Camille Fontaine Q&A
Camille Fontaine talks photography with TheBlkGaze.
Whilst there is much similarity across the diaspora, not all Black experiences are the same and too often we are oversimplified as a community. The Black gaze is not monolithic and I interpret it as two things; firstly, it describes communicating the wealth of variety and lived experiences across the global African diaspora; secondly, it expresses the beauty of life, history and the world through the diverse perspectives within the diaspora.
It’s hugely important that each community has the opportunity to have their human experience expressed through their multifaceted gaze, to disrupt the pre-existing colonial schools of thought that are presented in media, design and arts. So, as many others have already highlighted in their Q&As, the Black gaze is also specifically African diasporic narratives from within the diaspora itself.
How does this relate to your photography practice?
My definition hugely underpins my practice almost as a set of founding principles. The HOME Series was born out of being a part of numerous conversations surrounding blackness and belonging. Despite at least three participants being Black femmes from London, there is much diversity across their responses and how the concept of ‘home’ has manifested for them. I felt it important to try to capture and protect these experiences.
As a photographer, I aim to allow the subject to take lead on how they wish to represent themselves and their opinions, to maintain the integrity of the project.
What do you want to say or address with your photography?
I hope to address the varied contexts and nuances of blackness; to offer alternatives to the mainstream representation of the Black experience. I think my work is also conversational – it is intended to cause reflection for those who are both within and outside of the Black diaspora, to reflect on their consumption of Black narratives.
There are so many talented Black creatives past and present, working on similar practices who are beyond inspirational.
What influences and inspires you? How is this reflected in your work?
I’m inspired by many other creative and academic bodies of work – there are too many to name! I love music, travel, and experiential moments. Inspiration can be found in anything.
In terms of my landscape work, I’m obsessed with bodies of water and the sky – especially from aerial views or horizons. Living in a flat in London, most of my surroundings are man-made, so my soul seeks out organic things. I also was inspired by computer desktops! I began doing landscape work initially to produce rich imagery that could be used across the tech and media industries.
Artist-wise, my immediate go to is Lina Iris Viktor; I’ve been following her practice since around 2016. Lina’s artwork is outstanding and I’m incredibly inspired by the academic underpinning of her work. It can be seen in not just how she presents her portraits, paintings and prints, but also the intention in the presentation of her work, whether it be a book or an installation. I also take an academic approach to my work discussing Black narratives, and have a booklist that has informed the themes of my projects, but also the ethics of how I capture and curate the outcomes.
Who are your favourite Black photographers from the past? Why?
They aren’t ‘of the past’ but have been unofficial mentors for me as I began carving out what my identity as a photographer was. Founders of MFON: Women Photographers of the African Diaspora, Adama Delphine Fawundu and Laylah Amatullah Barrayn have been hugely influential as visual artists and documentary photographers whose work has social impact.
Prior to considering myself as a photojournalist/ documentary photographer, I couldn’t see myself or my work in professional photography spaces. Attending talks by Adama and Layla were hugely educational, as I saw how I could exist in the photographic industry.
Also, a huge shout out to Marie Smith who sat and talked with me about her creative practice over the years as a visual artist.
Please describe the highs and lows of your experience as a Black photographer?
Let’s get the ugly part out of the way. There seems to be a reoccurrence in the UK of a lack of Black female representation in the photographic/videographic industry. As a result, it can negatively impact how Black womxn are paid and the treatment of their work.
Quite frequently in mainstream spaces, my technical ability is underestimated before any work is seen, based purely on assumptions made about my intersection. However, if my work is viewed and I am anonymous, it receives much praise, followed by the surprise that it was captured by me!
The highs have come from the rising community of Black creatives that I have had the pleasure to collaborate with or join with as an international community. Whether we’ve met in person or online, the diaspora has come through, particularly Black femmes, in uplifting and upholding one another.
What work are you producing and what more would you like to do?
I’d like to do more landscapes, potentially get involved with drone work if possible. But we’ll see what happens with the pandemic.
I am continuing with producing The HOME Series – I think this is going to be a lifelong piece of work. I’m always on the lookout for people who wish to be captured as part of the project. It is a blessing to be learning so much from my global community and while also being able to give something back.
About Camille Fontaine
London-based Camille Fontaine is a visual artist who uses photography and moving image to document society and explore normative identity narratives. Her current project THE HOME SERIES explores the relationship between location, citizenship and identity.
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