Interview by Philippe Lowinski. Arnaud Baumann is a photographer.
How was your first meeting with Gaspar Noé?
I met him several times during Cannes Film Festival and I've been to a screening of Carne ten years ago. I also was in Cannes to shot movie stars during a party organized by Maurice Tinchant in a superb villa. There were Michel Piccoli, Emmanuelle Béart, Isabelle Huppert... Then, I saw Gaspar who was, at that time, completely unknown. As I liked both the person and his work, I wanted to shot a picture of him. I had made a photography studio equipped with the 50x60 Polaroïd view camera : there are only three copies of this camera in the world and it was lent to some photographers. Actually, it was a camera as big as a cupboard, with which we shot a unique 50x60 cm (about 19,6x23,6 inches) picture.
Besides that, I had my own view camera in which I made black & white pictures. After shooting a portrait of Isabelle Huppert, it was around 3:00am, I caught Gaspar and told him that I wished to shot a picture of him. I remembered Carne. That is why I asked him to be shirtless with a piece of white fabric around his waist, like he was a butcher. I even went in the kitchen to take a knife! We shot the picture in a really short time... Barely three minutes.
Why naked ?
In my opinion, every reasons are good to undress people! Someone who poses naked inevitably has another attitude in front of the lens, he gives himself way more. Gaspar Noé understood that I would make a nice picture of him, the light clothes didn't bother him. He could have turned down! And, he only was bare-chested!
Is this picture part of a book?
No. It's completely exclusive and only appears on my website. When Irreversible was released, I regretted so much not being in Cannes for this opportunity that I wanted to "avenge" myself by adding the picture on the website the day the movie was screened! About Irreversible, it took me a lot of time before watching it... We talked about it so much that I feared to be disappointed. But it wasn't the case, on the contrary! I was excited. This movie is great on its cinematographic construction, and even if the background is refined and disturbing, Gaspar's work is notable. He gave his actors something unique and intense, that the audience has to feel in his turn. This is how I picture movies... it's the kind of movies I'd like to do in the future.
How do you see his work ?
Gaspar is independant, he has a surprising frankness speech. A bit like David Lynch in Eraserhead or Mulholland Drive. He is part of those people who use their freedom so much brillantly and cleverly, that everything they say or do is necessarily notable.
Why this haughty posture, nearly dominant, on the picture?
I don't know much Gaspar, but I see him as a very shy man. I hate being photographed. I understand better that we can hate that. And my strength is, I think, that I have the understanding of the awkwardness so I give to the people some energy they send me back after. I completely directed Gaspar Noé. Just like a filmmaker can directs an actor with more or less softness or violence, according to what he'd like to say. I wanted him to become a character of his movies! While he isn't like this at all... he is neither a killer nor mad. He's totally normal. Where he is distinguished, it's his freedom of thought and his honesty. Maybe that if he didn't make this kind of movies, he would have become a killer... I don't know, we can imagine everything! In my way to photograph, I wanted to make him a disturbing man who could be the butcher. I think that deep down, he has a lot of violence, even if he is really kind in the outside. The human nature wants that. And our essential difference from animals is that we know how to control these extremes states. Some can't manage that... I never felt him as an agressive being. He doesn't like to be photographed or maybe not even being seen or recognized, and yet, if he feels comfortable with you, he becomes who he really is : a man who feels good as an artist!
Did you see him lately ?
Yes and no.
During the last Cannes Film Festival I was covering for Studio Magazine, I photographed him while he applaused The Brown Bunny by Vincent Gallo, but he didn't notice me. The last time I really met him, it also was in Cannes, four years ago. I had a dinner in a restaurant when I saw him sticking some poster of I Stand Alone up!! It was about midnight, and Gaspar was in a dark street, carrying his posters. I greeted him, we talked two minutes and I immortalized this surprising moment by shoting a pic. I remember that I told myself : this guy is a real, pure person! His job is his life and he likes life. Even if he has a dark look on it, that is to say clear.
I'd like to warmly thanks Arnaud Baumann who, from our first phone call, wholly trusted me on the interview management.
(Interviewed by Philippe LOWINSKI, by phone, on 23rd, October, 2003 / Translated from french by Alexis Veille)