As the almost unreadable biography on his website reads, Benoit Paillé is a self-professed “conscious agitator and creative genius”. Zonked on Ritalin for his most crucial years, Benoit stumbled into the lap of art, and now he believes it “sustains him more than leftover hot dogs."
Benoit has been living on the road for the past five years; only breaking three cameras, as his camper van rampages over dirt tracks and speed bumps from Quebec to British Columbia. The photographs he takes are spontaneous yet stylised. Like a painter he puts himself into his images, using pops of neon colour to suggest an altered state of mind. These trippy and surreal images make the ordinary extraordinary; he seeks the unseen and unusual, making it startling and immediately eye-catching.
Benoit does not fall short of exciting tales; his recent escapade saw him attending an anti-capitalist riot, where he was fined $1000, with himself and his equipment seriously damaged.
We managed to catch the elusive figure and speak to him about his work.
It’s Nice That: Who and what has inspired your art?
Benoit Paillé: I am always experimenting with my immediate environment, both social and natural. My work focuses on questioning the limits imposed by humanity; how can one push away these self-imposed limits and constraints. Or, as in my most recent series, how to redefine the landscape with the help of a manmade light presence.
I also find a lot of my inspiration from things I hate about photography in general. I wanted to position myself against these trends and use it to reach a paroxysm of satire.
INT: What draws you to neon colours and how do you create that effect?
BP: Flashes of neon blue, green, and pink are injected into my surroundings, creating the effect of a psychotropic drug. It forms another world that is surreal and at the same time just as real as the one that surrounds us. In reimagining these territories—the geography around me and the scenery of my mind— my photos question all that we’ve inherited: private property and the omnipresence of borders.
I’m especially interested in objects—poles, fences, walls, barbed wire. I find it fascinating to ascribe value to a pole through lighting and framing. It’s my way of questioning the stories we tell ourselves.
I work with a compact camera and a hot-shoe flash and choose colours haphazardly. Initially, the aim of the coloured flashes was to destroy the landscape, to impose myself into it. Now, the point is to make it artificial, to render it unnatural.
INT: Are those you photograph friends or strangers? How do you approach them?
BP: It’s a mixture of both, but I never take photographs with models. These are spontaneous snapshots. I don’t like the idea of finding models to shoot; it results in a fake product.
Initially, when I asked strangers to take their pictures, it was like I was back in school, asking someone out. I felt the same fear of rejection, the same stress, but also the thrill. In the subway, it was harder because people are rushed; it adds an extra stress. But I liked to be confronted with that, to become a random element in their life. When I went home after and started retouching, I found it hallucinating to zoom in so close into the iris of a total stranger.
INT: We’ve heard you live on the road; how has travel shaped your photography?
BP: I have been living in my small camper for 5 years now. I chose to transform my life in an attempt to transform my art; for me, it was a radical decision. Gaining mobility created the emergence of situations that enhanced my creativity. I travel to the places that interest me the most — in between the countryside and cities, industrial districts, strange parking lots, documenting my encounters. Now my work has become quite autobiographical. I always have my material with me, the flash, the luminous square strapped to the roof of the camper, so my creative process is very spontaneous.
I do not research a photo, I think everything can be a good subject, but I do like banal things. I use google maps to travel; so when I see a spot on the map that seems interesting or strange, I just go there. It’s an exploration, a wondering. I would find it very constraining to live otherwise.