“To talk about a ‘woman’s gaze’ is obsolete and, I believe, dangerously essentialist.”

How did you become a photographer? Would you define yourself as a one?

I was attracted to the distinctive and polymorphic potential of this medium and what it implied as a craft, in both the manual and industrial sense. At the same time, I was drawn to the feeling that photography was growing through the development and diversity of individual practices. Even before the advent of smartphones, photography was already a form of expression that was accessible but also on the artistic fringe. This opened up many possibilities for work, in terms of quantity and potential for development. I was attracted by the sheer number and scope of sets, fields, uses and forms of expression photography comprises, and which continue to grow exponentially. I felt a sense of belonging to a narrative, a belonging which was immediately amplified and slightly blurred by our ambiguous aesthetic norms. This lack of clarity was exciting, it created a feeling of being part of an emancipation movement. Having chosen to be a young amateur photographer, then to become a photography student, and later attend art school in precarious circumstances, opened up a space for freedom of action. Looking at my background and the choices I made, I can say, yes, that I am a photographer. However, I leave it up to the viewer to project, validate or invalidate this identity, in relation to what he or she understands by ‘photographer’ when viewing my hybrid artistic works.

What drives you as a photographer?

My commitments are aesthetic. I have a principle of co-existence and multiplicity in my work. I use one single ‘root’ shot, which I call ‘latent shot’ whose worth is only gained through an open and plural mode of existence. It circulates and is communicated by being ‘activated’ in unlimited ways, through a series of metamorphoses and variations. For example, two of my works resulting from my research into light (Inactinique, 2020) have just joined the MNAM-Centre Pompidou collections. They are born from one symbolic unitary situation (an analogue photo lab bathed in red light) from which, through diffraction, emerge and escape an infinite number of materialisations in the form of differentiated installations. The two-part artwork which now belongs to the Pompidou’s permanent collection may be temporarily stable, but it has by no means stopped, frozen or been collected, so to speak. It is a movement that has been bought and archived which is in an in-between state that signals a multitude. The need for a shift from one unique identity to a plurality and metamorphosis is a fundamental conviction of mine.

Do you think there is such a thing as a ‘woman’s gaze’ in photography? Is this something you can relate to?

No, absolutely not. To talk about a ‘woman’s gaze’ is obsolete and, I believe, dangerously ‘essentialist’. By ‘woman’s gaze’, what are we saying, what are we talking about?  Sex? Gender? A sixth sense?  No, it doesn’t make sense. On the other hand, if we’re talking about women’s place in photography, in art, or in society in general, yes, of course I can relate to this. At the same time, my position with regards to questions of sex and gender in art, and therefore in photography, is twofold and possibly contradictory. My first stance would be feminist in relation to the obvious need to rebalance visibility based on a long history of restoring justice in the way men and women are represented. My other position seeks to go beyond this issue, which even though it has now been recognised and is necessary, is based on a toxic binary vision inherited from our western history. We must therefore overcome these positions by mixing, hybridisation, transformation, moving away from sexual norms – what Paul Preciado refers to as ‘monstrous’.  What is most urgent is not to defend what we are, men, women, or other, but to disidentify ourselves from the political coercion that forces us to desire the norm and to reproduce it. At the same time, we must rise up – and this is the paradox – even as the old binary order deprives us of the right to speak. Rather than a ‘woman’s gaze’, I think one can talk of a ‘stage’ where ‘people-other-than-men-in-a-bipolar-system’ evolve and modulate. I am thinking of artists such as Marina Gadonneix, Constance Nouvel or Marcelline Delbecq, among others, who are changing things today and shaking up the world of photography. This movement can currently be witnessed at the exhibition La photographie à l’épreuve de l’abstraction, at the Frac Normandie Rouen, at the Centre photographique d’Île-de-France (in Pontault-Combault) and at Mirco Onde (in Vélizy). There is also SMITH, with whom, along with director Vincent Roumagnac, I will exhibit in 2022.

Has being a woman influenced your work as an artist in any way?

Yes and no, for the same dual reasons of strategic feminism and idealistic queering, which I have just mentioned. Yes for reasons of historical and societal heritage. No with regards to the aesthetic stakes in these times of ontological transitions relating to questions of shared identities.

Do you live off your art?

In the light of my previous answers, and even if there is obviously still a lot of work to be done when it comes to consolidating these transformations and a need to be vigilant, I think that I have benefited from an improvement in the situation which is largely due to previous provocations and struggles over these identity issues. I have also made certain life choices in terms of mobility, solitude and an intense work ethic in order to succeed in making a living from my artistic practice through these commitments. And of course, I’ve been lucky with the people I’ve met. Today, as I am financially stable, I am trying to consolidate an ecosystem that makes sense, both in the continuity and the destabilizing of what pre-exists as a base. We are going through a period of infrastructural transition: living from one’s art today implies investing in structural mutations, not from a strictly personal point of view, but from a common one, so that art can continue to play a founding role in the future.

Which authors have inspired you? Are there any women photographers among them?

So many people have inspired me! Diane Arbus’s Twins immediately comes to mind! There’s also Valérie Jouve, Tatiana Trouvé, photography, layout and back! There’s not enough space here to include the works in my library and material library! When it comes to authors, at the moment, I keep going between Vilém Flusser and Ursula K. Le Guin. In fact, I have just finished a new photo-scenic work with Vincent Roumagnac (Pétrel I Roumagnac (duo)) following a winter residency at the Villa Kujoyama in Kyoto, based on an adaptation of Le Guin’s mad techno-queer novel The Left Hand of Darkness. Her way of overturning normative thinking through science fiction, of creating new forms of communication, of producing hybrid beings and landscapes, speculative political systems and of experimenting with imagination is so stimulating. The scenographic prologue of the play is being displayed at the Viva Villa! festival at the Lambert Collection in Avignon until January, and a first version of the play will be shown at the Valeria Cetraro gallery on November 14th. Welcome!

Aurélie Pétrel


The photographic work of Aurélie Pétrel (1980) questions the status of the image, its use, and the mechanisms of its production. “A shot only has meaning through an open and plural existence”, she declares. A graduate of l’École des Beaux-Arts of Lyon, the artist has been teaching at the Haute École d’Art et de Design (HEAD) in Geneva since 2012 and codirects the Laboratoire d’expérimentation at the Collège international de Photographie du Grand Paris. Her works have been exhibited in France (Lyon, Paris, Saint-Étienne) and overseas (Toronto, New York, Geneva, Portugal). Aurélie Pétrel has also participated in several residency programmes (Cité internationale des arts, Institut français and Gallery 44 Center for Contemporary Photography in Toronto, Villa Kujoyama, Institut français, in Kyoto).

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