Artist Spotlight #8: Jean-Christophe Godet

Jean-Christophe Godet is a French born, Guernsey-based photographer. He is Artistic Director of the Guernsey Photography Festival and runs several other projects on island and internationally, as well as being appointed for many commercial commissions.

You’re a photographer; how and why did you get into this field?
I discovered photography at an early age, as a teenager. Like many, I fell in love with the process of the darkroom; probably a banal statement, but seeing a photograph appearing at the bottom of a tray was magical at the time.

Gradually I developed my skills, and then over 15 years ago I went travelling intensively across the world for 18 months (the Middle East, Asia, Australasia and South America) to work on personal projects. Upon returning, I entered and won a national photography competition, winning Travel Photographer of the Year. The prize was a professional commission for a publisher, which was in Sardinia. I loved the work, and the professional commissions kept coming.

What aspects of making your work are the most enjoyable, and the most challenging?
Most of my work is with publishing companies producing travel guide books, and so I’m constantly travelling and discovering new environments for two to three weeks at a time. The main company I work with is a French publisher focussing on European cities; I may be spending three weeks in a certain city and the main challenge is the lack of time. So the photoshoot is very intensive, and there aren’t always the opportunities to come back to a certain location should the lighting not be right because you don’t have that luxury of time. When you’re travelling independently, you can come back at your leisure for the right light. But it’s this challenge that is the most interesting in many ways… There is a constant challenge on yourself to deliver that beautiful shot.

Originally from France, and having travelled quite extensively with your work, how do you feel that island life has impacted on your work?
You have to be quite careful when you travel – when you’re working commercially, the style of the photo is imposed by what the publisher wants, and sometimes it’s difficult to get away from that style; it has a great impact. Therefore, when you’re travelling, you have to expand on your knowledge and understanding about integrating and adjusting to different places, different people, different groups. It’s an essential skill of the job, that social aspect, and being able to let people feel comfortable when you’re in their space and taking a shot is so important.

Sometimes when people are travelling, they go too fast and too quickly, and only really see the highlights of the place: the pyramids, the Eiffel Tower. To enjoy the reality of a country you just need to spend real time with the location.

The more I live Guernsey, the more I discover in it over time and the more understanding I have for taking the photograph. Travel photography is all about beautiful light, a beautiful location, whereas social documentary photography with its potentially more limited time is not all about just going to the landmarks.

Living in Guernsey has enhanced my experience and understanding of photography. I come from a small village in France, where you know everyone and everything happening. I’ve always felt I can live everywhere/anywhere. I discover more about Guernsey every day.

As the Director of Guernsey Photography Festival, which this year saw its third iteration, can you explain some of the processes behind curating such a festival?
So, curating is about making an artistic call. For the festival, it’s about putting together different types of photography that have something in common: photographers who can be challenging and stimulating. The role of the festival is to provide high quality work to the people.

There are two ways people approach a festival: the first is to have a popular approach (which I don’t think is a sustainable approach) and the second is to stimulate the mind and make a great impact on how people perceive the world around them.

We talk, meet, and search for these photographers. We see what they’re doing is coherent with each other and in depth in content. It’s about them working together to delivery something incredible.

It’s been garnering quite a lot of attention from the rest of the world, and was featured in The Telegraph’s international photography festival round-up this year. How do you feel the festival has been received by Guernsey audiences?
It was always important for us to deliver something that was not low key. If we were going to do a Guernsey Photography Festival, we knew we had to do it properly, with ambitions to become an internationally recognised festival. It was never just about attracting big names, it was always about different photographers for us, photographers from different countries, as many women as men, and it being a festival that showed as much diversity as possible. In terms of production, we knew it had to be high quality.

And so far we have had a great impact. With other people from the island, we have a committee that has been working incredibly hard to deliver it and set the festival as a landmark for Guernsey. It is achievable, and what we hope to do is to contribute in transforming Guernsey from this image of being a tax haven to that of cultural destination through working with other festivals, and attracting a greater degree of cultural tourism. This requires long term strategy as well as long term sponsorship with a minimum of 3-5 years to make it feasible. Festivals can then start planning in advance and it becomes a sustainable vision. Other European countries have public funding for this kind of thing, and our system is slightly different, but with a long term strategy something can be done.

This is important not just for the international audience, but for locals too! I want to live in a place where there is music, dance, theatre, photography, film and more being easily accessible to all! For my children also, and for the community, I want to see things on our island that will activate people’s minds. If we only have one discipline, then people will get narrow-minded very easily, and I hope the festival has made some sort of impact in opening people’s minds.

With it, we have always tried to be as accessible as possible. For example, with Klavdij Sluban, by putting his photographs on the block in the Market Square, people were able to respond immediately… ‘Look! Look at what he did!’ We wanted it to be interactive and not an exclusive festival; we wanted to build bridges to let people experiment with photography – some will get passionate, some won’t – in some countries they have zero to nothing access to the arts, and art and culture is necessary is necessary to make you grow as an adult.

Where do you see Guernsey’s cultural scene going in the next few years?
Obviously, we are facing challenges, especially with the current financial crisis. But this is a reality we have to face. Right now, I think it’s very important for the cultural scene to re-group and think about the way in which we tackle these challenges. One of the best ways to move forward is to co-ordinate between ourselves and collaborate – for far too long I think we have been somewhat compartmentalised; I think we need to think of a strategy together to move forward.

Can you talk about your current/most recent project? What does the immediate future hold for you?
Currently, I am obviously working on the 2013 festival! We have managed to get some long-term funding, but we still need to attain more.

I’m also working on delivering photography workshops with Guernsey Prison and the Alzheimer’s Society, both of which are very interesting projects. The approach I’ve taken with the Alzheimer’s Society is using photography as means of accessing the memory aspect of society. It’s going to be a very interesting exhibition and it is a beautiful project.

I have a project too with Martin Parr through the Foundation that I’ve created, which has the aim of commissioning international photographers to produce work about Guernsey, which is in collaboration with Guernsey Museums. He came last May to photograph during Liberation Day and came back with a body of work, and so the world premier will soon be to follow. We will then donate 7/8 of the prints to Guernsey, which will start a new contemporary photography collection for the island.

Another project I am working on is with Klavdij Sluban, who I went to Paris with last month for talks, based on a commission around Victor Hugo’s house – he has one open house here, and one in Paris.

I’m working on a lot of things…
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