Jean-Claude Moschetti’s ongoing photographic series Magic on Earth fascinates itself with illuminating the hidden, secretive worlds of folkloric tradition across a number of interrelated African societies.
Magic on Earth documents the existence and experience of cultural traditions in everyday life. “My main goal, through my pictures, is to show the presence of the supernatural in the daily life, to bring out a part of this mystery,” says Jean-Claude.
We spoke to the photographer about his work and the magnetism that sees him returning to Africa time and again.
Tell me about your series of folkloric work, how are they thematically linked?
All these pictures are part of a larger work called Magic on Earth. It’s about African spirituality and tradition, with ancestors and protective spirits coming back to earth. Until now, I have shot four series in different countries (Benin, Burkina-Faso, Guinea, Sierra Leone), and I wish to extend my exploration, it’s an endless subject as Africa is such a big continent.
How do you picture your locations and scenes in which to photograph your subjects?
On location, most of the time I am not allowed to move the character out of the convent or out of the compound. So I have to choose in a restricted area the most suitable place that will allow me to construct diptychs or triptychs. I use a single flash to soften the harsh natural light.
I don’t take pictures during public ceremonies when characters dance outside. There is more power in photographing masqueraders and believers without movement, motionless within the right environment. I don’t photograph humans but spirits, when seated they look like fetishes and supernatural creatures.
How much are these series ethnographic, or are they simply artistic?
My main goal is to create a personal and artistic body of work, but my raw material is ethnographic. So they are both artistic and ethnographic.
I try to explore and show the presence of the supernatural in the African daily life. There are so many strange stories in West Africa. In Benin especially, if you see a bird on the top of the roof, you might ask yourself if it’s a real bird or a witchdoctor waiting to poison your food. You might be weary of a pretty girl who could be a Mermaid. I like to photograph what we can’t see.
A lot of your pieces are diptychs and triptychs, why? Can you tell me about your choice in composition when it comes to compiling these images?
Triptychs and diptychs allow me to deconstruct the space and to build it again in a new more poetic way. The masks and the characters, each takes place in this space, opening up a crossing way from a world to another one. That’s a way to create a fourth dimension, to reveal the supernatural essence of the character.
The images compilation is a long process. For this project I still working with argentic cameras, I take time before processing films because I want to look at the photographs with a new eye. I work slowly.
There is a kind of magic when at last I find the right arrangement, sometimes in pictures taken far away from each others which seem to be made for one another, with similar lines, perspectives or ambiance.
What keeps you coming back to these themes?
African traditional arts are very strong and inspiring. The French writer Paul Valery wrote, “what would we be without the help of that which does not exist?” This sentence resonates with my own state of mind and maybe explains the strength of the West African imaginary world. We need magic to survive!