Gazing at the artist’s work, we are placed in a position of confusion: what exactly are we looking at? It is a necessary destabilisation to provoke our ethnocentric vision of nature. By disrupting our perception, Goudal advances her reflection on the multiple links between humans and their environment. Can we consider Earth without any human presence and disturbance? Our planet existed before us, what will it be like without us? To see Goudal’s work is to experience the anticipation we all share: waiting for new discoveries about the past of the planet to explain what’s coming next. She educates us about Earth’s history and forces us to think about disasters to come. From her bright Belleville studio, Goudal’s work triggers viewers’ ecological agentivity.

Link to the original article ↗