Wolf & Toussaint
Meet Jean-Baptiste Toussaint. After years of photographing some of the most recognised faces in pop culture, Toussaint opens up his photographic archive to share with Wolf a number of hand picked photographs of his Nordic subjects. Each Friday we will be sharing another photographic treat, along with the story behind the image. Friday's and Toussaint, a perfect match.
Wolf & Toussaint present WhoMadeWho
The last three years I have worked with more or less 300 bands. Time is passing and my memory becomes weak. I can remember the very first photo shoot. I can feel everything, my excitement, my pride, the weather, the place and the words. Every detail. Unfortunately I’ve started to lose track about the others. I would like to keep in my head every single moment but I can’t. When I think about Whomadewho, the only memory I have is the Thomas Hoeffding hats. Kind of useless. As the years go by, almost everything will disappear. But in a distant future, when my brain will be empty and my wrinkled hands trembling, the most important thing will stay : those pictures.
Getting to know Toussaint...
Where are you based and why do you live there?
I'm based in Paris. I live there because I have to. I don't like Paris, I would liked to have met this city as only a tourist.
Do you express yourself creatively in other mediums?
I directed a music video for a band two years ago. 24 images per second is a different responsibility.
What draws you to taking portraits?
Maybe it's about stealing time. Capturing the death of the moment, forever. I realised that when I worked with Sonic Youth. I killed them. I stole one second of their life, and I kept it.
What draws you to a city, or certain public space?
History, legends. Walking next to the loch ness in the mist. Watching a rocket launch at Cap Canaveral. Exploring the South Pole. Buying a t-shirt at the Mount Rushmore. Stuff like that.
How do you decide on the subjects for your photographs?
I try to catch an atmosphere. Whatever what the subject is. Style is the most important thing. I remember, when I was 20, I went to an exhibition in a gallery. There was that guy, an old photographer, giving some advises to young people. All of sudden a young man said, I
can’t become a photographer, i don’t have enough money to buy a good camera. And the photographer said, you don’t need one, take some pictures with a disposable camera. It stuck with me.
Why a 1932 Kodak camera? What would make you use another camera instead?
In 1990 I read a book called Unexplained Phenomenas. Inside were UFO's, ghosts, ectoplasms, levitations. Black and white pictures with a lot of grany. It frightened me a lot. Much later I decided to recreate those photos so I made my own camera from a 1932 Kodak. Gradually I learned to use my weird creation and finally i found a way to convey on paper what i have in mind.
Who would you be photographing when you know you'd definitely made it?
Steven Spielberg, definitely. Otherwise, in the real world, I’d like to work with Liz Harris and Mark Kozelek.
When were you last in Scandinavia? Where were you?
Stockholm with my girlfriend, one year ago. I enjoyed the Vasa warship.
Where was the last place you travelled to alone?
Portland-Maine for two days. I ate three hot dogs during a base-ball game, picked up and laid flowers on Rudy Vallee's grave, bought different things in an awesome store called Strange Maine and wandered in front of the Stephen King house for a while.
This photo shoot took place in a hotel room, which I've never been very much in favor of. Most of the time, the room is tight and the interior depressing, and not in a good way. This time was different, though. The band chose the best and largest suite of the hotel, and Jónsi had brought with him half of his recording studio and recreated it in the room. It was really impressive and, well, weird. "This way, we can work anywhere in the world" he said proudly. During the shoot, he was intrigued by my weird camera. Before I left, he asked me if I was ready to sell it to him and for how much. I said, "Only in exchange for your voice." We shook hands anyway.
5pm. The van is parked. Eyes are tired, movements are slow. Boots and gear on quicksand. Bananas and alcohol to wake up. Four Danes and a French guy in an empty venue. I need more guitar here. First few notes of Morals. In this dark and little room, I can already smell the beer and smell the leather. I can see the faces and the tattoos. I can feel the sweet pain of a pogo on my body. I can walk over the empty beakers and I can imagine the sweat and the heat. In three hours, lights will go out, ears will whistle. Nobody’s around. Just four Danes and a French guy.
She was here, in front of me and I listened her songs so many times before. I wanted to write something about her. Backstage was quiet, we could heard the muffled sound of soundcheck behind the door. In the middle of the photo shoot, I suddenly asked "Are you Norwegian? Because you know, Olsen..." She said "No why? I have Greek origins, that's all. It's funny because a few years ago I played at a Scandinavian festival because of my name. They thought I was Norwegian or something..." I responded with, "I just started working with a magazine based in Sweden called Mr Wolf, and I only introduce Scandinavian artists.... so Olsen... because of necessity you must have a great, great, great Norwegian grandfather".
We smiled, and left.
Sometimes I like to imagine different virtuality's of myself in the future. Here is one. Suicide in 2018 with total despair and finally gaining recognition for my work in 2035. Without knowing anything about me, people would define my personality through my work. I would be a mysterious artist. A dark and sad person. I would become an inspiration for depressed teens in a future of Tumblr declination. In an interview, Justin Vernon would pretend to remember an anecdote about me and he would finish his sentence by saying “…he was a real genius”. My camera would be under glass in a museum and my pictures would be seen in different galleries across the world. In one of these, two men would be watching this picture of Agnes Obel on a digital screen hang on the wall “This guy Toussaint was really deep, you can feel in this picture the sadness and understand the universe of this artist”.
No one would ever imagine the reality: this session with Agnes lasted 2 minutes, right after I stopped into a fast food eatery to buy a cheeseburger on the way to take the subway.
I come from a time where ITunes wasn't there to let us know how many times we have listened to a song or watched a music video. But if I did, Alanis Morissette's Ironic would have been counted over a 100 times. I come from a time where image and music were almost inseparable. This is the reason why I remember the day I first saw the video clip of First Days Of Something, by Young Dreams. It had been a long time since I’d loved a piece of work as much as I'd liked this one. In a world where the aesthetic and trend of the moment dominate - style and good ideas are rare. I instantly wanted to know more about the Norwegian director of the video, Kristoffer Borgli. His work is fantastic and shows the power of image- just after seeing that one video, I knew I wanted to work with Young Dreams.
Bands are always intrigued by my camera. There are a lot of wires on it, spots of soldering and stuff. It became a habit to tell the story of this weird creation during or after a photo shoot, and it’s really cool to have the feeling of being seen as Dr Emmett Brown while i explain how I made it. Reactions are different sometimes. Lee Ranaldo wanted to take a picture of it, Disclosure found that it looked like a time machine and The Maccabees thought it was a bomb. But during my meeting with Junip, something special happened. Just after the session, Jose Gonzalez came to me and said, My girl friend over there find you camera really cool…Do you think it would be possible to take some pictures of her too? I didn’t know what to say so I said yes. The moment was awkward and I didn’t know if I was flattered or offended. So far, she is the only person I've shot who’s not a member of a band.
My camera is really old and fragile. Most of the components inside are from the 30’s and the 50’s and I know she’s gonna die soon. I don’t want her to leave because my future depends on her. We’re stuck together. That is why I will try to create another camera similar to her. A few times in the past, I had thought it was over, like this one day with Olafur Arnalds. I had five minutes to shoot him before a show and my camera didn’t want to turning on. It was too tired I guess. I asked Olafur if I could check one thing before to start. Always the same pressure, always the same panic. I took two tinny tools out of my bag and put my camera on the operating table to fix it. Always the same fear, always the same concern. Then suddenly the green dot started flashing. She didn’t leave me that day.
What will happen to this picture in 2073 ? Will it still be visible? Probably stored on a USB key or a computer. Or Framed in a living room. Displayed in a gallery. Forgotten in a drawer. On page 52 inside a yellow magazine. Burned since the sad year of 2021. On an album cover or a poster. Inside a dusty book. Turned into a hologram. Found in the rubble of a cave. In front of the questioning eyes of my daughter, Why did you never tell me you were a photographer? Explained in a class room. Behind the proud forefinger of my daughter: My dad took this picture! Or will it be simply forgotten forever? Erased from Kasper’s memory. Erased from mine.
The venue was full and the voice of the tour manager barely audible. The show begins in 5 minutes, come with me in backstage, I'll give you 2 minutes to take pictures of them. The timing was tight but I’m used to that. If you want time, photograph flowers. Inside, the light wasn’t so good, Sune and Sharin were really quiet and the technical team were stressed given the show's imminence. Ok it’s time guys. Suddenly, everybody went out. I stood there, alone, the camera in my hand. Everything was so calm. Briefcases were open, a macbook switched on, half-eaten food on a table. I sat on the couch for a while and looked around. The adrenaline was over. 10pm. Time to go if I want to catch the last bus.
I will always remember that Thomas Dybdahl was the second, or third, artist that I have worked with. A time where the pressure made my fingers tremble during a photo shoot. Back in college, Thomas Dybdahl was one of my favourite singers and it was really impressive to stand right in front of him without any experience. Just him and me, backstage. I don’t like to steer during a session, even if I take the risk to let the subject hide his head behind a turtleneck. I like to wait, and catch the good moment. After few minutes, Thomas took his guitar and played the first note of Solitude. It was my favourite song and I felt so lucky to live this moment. I said nothing and pressed the button as much as possible. I have very fond memories of that day. It was the beginning. Season of hope and dreams.
Her name was Julia, maybe Sarah. We shared a conversation in the crowd, I don’t even know Frida Hyvonen, my friend brought me here. I talked to you because of the pins on your rucksack. A half shitty excuse. You were smiling and so soft. What? I can’t hear you sorry.
We talked about the show playing in front of our eyes, quinoa and Mel Gibson’s ass in Lethal Weapon. I remember the feeling of your hair falling on my shoulder when you spoke into my ear.
You made me forget the place, the people around, my job. I told you that I had to work with Frida, that it may take ten minutes, without imagining it would take forty. Then the zoom out, your face disappearing amongst the other faces. This was the last time I saw you.
Each year, for a week, I try to get out of the city and all form of civilisation by visiting Brittany, a place surrounded by pines, the sea, a lighthouse and rocks. Without any human beings, telephone networks or wifi.
I always take the minimum necessary, a little bag, some old books and a lot of new music. Among the minimalism was one mysterious thing which accompanied me throughout the week, The Snow’s track Memory Loss. According to my Itunes, I listened to that song 54 times and I started associating it with the landscapes I saw and the moments I lived while over there.
The voice seemed familiar to me but I had no information on this new band, I’d never heard them before and had no way of research them. Throughout the days, one unique idea was always in my mind, work with them as soon as you can.
Once on the train back, I checked my iphone: The Snow are a supergroup featuring Beach Fossils' Dustin Payseur and Holograms' Andreas Lagerström.
It was with that information that i realised I had already worked with each of them in the past.
Kakkmaddafakka is not only a complicated word to write for a French guy like me, it’s also a large band with eight members. I don’t do bands pictures, just individuals. So most of the time, it involves a single file setup before the photo shoot. One by one, I have to repeat myself and explain the same brief thing You just have to lean against the wall, upright, and look at the camera, that’s it… Sometimes, it becomes really mechanical and boring. I hate the idea of this because working with bands is a cool job, no? I guess routine does exist in every single piece of work, but fortunately, when the silence is too long, when my brain is concentrating completely in my finger and eye, the same sentence always comes and breaks the protocol, Hey dude, what’s that weird camera?!