Through atmospheric and scientific photography, Maewenn Bourcelot tells the “tragic story” of the decline of pollinators

Maewenn’s project Eternal Ephemeral utilises microscopic photography to reveal the truth of this disaster, promoting the importance of biodiversity and urgent action in relation to climate change.

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Date
20 September 2021
Reading Time
6 minute read

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Photographer Maewenn Bourcelot creates and always has created, entirely instinctively. From the moment her parents (both artists and designers) gifted her a camera aged seven, she’s allowed intuition to guide her decisions and outcomes. Put simply, she just knew what she wanted to make and never questioned it. This process proved problematic when she enrolled on the visual communication course at ECAL. She openly describes her four years at the university as a struggle, largely for the way the institution pushed her to ignore that intuition and “explore a wide range of mediums from moving image to diverse technological tools including a reflection on digital research in contemporary photography.” What’s more, “ECAL has a strong visual identity and at first, I felt compelled to correspond to their aesthetic language in order to be accepted. It threw me off balance in relation to my instinctive approach to the medium,” she recalls.

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Maewenn Bourcelot: Eternal Ephemeral (Copyright © Maewenn Bourcelot, 2021)

On reflection today, however, Maewenn says that paradoxically, this experience taught her to accept her process. “The school was promoting the concept as quintessential, more than the work itself, the idea outpaced the action,” she says. “I had to go through the deconstruction of my photographic practice which gave me the opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and learn other tools. Nevertheless, in the end, I had to reckon and embrace my intuition as my main guide to realise that is where my main strength lies.”

Exploring a variety of topics circumnavigating the environment, climate change and humankind’s relationship to the natural world, Maewenn has built up a singular body of work. An “exploration of feminine beauty as a celebration of diversity and acceptance,” also plays a major role in her work. Visually, she literally and figuratively zooms in on her subjects to reveal deeper narratives. “The idea of framing is essential for me,” she says. “I give quite a lot of consideration to my post-production as I want to get rid of anything that is not serving my aim. I concentrate and remove things that are not meaningful. Sometimes I return to some pictures in my archives and I find new images appearing in the action of cropping.” In turn, Maewenn pulls focus to several important topics, deciphering our deep connection to nature – what she deems “the original driving force” – through fashion, portraiture and editorial photography with a slick and unmistakable style.

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Maewenn Bourcelot: Eternal Ephemeral (Copyright © Maewenn Bourcelot, 2021)

It’s Nice That: Your series Eternal Ephemeral stems from your fascination with bees. What made you want to explore this topic photographically?

Maewenn Bourcelot: My latest personal project Eternal Ephemeral is a book where I investigate my fascination for bees through a photographic essay. A somewhat tragic story as myriads of small winged creatures have silently disappeared over the past 27 years. In the blink of an eye, the decline of pollinators seems to herald the gloomy nightmare of a devastated biosphere.

Eternal Ephemeral is a photographic essay, a subjective investigation that approaches the complex causes contributing to colony collapse disorder. This quest led me to meet various actors who, in their endeavour, act to preserve nature’s balance, and attest to the profound vulnerability of mankind in the face of this tragedy.

My grandfather was a beekeeper and I grew up being very attracted to small insects of all kinds. I collected them. When my relative died, he left me with thousands of questions and a deep need for understanding. I remember this alarming sentence he kept repeating in the last years of his life: “Here is the great decline, the cement of our world is destroyed, our precious little friends are vanishing, and we will vanish with them.”

I started understanding little by little that his words were not that delusive. Massive and recurrent abnormal mortalities in bee colonies were becoming a common thing.

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Maewenn Bourcelot: Eternal Ephemeral (Copyright © Maewenn Bourcelot, 2021)

GalleryMaewenn Bourcelot: Eternal Ephemeral (Copyright © Maewenn Bourcelot, 2021)

INT: The project seems to utilise a variety of photographic techniques, from the more straightforward to the microscopic. Talk us through your approach and why you decided to make use of so many styles and techniques.

MB: The book is a fragmented stroll, moving between different types and forms of imagery without an immediately obvious narrative intention. Fragmentary evocations of various causes of the collapse relate to human activity and are juxtaposed to a human figure reminiscent of the ghostlike beekeeper.

Talking about a subject like this and capturing it is not an easy task. It’s a complex matter. As my approach is not documentary, I wanted to be able to use a technique that metaphorically suits and reflects my narrative. What the micro-scans reveal is entirely invisible to the human eye, mirroring the blindness of this tragedy.

Many of the pictures resonate with the idea of scale (micro-macro), supported by the use of micro-scanning technology and acting as a scale to question the link between man and insect, dominant and dominated.

The colour is used as a critical element to underline the intrigue. A paradoxical poisonous beauty that attracts and repels at the same time, revealing the fragility of the relationship between man and natural life. We are fascinated by nature, we admire it, but we also do everything to destroy it by our behaviour which is still modelled on our paradigm of the Age of Enlightenment.

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Maewenn Bourcelot: Eternal Ephemeral (Copyright © Maewenn Bourcelot, 2021)

“We are fascinated by nature, we admire it, but we also do everything to destroy it.”

Maewenn Bourcelot

INT: What do you hope viewers take from Eternal Ephemerals?

MB: Maybe a mixed feeling of aesthetic and unease, and hopefully an interest to push their awareness a bit further towards what is actually happening worldwide. When you start reading about it, you realise that our biodiversity has been drastically reduced and that our world is in severe danger of collapsing.

INT: If you had to pick a favourite project, which one are you most proud of and why?

MB: I guess the bee project was one of my favourites as it was the one I could spend the most time on. It really opened my eyes and my consciousness to a wider perspective on climate change, the urgency we face, the responsibility of men, the interconnection of all things on earth and the beauty of it all. The incredible complexity and beauty of the bees’ world, their intelligence as a super productive society, the invisible dependence we have on them fascinated me and oriented my thoughts and my philosophy.

INT: In regards to your wider portfolio too, your work is already incredibly distinctive. How did you find your creative voice and visual language?

MB: I think I am a compulsive collector of images, and I have a few favourite themes that created a feeling of estrangement inside me, where beauty can stand alongside ugliness, silence, brutality, grace and roughness. I realise my visual language tends to emerge from a dichotomy that I would like to transform into a dialogue, maybe we could name it “inquiétante beauté”.

GalleryMaewenn Bourcelot: Eternal Ephemeral (Copyright © Maewenn Bourcelot, 2021)

GalleryMaewenn Bourcelot: Eternal Ephemeral (Copyright © Maewenn Bourcelot, 2021)

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Maewenn Bourcelot: Eternal Ephemeral (Copyright © Maewenn Bourcelot, 2021)

INT: What’s next for you?

MB: I am open to any ventures as long as they allow my creativity to flourish. I feel the world of fashion today is an open space and enables creative people to explore new visual codes and a new definition of aesthetics altogether; to challenge existing preconceptions and behaviours towards consumption as well as make a positive difference about how we feel about ourselves.

I am currently working with an upcoming brand called Skinswear as an artistic director and photographer. I had the chance to meet this incredible human being called Mathilde Alloin who develops ethical, sustainable, body-morphed lingerie using new technologies. I enjoy the fact that behind such a frivolous piece of clothing much more can be told and it can even participate in the liberation of our aesthetic and physical constraints, through a new narrative.

We are currently trying to dig into the idea of body perception and are working on a future book that will question body stereotypes, celebrating female empowerment and elaborating the tenants of a current movement: body positivity evolving through body neutrality.

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Maewenn Bourcelot: Eternal Ephemeral (Copyright © Maewenn Bourcelot, 2021)

The Next Generation 2021 continued!

Meet 19 more creatives you should keep an eye on this year!

Check them out!

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Maewenn Bourcelot: Eternal Ephemeral (Copyright © Maewenn Bourcelot, 2021)

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About the Author

Ruby Boddington

Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor. Get in contact with Ruby about ideas you may have for long-form stories on the site.

rbd@itsnicethat.com

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