One of Bouvet’s photo immediately sticks to your memory: a piano tuner in Hrushevsky Street. On a misty day, in the background of barricades made of bags, on a smoked rostrum a man with a key in his hand inclines over a blue-and-yellow piano and listens attentively.
The exhibit at the National Museum of Art of Ukraine includes the cycles “Kyiv tiredness” and “Heroes of Maidan,” which are on display outside: “Heroes” are on the stands near the entrance to the museum, and “Tiredness” is on the fence along the Hrushevsky Street. Inside, in the hall on the ground floor, there are photo collages, but namely the report series are the most interesting.
These pictures are interesting not only due to the feeling that an event was captured on the wing; detail, the most important proof of quality of a photographer’s work, is at its best here. The dirty fingers of a guy in a mask, which hold claw of a plywood shield during the clash; the look of an old woman in balaclava into the camera; an uneven grating of the carcass of a burnt bus, which seems to cut through the silhouettes of people on the barricade; the apocalyptic cloud of black smoke above the Maidan; a protestant in a helmet who rubs his eyes, crying either because of gas, or because he is sad: Eric’s lens is accurate and full of compassion at the same time.
The author is 53, he has been married for 27 years; the couple has two children, aged 23 and 18. The photographer says, he “comes from a working milieu.” He has been involved in report photography for over 30 years. He has been to Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya, Somalia, Yugoslavia, and Israel. His works have been published in Time, Life, Newsweek, Paris Match, New York Times, Der Spiegel, Figaro Magazine. His works have received five awards of the World Press Photo competition, two Visas d’Or, the prize of the magazine Paris Match, and public award Bayeux-Calvados for war correspondents.
Bouvet came to Kyiv for the first time at the beginning of February on his own initiative: he was shooting at Hrushevsky Street; his second trip on February 18-20 was funded by Paris Match – then he found himself in Instytutska Street on the bloody morning of February 20.
At the opening of the exhibit the author of the photos talked to the audience, and he has also answered the questions of The Day’s journalist.
Eric, what do you love your work for?
“For being able to get pleasure from it in various ways. For example, I was making a report about the anniversary of the October Revolution in Moscow. It was approximately 10 degrees below zero outside. When I returned to Paris, I entered a phone booth at the airport, out of reporter’s habit, to call my agent, and he said: there is an uprising in Haiti, go there. I immediately got on another plane and several hours later found myself in Haiti, where it was 35 degrees above zero. When I was young, I thought it was very cool to change planes like this. Later I calmed down, apparently grew old. Now, when I shoot, I choose the topics I like the most, therefore I spend my own money for the trips.”
Why did you come to our country in February? What caught your attention?
“You are very close to Europe. I thought it was about all of us, Europeans, and personally me as a European.”
You have visited many countries and seen many conflicts. What are disparities and common features of these conflicts?
“Every conflict differs from the rest. Like Kyiv events are unique, because they were happening in this city at a certain period of time. When I found myself in Instytutska Street, where snipers were shooting, about 20 people were killed near me, but the wounded people and even those who were dying did not shout and they did not even moan. They were falling with great dignity. I was very much impressed by this. I have never seen anything like this.”
On the whole, what seemed the worst and the best to you here?
“The best thing is to meet with people in Maidan, their dignity. The worst of all was to see how people fell dead, it was really terrible.”
Will you go to the east of Ukraine, to Donetsk? There is a trouble spot as well.
“You see, the press is sick now. It does not have any money anymore. Previously my trips were funded: for example, I received an order from Paris Match or from Times. And now I have to pay for my own trips from my own pocket, so if I go to the east, where am I supposed to go, and with whom am I supposed to make an agreement to sell this report later? Everything is very vague, like a poker game. My children are studying at the university; therefore I cannot afford spending too much. In a word, now is not the best time for photographers.”
Do you often feel in danger?
“Should I answer this question? If you are a normal person, there is fear, without doubt. But I can manage it. Fear is left somewhere on the bottom of my stomach and it does not go up to my head. Because if it’s present in your head, you cannot behave and respond adequately (laughing). At the same time I know why I suffer from stomach ache all the time.”
Have you been wounded?
“I don’t like to talk about it. Yes, I have been wounded four times. One bullet cut my hair, another one shot me from the right, and I was also wounded in my hip and in my back. About 10 times I have been thrown by an explosion wave. But I have been very lucky. I have many friends who are dead now or who were gravely wounded.”
Have you been attacked? Or taken hostage?
“Of course. Even worse. But we have already talked about danger, so I don’t want to pay much attention to this. It is clear that those who haven’t experienced such conflicts don’t know what it is. Digital photography has become widely spread and many people think they can make perfect photos. They don’t imagine the great work that takes place before the shooting; you also need courage and firmness on the spot to take photos. To be ready not to eat for several days, lie somewhere on the ground, be subject to violence. Photography is not my hobby, it’s my life.”
You can see many different things, including terrible ones. Where is the limit of allowed things for you?
“I am my own censor. What you see in the exhibit is nothing compared to what I haven’t shown. I think you must show the images which make people ask themselves questions rather than photos which simply shock.”
Besides risks and wandering, there is adrenaline present in your work. Admit it, it is appealing as well.
“That would be a lie to deny it. But I would like to reformulate the question: if you asked me whether I would have repeated what I have done in a certain situation, I would have replied, no, I would not go there for a second time.”
Have you ever thought of changing profession?
“Yes, I have (with irony). To be a photographer is such a richness. I have had an opportunity to be present at historical events owing to my profession. I have been at your Maidan. I have been near the Berlin Wall when it fell. I saw Nelson Mandela when he came out of prison – I saw him just in front of me. And the most important thing is relationships, meetings with people. I have met with amazing people. This small instrument I have, the camera, is a connection, like a dash, which we use in a sentence. [The French word ‘tiret’ literally means a mark of connection. – Author.] That’s the connection with the world I have.”
After all these years at wars, haven’t you been disappointed in humankind?
“What I have learned during my work is that a man is always ready to destroy everything. We don’t learn anything, we don’t remember lessons from the past. At the same time, I remain an optimist, I believe in people, and I hope that at some point of time there will be peace on earth. But this is rather a utopia.”