The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Galerie Dennis Cooper presents … Antoine d’Agata

 

‘Antoine D’Agata is a contentious character in the worlds of photography and art. Signed up by the Magnum photo agency in the period when they started to realise there was little money in photojournalism, his work’s brutal and self-destructive content has a habit of upsetting people.

‘Born in Marseilles in 1961, D’Agata left France in the early 80s. He later studied at the International Center of Photography in New York alongside Nan Goldin and Larry Clark, with whom he shares a fascination for the seamier side of things. D’Agata has lived a murky and nomadic life. He regularly immerses himself in his subjects, which typically tend to be prostitutes and other marginalised misfits, often throwing himself into dangerous, drug-addled and sex-fuelled situations. We spoke with him about photography as art, honesty, morality and what it’s like to be addicted to the drug ice while living with Cambodian prostitutes.’ — Alex Sturrock

 

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Further

Antoine d’Agata @ Magnum Photos
Antoine d’Agata @ Galerie Les Filles du Calvaire
antoinedagata @ Instagram
Antoine D’Agata @ Facebook
Video: Antoine d’Agata, corps et âmes face au virus
Antoine d’Agata, degrés et de force
Book: ‘Antoine d’Agata and Francis Bacon: aesthetic parallel of two visceral works’
Book: ‘INDEX ANTOINE D’AGATA’
Antoine d’Agata et ses tendres violences
Podcast: Antoine d’Agata, instantanés de la déchéance
Why you should know the photographer Antoine d’Agata
Exister/s. Résister. Le geste d’Agata
“LA PHOTO PEUT ÊTRE UN OUTIL POUR RESTER EN VIE”
An Interview With Antoine D’Agata
Book: ‘Agonie de Antoine d’ Agata’
Antoine d’Agata — Art At A Time Like This
ANTOINE D’AGATA @ MUBI
Antoine d’Agata capture la fièvre en vision thermique
“Plus on côtoie la mort, moins on s’y habitue”
L’“HUMAIN-MONSTRE » CHEZ ANTOINE D’AGATA
Antoine d’Agata auprès des damnés de la terre

 

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Films

La Vie nue (2020)
‘March 17-May 11, 2020. While nearly half the planet is confined, Antoine d’Agata wanders in the deserted streets and freezes, equipped with a thermographic device, this singular and deadly atmosphere where only a few souls in pain roam In the middle of the night. The architecture and the men, like shadows, radiate, in the disturbing darkness, a supernatural and incandescent light. 7 minutes and 53 seconds feverish and tragic where the images unfold inexorably, assaulting the retina like so many untimely and painful flashbacks.’


the entirety

White Noise (2016)
‘Photographer and filmmaker Antoine d’Agata explores the world of prostitution across the globe from his singular viewpoint through 25 monologues and encounters with sex workers.’

Trailer

Atlas (2012)
‘In Greek mythology, Atlas is the one who, cursed, carries the world on his shoulders. In Antoine d’Agata’s third film – known above all for his work as a photographer – Atlas could well be this witness artist, forced to share the lives of those he made up his mind, thirty years ago, to photograph.’


Trailer

Aka Ana (2008)
‘A pornographic diary conceived and photographed by the French provocateur and Magnum photographer Antoine D’Agata. The film is made up of 120 fragments taken by D’Agata himself during his nocturnal wanderings through Tokyo, Osaka and other Japanese cities. The scenes are about women at night, prostitutes, victims of violence, drug addicts, strippers. D’Agata meets them and gives them a chance to frame their story by investing himself in the most total and brutal way possible. Drugged, deeply drenched in alcohol and on the verge of falling apart, he makes his way into the night to meet the other world – and not least to escape his own fear of sexuality and death. A complex film, a problematic film, a provoking film, which moves along the borderlines of using and being used. Does D’Agata document in order to experience, or does he experience in order to document?’


Trailer

 

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Interview

 

Vice: Which artists are you interested in, in particular those who aren’t photographers?

Antoine D’Agata: I respect artists who have the courage to live up to the madness of their art. Céline, Artaud or Rimbaud are geniuses not for the dexterity or subtlety of their words but for their truth. I don’t see art as competition or a spectacle but as a privileged space to give a radical form to one’s perspective on the world. Art has long been the hostage of technique and today the criteria would be intelligence, not to say cynicism. But I look at art when I sense there’s space there for excess and despair. I didn’t have a chance to consider the history of art. I look at Georges Grosz because I find there, instinctively, the monstrosity of society, and in Francis Bacon’s, of the flesh. I look at art when it is shouted or vomited, not conceptualised or marketed.

How would you describe your own work—as reportage, as art? Do you feel that photos can be an honest and effective way to convey a situation?

The only type of connection I have to the tradition of reportage is coming up with the most efficient ways to deny, denounce or destroy its prejudice. Beyond humanistic pretence, reportage always conveys twisted or insidious values. Its economic survival has always been dependent on logical means to perpetuate the efficiency and the profitability of a system controlled by the elite for their own benefit. And one has to remember that no photography can pretend to show the truth. A picture only shows a given situation under a very specific perspective, consciously or not, openly or not, relevantly or not. Photographers have to accept they can just convey fragments of illusory realities and relate their own intimate experience of the world. In this process of fictionalising an unreachable truth, it’s up to them to impose their doubts about any photographic truth, or accept being impotent pawns in the mediatic game.

You’ve spoken in the past about photography not being art. What are your thoughts on photography as art? Can you explain how you see photography as opposed to art?

I do think of photography as a perfectly legitimate artistic language, but I believe it is underused or misused most of the time. The world is not made out of what we see but from what we do. Photographers who ignore this state of things—and today, as in the past, most of them do—reduce photography to its capacity for recording reality. They don’t take responsibility for their position while looking at the world and end up assuming voyeuristic, sociological or aesthetic stands. Contrary to writing or painting, you have to confront reality while photographing. The only decent way to do it is to make the best out of your own existence. From a moral point of view, you have to invent your own life, against fear and ignorance, and through the action. Intelligence and beauty don’t compensate for passivity. The only way to keep one’s dignity is to confront human condition and social context through direct action. It is a difficult balance one has to keep between the creation of situations to go through and the development of a narrative technique to share one’s perspective. In this process, life overcomes art at some point, and art perverts life. By deliberately living in this constant tension, I expect to go through existence without having to give up lucidity or experience.

Do you think your work has much in common with, say, that of Nan Goldin’s?

The few photographers who, like Nan Goldin, have influenced me as I was trying to get accustomed to the history of the medium, have struggled to throw back some of the rawness of the world into photography. This language is often reduced to its capacity to be somehow neutral. What Nan Goldin has taught me is to stand up, against all odds, in a political and existential struggle for survival. I don’t feel close to her because of some similar experience of marginal communities, or some alleged obsession with sex and drugs, but because she never gave up. She never hesitated to compromise her health or sanity for the sake of her work and I am just grateful to her for her courage and stubbornness, for staying faithful to her own pain, fear and desire.

You’ve talked before about photography as a language—do you ever feel trapped by the way in which you have communicated in the past, or do you enjoy having a unique voice?

I am not sure I’ll ever have the strength to make myself understood in a clear and coherent way. I came late to photography as a desperate attempt to stay alive, and I don’t have the discipline or energy to always make sense in the way I try to communicate my understanding of things. My books are careless and full of flaws, my images are messy and my writing is awkward. But all these are just tools, not quite assimilated yet, in an absolutely determined search, that allows no concession or compromise. It is difficult to be as excessive as I am in my work and be completely efficient. Every book, every exhibition, every assignment is just one more small compromise I have to accept. Mistakes are my only possible way, but my route is my own.

Nan once said to me that everyone always says to her how dark your work is, but she thinks it looks like you are having a great time.

I guess reality is never as dark as the way I used to depict it, but I can’t ignore the feelings that overwhelm me when I go through the horror of the world. Meanwhile, I leave out of my pictures the most dramatic and sordid elements, the appalling conditions of living faced by most of my characters. I try to express, in the most precise and arbitrary way, the indefinable and unbearable beauty of keeping alive, physically, mentally and emotionally, for those who don’t own anything but their own bodies and sell them to survive.

Most of my photographic strategies are aimed at reaching the highest levels of pleasure or unconsciousness and, in this sense, sex and drugs are highly enjoyable working methods. Part of my recent work could be easily described as some chaotic and biased sociology of ecstasy. I live my life with people who use pleasure as a way to impose their existence and identity in a world that denies them every right. But pleasure can’t be separated from pain and alienation. Pleasure is still a dark territory to me and I am exhausted exploring its limits. It’s just a route. Satisfaction isn’t the aim. Feeling might be the point. I’m hooked on adrenaline.

I have read you talk about “innocent images”. Do you see your own images as innocent?

My images are innocent because they are accidental. I’ve used every possible method I’ve been able to come up with to give up control. I’ll use whatever I can put my hand on—alcohol, drugs, rage, sex or fear—to push my own limits and make sure the final image is not an illustration or a statement. This doesn’t mean I won’t be a maniac when it comes to building the coherence of the work later. Each image is to some degree independent from my will. Each one is more a product of my nervous system than of my brain. And in the world we live in, I see this type of innocence as subversive in the contemporary struggle between the obscene forces of abstraction, of moral, of religion and the mechanics of the flesh. The instinct against the mind, the ultimate strength of those whose only way to emancipate themselves from physical deprivation, is orgy.

So being high actively helps in creating that innocence?

Through the tension released in narcotic drunkenness, through these bare moments of high emotional fragility, I can explore a sense of annihilation born out of it that I couldn’t reach otherwise. I said drugs allow me not to think too much. They give me the raw energy to break all barriers, and to go beyond acceptable limits. They open a perspective on new possible strategies. As far as I am concerned, I’m done with fighting inhibition through excessive consumption of alcohol. But there’s a new generation of synthetic drugs which allow you to destroy yourself while, on the way, damaging the efficiency and sanity of the system. While fucking and getting high, I reduce myself to a state that is a weird mix of flesh, emptiness and panic. A bare state of being, a most innocent way to experience the world that is essential before trying to make sense out of it.

I think when Nan was really high she saw and photographed the world very differently. Do you think that your work is shaped in a similar way?

Like Nan, I do what I can to create my own route. Like her, I don’t like the idea of looking at the world and I speak about my experiences. It is occasionally acceptable to be a viewer, a spectator, but I use drugs because they make me act and react differently. Drugs can’t be reduced to some mystical way to open a perception of reality. I value the hardest and most physical drugs, which alter and intensify the confrontation to reality. Not the ones which allow you to escape to some fuzzy, comfortable or exotic state of mind. It all comes down to not being a consumer but to take the risk of your own destiny. To consume drugs the way you would consume a TV reality show wouldn’t help. Drugs help me to feel, with my nerves and my stomach, where real life takes place. I don’t know what real life is but I can’t bear feeling anesthetised any more. I try every day to dig out the raw forces of instinct. In modern society, pleasure is the only norm. Everything is done to eradicate all traces of desire, rage, violence, pain, fear and all types of animal drive. Through drugs, through excess, I try to fall back to these essential levels of uncontrolled emotion.

 

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*

p.s. Hey. ** David, Hi. I’m seriously pretty sure that I’ve never screamed. If any friends of mine are reading this and want to correct me, I’m down. Grim + the sea is kind of my ideal sea. I’m weird. About the sea at least. My weekend did the trick, thanks. Yours? ** Dominik, Hi!!! Yes, Bill did all of us a great service. Ha ha, nice love. Scary but nice. Love being shown a button and being told that pushing it will change everything inalterably and pushing it, G. ** Bill, Hi, Bill. Thank you again, man. I think you gathered Joel’s work a bunch of new readers. ** David Ehrenstein, Ha, that is in fact true. ** Sypha, Hi, James. I think you would like Lane’s stuff. Something tells me. Okay, given the necessity to depict her home world in a manner that would be believable and seductive in some way, and presuming that there would need to be at least one seat-filling star in the cast, I would say the movie adaptation would cost at least 100 million. Anyway, that’s quite an ending there. Makes me want to read it even. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Cool that Bill’s post put Joel Lane squarely in your future. ** Steve Erickson, I think Bill already said this, but, yeah, ‘Kill the Poor’ is by Joel Rose. He co-edited the legendary Between C & D lit zine. And is a really nice guy. I didn’t like ‘Titane’ at all. That people seem to think it’s wild and daring is depressing to me. Wow, okay, ‘Zeroes and Ones’ sounds like a must find. Thanks. That’s funny: the first I heard ‘Uncarved’ back in the day, I thought it was The Pop Group, and it took me a while to actually locate it for that reason. I remember liking it, at least to some degree. Hm. ** Brian, Hey, Brian. Cool that you and Bill know each other elsewhere. Makes me happy, I don’t know why. So, yeah, I really didn’t like ‘Titane’. I know it’s a fave of yours, so I’ll just leave it at that. I didn’t get to ‘Ordet’ yet, and neither did I get to the Resnais retro yet for boring reasons. I did see a new documentary film about the artist Dash Snow called ‘Moments Like This Never Last’, which wasn’t, like, a great documentary in terms of its form or style or anything, but it was very interesting. Resnais’s film ‘Providence’ is in my top maybe five all time favorite films, so I highly recommend it obviously. ‘Marienbad’ is fantastic, again obviously. ‘Mon oncle d’Amérique’ is pretty great. He did a bunch of fantastic films. I’m happy you had fun with ‘Satyricon’. Boy, they don’t make films like that anymore. Sadly. And, yeah, ‘Fox’ is one of Fassbinder’s simpler films, but it’s strong, right? How are you weird about food, if you don’t mind saying? If I had to do Thanksgiving, I think doing it in a dorm room would be a way to get through it with at least mini-pleasure, although I’m shy in social situations too, so, yeah, gotcha. My weekend was perfectly okay. And here’s yet another brand new, mysterious week for us to respectively circumvent. It just never stops. I hope your week ahead’s entrance had a little tinkling bell attached to its door. ** Right. Speaking of Bill Hsu, it was his mention of d’Agata that was the impetus for me to give the guy a show in my galerie. Hope y’all like it in whatever ways ‘liking’ functions for you. See you tomorrow.

9 Comments

  1. David

    Great post thanks Den… to veer off the rails slightly… Arthur Rimbaud died at the hospital of la Conception in Marseille France… perhaps not that far from where Antoine d’Agata is from? I visited some years back… curiously I was bitten by a mosquito 3 or 4 times whilst at the hospital… it seemed very appropriate at the time and Zika apocalyptic… me wanting to end the world and all… I posed for a picture by the plaque in the reception… took a keepsake…. and wrote a subsequent poem starting “I licked the page when I saw you… drunken boat residue…” it ends with me holding his hand as he dies…. He must have foreseen his ‘end’ right? with ‘A season/a night in hell…’ sure it references me in one of the translations as well… yeh it does!!…. search for (a season in hell Steve kilbey on youtube…. love his reading that section….) I’ve also been to Rimbaud’s grave in Charleville….The horror he went through right? culminating in both of his legs being cut off at the end of his life… surely reiterating/demonstrating that the god’s do not favour the most beautiful… most talented…. whatever… I’m fucked!!!

    The great photographs in this post remind me of when I first broke my throat’s hymen… me and my pal Stephen who is still my best friend after all these years… was doing his ‘you did… you didn’t’ routine…. I was very very drunk…. and screamed out like never before…. passing Edgbaston Reservoir in Birmingham… and shouted “I fucking didn’t!!!” his response to me was “WOW!!!!” then I cried all the way back to my flat… on getting in we both took photographs of each using a red light bulb wanking etc…. the very same flat I entertained men for money…. (Steve and I were not lovers at any point… it was just for effect) the end result was heavy red photographs… that looked very interesting and remind me of these pictures on some level….. nowadays it’s a lot easier to turn photographs red… back then you had to bleed on them (I still do that occasionally)…. or get a red bulb….

    I should imagine You know the wanking and crying at the same time joke??? = ‘cranking’

  2. Dominik

    Hi!!

    Wow, these photos are truly disturbing. I really, really love them. Thank you for the post!!

    The love I sent you on Saturday was unfortunately based on a real scene. It was… unpleasant, haha. Your love’s pretty brave. But maybe the world could use a button like this right about now. Thank you! Trans boy love waking up with the most gorgeous 7-inch dick and a flat chest, Od.

  3. Misanthrope

    Dennis, I’m liking today. Duh.

    We didn’t go bowling. Ended up going to her son’s ice hockey game in DC and then to this awesome Mexican restaurant right outside of Old Town Alexandria. It was a good time.

    You know, there is a gun in this house. My mom bought it when he was like 20. It jammed on the shooting range, my uncle tried to fix it and broke it. Some spring popped out. It’s never worked since. It’s a little .22 pistol.

    I do care about that bowling alley being there. Love that, actually. You know I love the underground secret stuff. There’s a place in London that Rigby’s taken me to that’s this underground thing that was made/used during WWII. Love that shit.

    And now I see that nb is back too. What’s going on? You bring out the best. 😀

  4. Sypha

    Dennis, well, the thing about the other world in Andrew’s book is that it’s very dark (because the masters hate light), so you wouldn’t have to actually show all that much, ha ha. The masters would be tougher to depict I guess but maybe they could do it with CGI (Andrew tells me they’re supposed to look like the Ridley boss from the METROID game series). When I had finished reading it, I told Andrew my only real critiques were a.) that the word ‘masters’ should probably be capitalized to make them more impressive sounding (to which he replied that it’s just a placeholder term until he can think of a cooler-sounding/less generic name for them), and that b.) for a book set in 1985, aside from a reference to ET and a few musical cues (The Police, Kate Bush), it could almost have been set in any decade… IMO part of the fun about setting a book in the past is evoking a sense of time and place, but Andrew admits he struggles with this, which is weird because he counts Stephen King and Tarantino (2 pop culture junkies) amongst his favorite artists. I guess with this book it’s more understandable (as he hadn’t even been born yet at the time period it depicts), but one of his older books, set in the 1990’s, also suffered from this.

  5. Bill

    Dennis, this is an absolutely spectacular d’Agata gallery. As you recall, I mentioned I absolutely love some of his photos, and don’t care for others. Well just about all the photos today are in the first group, wow. Not surprised he mentioned Nan Goldin, but I sense other associations (that may just be my wandering eye, of course). Francis Bacon-esque smearing and distortion? A coldness and pushing toward abstraction similar to Jimmy DeSana? I really need a d’Agata book in my collection, but nothing is cheap…

    Thanks again for hosting the Joel Lane post. Always up for spreading the word about his wonderful work.

    Brian, glad you enjoyed the post. Look forward to your notes on goodreads, and your review of Finished on letterboxd.

    By the way, are any other DLs on goodreads or letterboxd? Would be great to connect.

    Bill

  6. _Black_Acrylic

    Great post, thank you and thanks to Bill too! I really love the d’Agata interview up there.

    You might recall I was considering some dictation software as my typing is very slow. I particularly noticed this during my recent flash fiction class, because everyone else has finished our exercises while I’m barely started. My left hand is just not functional these days and even my right is hardly up to speed. Well it only took the briefest of searches to find out that this MacBook is already fully equipped with dictation software and there’s no need to go shopping around for expensive alternatives. I just go into the accessibility section and it’s instantly doable so I’m very happy indeed.

  7. T

    Damn, the guy certainly has…commitment! Makes me feel like a fraud in comparison hahah. Anyways, I really liked the covid film, and I’m filing it away with the extremely thin selection of pandemic-themed art that isn’t completely awful. I’d really like to find a way to watch ‘Aka Ana’ but my usual sites don’t seem to be bearing fruit. Ah well. Hope your Tuesday feeds you a large amount of industrial fertiliser that is miraculously safe for human consumption, xT

    Oh, and Belated thanks to Bill Hsu for the Joel Lane day over the weekend!

  8. David Ehrenstein

    D’Agata is pitch black abjection

    Yje German title of Fassbinder’s “Fox and His Friends” is “Faustrecht die Freiheit” which means “Might MakesRight” it is dedicated “ToAmin and all the thera’ meaning Fassbinder’s much-abused lover Armin Meir.Fox is Armn asplayed by Fassbinderhimself. Ot’s a”ap;ogia” posted far too late

  9. Brian

    Hey, Dennis,

    These are incredibly haunting images. I’m bookmarking this page so I can take a closer look at everything when I’m less busy, but even at a cursory glance: wow. An amazing artist. I figured you wouldn’t like “Titane”. I know a lot of people who feel the same way about it, and it’s a perfectly reasonable position to me. I wouldn’t call it a “fave”, I just happened to enjoy the experience of watching it more than most of the other 2021 films I’ve seen, and this for reasons more relating to genre kicks than to, I don’t know, artistic or intellectual depth. (To be clear, I don’t agree with the characterization of it as especially daring or original at all: applying those descriptors to this film says more about how low the standards for daringness/originality have become than it does about the film itself.) “Ordet” and Resnais for the hopefully near future, then, as a corrective. Dash Snow seems like an interesting enough subject for even the most conventional documentary. I think–although this may simply be a product of my lack of viewing experiences–I think that it’s very hard for documentaries to effectively break their mold or distinguish themselves from others of their genre. Case in point from this year, Todd Haynes’ “Velvet Underground”, which with its pictorial playfulness strives to break away from the whole talking head format, but ultimately just amounts to the same names/dates/places approach you see in every other music doc. I guess I just need to watch more experimental documentaries. Wow, high endorsement for “Providence”, okay. I love the poster. Added to the list. Yes, they truly don’t make films like “Satyricon” anymore–I don’t think anyone could even if they desperately wanted to–which is an abjectly depressing thought to me. “Fox” is definitely one of Fassbinder’s simpler films, it’s so obvious in its trajectory (intentionally, I think), but a lot of the scene-to-scene details and individual moments are pretty rich and interesting. Definitely not my favorite, but I do love it. My weirdness about food could be described as an eating disorder (related to my OCD) that basically amounts to highly selective eating. Avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder, I think it’s called, although I was never formally diagnosed with that. It’s really something I need to get over because it’ll probably do harm to my health in the long run, but, as with any deeply engrained behavioral pattern, it’s an uphill battle. I was working on it with the therapist who helped me get over my worst OCD, but then I stopped going, and I’m so apathetic about trying to change it…but it does need to change. Anyway it certainly didn’t help at the Thanksgiving banquet, which fortunately wasn’t in my dorm room (god forbid!) but the floor kitchen. Day 1 of my new week brought an English test and a BluRay of Dreyer’s “Joan”, the latter of which, I guess, served the function of a tinkling bell. Tomorrow I have some classes and then I head home for the Thanksgiving break, which means family, friends, change of scenery, all that good stuff. May your own Tuesday arrive garlanded with laurels, perfumed by lilac, and bearing many gifts.

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