After reading a UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which warns that if global warming rises by 2.5 degrees Celsius, the Camargue will sink into the Mediterranean, the French photographer decided to portray the landscape and its inhabitants. He considers his project both photographic and literary: he juxtaposes his documentary images with ballad-like texts, where he allows space for his mental associations. He spoke with us about his point of view, about complementing his photography with writing, about the common clichés related to the Camargue, and about the people he met there.

The Camargue region is known for its Camargue horses, bulls and flamingos – almost clichés –, and for the huge amount of tourism.
Yes, indeed. Here, no pink flamingos; no wild horses running at dawn through wild marshes; no sunrise over a flight of ducks. The sun burns the film and the skin, salt and rust eat away at the sheds made of bric-a-brac, worm-eaten boards and worn sheet metal, plastic chairs lie in front of the house – but who cares? I had no place for romantic sunsets or glorious visions of colourful nature. Also because during my wanderings I came across a few flamingos, of course. But so few.

What was your particular focus?
In my images, I’ve given way to what I see: tired men, retired workers, dusty cowboys and fishless fishermen. Sick animals, bored horses and hunters in love. I didn’t set off on a bird safari, but on a mysterious wander through a ghostly, post-apocalyptic, out-of-this-world tableau. Through portraits, fragments of landscapes and still lifes, I tell the story of a singular people, attached to their land and their way of life, yet threatened by drought and the sea nibbling away at the beaches, salt creeping inland and tourism crushing everything in its path. The conflicts, the sun and the birds that never return.

What impressed you most whilst documenting everyday lives in the Camargue region?
I think I really liked this feeling of changing worlds. Several communities live here: gypsies, salt workers, fishermen, dockers, breeders and farmers. At times, I had the impression that they didn’t know each other. That everyone lived in their own time and space. And I sailed from one to the other. Everyone sees the Camargue as something very different. For some, it’s an ancestral land that needs to be irrigated and developed so that it can be farmed. For others, it’s a picture-postcard coastline, perfect for setting up a restaurant with a pink flamingo on the front. For others, it’s a fragile wetland that must be preserved. There are as many Camargues as there are Camarguais, I think!

The Camargue region is said to be untamed. What was your impression; is this still true? People always try to tame nature…
It’s a difficult question. The question is what is wild? Is a pink flamingo that settles in a prefabricated nest, wild? Is a pheasant raised and released for hunting, still wild? I don’t know. I think the myth of the Wild Wild West has caricatured this story a little. The Camargue is, all at once, an artificial land, an artificial balance between salt and fresh water, and a different kind of relationship between man and his environment. Of course, the Camargue is relatively un-urbanized, and a huge part of the territory is untouched by buildings or roads. Yet everything here is fenced in, demarcated and controlled. And the Camargue is bordered by areas that are the very opposite of wild: the industrial port of Fos sur Mer to the east, and the seaside resort of La Grande Motte to the west. The people here are attached to nature, the marshes, the horses, the sea, even the mosquitoes. But the myth of man dominating and mastering nature is a powerful one. There’s not much room left for the wild in all that.

Can you speak a bit about some of your protagonists?
Most of the people I’ve met, and therefore photographed, are locals: hunters, workers, former dockworkers or gypsies. They talk about their territory and how they see the future with the threats facing their island. They tell the story of a land that is changing dramatically with the development of tourism and the decline of the salt industry. There’s Jean-Claude, a retired fisherman, who misses the days of abundance and kilos of eels. There’s Marguerite, who moved here with her husband to work at the Salins, now closed, and their house isn’t worth much. There’s Victor, who spent all his summers in Beauduc, in his grandfather’s seaside cottage, and has just learned that it is to be razed to the ground.

You said your series For Whom the Sirens Will Sing is both, a “photographic and literary project”. How did you come up with this idea?
For me, this project – and this is how it was conceived and how it will be published – is a photographic and literary work indeed. Literature offers another field of freedom and creation, because you can free yourself from reality, you can create from scratch. I wrote before I took photos. I started out as a journalist with a small local newspaper. I’d never even thought of taking photos. One day they asked me to take photos to illustrate my articles. I’d already published a novel by then (Puisque chante la nuit, 2013), and I loved the complementary nature of these two modes of expression.

How do photography and literature complement each other?
Literature is something of a solitary exercise, even in the way you receive and share a text. When we buy a book, we don’t know if we’ll like it. It’s an art that takes time. Photography offered me a more grounded relationship with things, and also the ability to share an image instantaneously or almost. So I wanted to bring these two forms of expression together in my project, to offer two ways of reading, two parallel worlds, different but complementary.

Théo Giacometti was born in 1989 in the southern French Alps. After starting out as a professional cook, Giacometti turned to journalism and photography. He moved to Marseille in 2018 and began working for the national and international press, including Le Monde, Libération, and The Guardian. He published his first novel, Puisque chante la nuit, in 2013. He is a member of the Hans Lucas photography agency and studio. In 2022, Giacometti was the recipient of the Mondes Nouveaux grant awarded by the French Ministry of Culture. Find out more about his photography on his website and Instagram page.

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