Report from interviews for the Making Great Illustration book. For more info see About
I travel on Eurostar with my good friend Edith to Paris, and the book I’m reading, The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert, one if the artists I’m going to interview, draws the attention of a passenger sitting opposite. She’s going for an interview with Medecins Sans Frontiers and has been involved as a helicopter pilot in the troubled Afghanistan area. Her insights into working in war torn and troubled regions around the world are fascinating and she is equally interested in the graphic novel which I show her. Her reaction is a reminder of the power of illustration to communicate – she finds it compelling.
We’ve managed to arrange a two-day trip with both interviews on the same day with Antoine and Manuel in the morning followed by Emmanuel Guibert in the afternoon. Emmanuel is leaving dead on 5 o’clock, for his 2 months summer break in the north of France and he is giving us an hour of his time in between packing his belongings away. We know that we will have to be prompt, the only problem we have is that we don’t know where he is – we don’t have an address for him. Bit of a challenge, that.
It’s very hot when we arrive in Paris and it’s teatime. We leave messages on Emmanuel’s answer machine, check with Derek in the UK to see if Emmanuel has been in touch and then make contact with Paul the photographer, who is staying in an upmarket hotel up the road. We troup off excitedly for our supper feeling decidedly in a holiday mood. The trips where there’s company for mealtimes and time to explore with are definitely the best. An extra perk (as if meeting your hero illustrators isn’t enough of a perk already).
It’s a warm evening so we go to Montmartre, as all tourists do. Typically it’s packed so we find somewhere at the bottom of the hill and order our kir. Paul stops on the way to photograph a pair of shoes left abandoned on the pavement. We wonder if it’s a case of spontaneous combustion.
We are quite merry when we get back to the hotel but there’s still no message from Emmanuel. I do manage to speak to Antoine to confirm that all’s fine for the next day. He is very warm and friendly so I begin to look forward to interview – I’ve read that Antoine and Manuel only do interviews in disguise and I’ve been nervous about it, but the brief telephone conversation is very easy. I wasn’t speaking French of course, and Antoine is charming. Before going to bed I do a last minute check of recorder batteries and memory.
Antoine and Manuel work in a vast studio in the Marais district in Paris. It’s a very upmarket and trendy area and a sign of their commercial success. The space inside is incredible. Many rooms, some papered with their distinctive imagery and featuring their unique furniture and installations. Antoine is wearing shorts and there is no sign of a mask. He is most charming and welcoming and apologetic because Manuel is running late. We try to be relaxed but with no word yet from Emmanuel we know that we can’t afford to get behind on our schedule.
When Manuel arrives we can see that he is ill. He doesn’t want to let us down because of the effort we have made and we really appreciate that and he also doesn’t want to put his make up on. That means that Paul may be taking the only recognisable portraits of the duo. A coup!
Antoine is less talkative during the interview and Manuel dominates the responses to my questions. There are times when things get a bit lost in translation and answers are given to questions I don’t ask but I’m beginning to develop a sense during interviews of the amount and quality of information I’m getting and the potential to draw usable quotes. I feel that overall it’s been ok, and am conscious of the time- we’ve been talking for an hour and a half. I can see that Paul is itching to get started on the more formal portrait and studio shots.
I notice Paul getting interested in a splatter of pink paint on a wall and decide to sneak off and do a bit more chatting with Antoine independently, as I suspect he is happy to add to the material I have recorded (successfully!) during the interview.
At this point in the book I’m wishing I could have a big dinner party and invite some of my favourite interviewees around for ongoing good-humoured chat as some kind of experiment. Antoine would be near the top of my list and I’d sit him next to Kitty Crowther, both of them warm and engaging.
The photos of Antoine and Manuel in the red installation in their studio are quite remarkable. I feel quite humbled to be alongside such a great photographer.
It’s hot when we leave the studio to meet Edith for lunch. It’s already 2 o’clock and the phone rings – it’s Derek, with Emmanuel’s contact details. We gallop our baguettes down and head for the nearest metro- we are working against the clock and our own inclination is to sit down and enjoy a cool drink and confer on and digest our last experience with Antoine and Manuel.
Paul rings one of his ex-photography students, a native Parisienne and she meets us outside Emmanuel’s house. He seems doubly important now he has his own assistant, French speaking too. I’m jealous. Emmanuel waves down at us enthusiastically from the balcony, he’s about 5 floors up in a vintage typically Parisian fin-de-siècle building. We gather our wits for another interview and another set of questions and observations. It’s an effort to appear fresh on such a hot and challenging day.
Emmanuel is a delight. He laughs as I put my 3 recorders in front of him on the table; I’m taking no chances and say that it’s a sign of his importance. He asks if I’ve mistaken him for Sarkosy.
He is vibrant and fascinating. He talks with enthusiasm and joy about his work and the pleasure he has had in meeting people through it. I nod in agreement. He is surrounded by packing cases, the Normandy coast beckoning him for his 3-month break but he is really attentive and our hour-long interview becomes a 2-hour visit, with photos on the balcony and him enjoying French friendly banter with the photographic assistant.
There’s a fly by of vintage military planes outside, a vapour trail scarring the blue sky. Emmanuel graciously signs a print for each of us and wishes us bonnes vacances. It’s a memorable end to a memorable day… not quite. We owe ourselves a glass of kir… and our return train is the next day, so the night is but young.
Studio and portrait photographs by Paul Dureinckx