Yann Gross interview
Swiss photographer, Yann Gross, won the Photography Grand Jury Prize at the Hyères Festival International de Mode & de Photographie 2010. Here, the Ecal graduate talks about his Kitintale series, which documents a skate park in Uganda.
You are based in Switzerland. How did you begin this project in Uganda? Do you have links there?
My girlfriend moved to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda for work, and before she left, we used to skate together. I visited her and we tried to find a place where we could skate. Actually, we were just looking for a parking yard or some concrete roads. I wouldn’t have expected to find a skate park there - especially not in a working-class suburb. When my girlfriend had to go back to the DRC, I decided to stay a few more months in the suburb where the skate park was located and started to hang out with the skateboarders.
Did you spend much time skating with the locals?
Yes, that’s why I was interested in working with them. I actually spent much more time on my board than behind my camera.
Were you involved in the development of skating in Kitintale?
I went to Kitintale several times. The first year, the kids were still learning how to ride on the board and I taught them some tricks. Eventually we organized the first skateboarding contest in East Africa! It was a lot of work and we visited all the local and national TV channels and newspapers. Nobody knew what skateboarding was, so we tried to make it more popular.
Did you form relationships with the skaters and are you still in contact with them?
I call them every two weeks, and try to go back every year. I’ll be there in July and August this year. We wanted to open an education center where the youngsters could get some practical skills in order to find a job. A lot of them dropped out of school because their parents couldn’t afford to pay for the school fees. Now they are too old to go back to classes. Unfortunately, we haven’t got the funds yet.
How has this project shaped your approach to photography?
I have always worked the same way and my relationship with the subject has always been the most important aspect. But I learned to be more patient and more sensitive to the light during this project.
You also made a short film about the skate park and the community surrounding it. Is filmmaking something you will continue to pursue?
Yes, definitely. I made this movie because I had a video camera with me. I enjoyed it very much and realised how interesting the medium is. I need to get more experience and have thought about attending film school. I discovered that photography and filmmaking are very complementary; they are just different tools for my research.
Is the social impact of your work as important to you as the image itself?
My Kitintale series wasn’t meant to be just a photographic documentary. It is part of my current research about dreams and identities. The film acted in a different way, however. It attempts to explain the impact skateboarding has on the kids living in that area. The movie helped us to get some sponsors who provided some boards and shoes.
Is narrative always important to your work?
When I talk about people and communities, yes, it is. But I don’t want to be too descriptive and that’s why I don’t consider myself a photojournalist. I don’t want a picture to be too spectacular or dynamic. My work makes sense when I start to associate images with each other. I try to create an atmosphere about an area because it often deals with everyday life. That’s way I’m always interested in shooting the surroundings, landscapes or details.
Where will your work take you next?
My mind is still in Uganda right now. I have started to explore other suburbs. But I never know. All the series I have made until now are somehow related to me, so I’ll see what crosses my path next. I don’t stay in front of my computer asking myself: ’What project can I do now?’
Who, what or where has been the biggest inspiration to your career
My daily life, the people surrounding me, and Carlos Sorin’s movies.