Wallpaper* contributor Matthieu Lavanchy won the Photography Grand Jury Prize at the Hyères Festival International de Mode & de Photographie 2010 for his Mr. Schuhlmann series. Here, the Swiss photographer talks about creating the works and the story behind them.
You have used strong flash lighting in your Mr. Schuhlmann series. Was this
Yes. I believe light is an integral part of the overall meaning of an image. In this
case I wanted the pictures to feel like a report, as if someone had documented what they had seen in a very straightforward way.
Who is Mr. Schuhlmann?
Mr. Schuhlmann is both an allegorical figure and the embodiment of Mr. Everyman. He was a way of personifying concepts that I had in my head. I chose an ordinary name for him because I wanted to highlight that his paranoid behaviour and thoughts are more ordinary than one might think. He's a bit crazy, but at the same time, very familiar. He could be a neighbour who has just gone off the rails a bit. This fictional character has enabled me to structure my work. By imagining myself inside his head, imagining how and why he would have created these installations, I was able to give coherent form to my ideas.
Is there a thread of the autobiographical in your Mr. Schuhlmann series?
Not really. I consider it more like a critique.
Can you tell us about the setting of the story? Where is it and did you style the
I was looking for places that had a 1960s and 1970s feel to them. At this time, interior decoration was suposed to turn your home into a paradise, an eden where you could retreat. I thought it would be interesting to set the story in this type of 'ideal' environment. So I convinced some friends of my grandparents, my old nanny, et cetera, to lend me their flats. Then, yes, I styled the images myself, sometimes using what was available on the locations, sometimes adding things myself.
What inspired the sense of fear that the images convey?
Well, we live in an age when we are bombarded by violent and dramatic images from the mass media and the entertainment industry. These images become part of our everyday life and create an inescapable climate of fear. My aim with this work was to make a commentary on these overprotective and paranoid times that we live in.
What is your next photographic step?
I would like to take the construction aspect of my work further. For the new project that I am working on now, I am going to build all of the furniture myself especially for the photographs.
Where are you based and how does the city you live in affect your work?
I currently live in Lausanne, in Switzerland. It affects my work in terms of practicality and access. Here, I know where to find everything I need for my pictures, and this usually means a lot of things! I know all the thrift stores, the DIY stores, the dumps, the empty houses, apartments, et cetera.
Who, what or where has been your biggest inspiration to your career?
Theatre decorations, movie sets, window displays, interior design. I like it when all the elements of a calculated set-up work together to form a narrative and a sense-generating whole. All in all, I guess I am inspired by the dramatic power of space.
If you weren't a photographer, how would you spend your time?
I would still do the constructions just for fun!