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Interview with French photographer Boris Wilensky: Hurban Vortex

Last Updated on 2022/04/22

Boris Wilensky is a 45-year-old French storytelling photographer.

He captured his first frames in the hip-hop music scene by taking portraits of artists such as Kool Shen, Oxmo Pucino, Kery James, and IAM. He then began making remarkable photographic diaries during the course of his many travels.

Interview by Dominique Musorrafiti

Official site | Facebook page | Facebook photographer page

This is a selected interview from
Planet China Vol. 03 issue

China_underground: How and when did you get into photography?

Boris Wilensky: I entered the world of photography by chance. Initially, I traveled and took pictures for my pleasure and I understood later that I could share these emotions through images. That’s what I liked!

C_U: Why did you choose photography as your style of communication?

B W: I think there are two media that are truly universal: music and photography. No matter how old you are, your skin color, where you are born, everyone is sensitive to these two major arts. For my part, I wanted to treat universal themes in a personal way.

“Travelling, meeting people, urban life, music, words and boxing are just some of his many passions.”

C_U: Who influenced you as a person and as a photographer?

B W: I think everything is inspiring for who knows how to look. Life itself is a huge source of inspiration. Trips and meetings that can be done abroad are themselves very inspiring. As a photographer, I really like the work of Raymond Depardon who has managed to combine writing and photography.

C_U: How would you describe your photography project? How do the idea and the title “Hurban Vortex” came about?

B W: My project is a photographic trilogy. I really wanted to tell a story that evolves over time. I think that man and city have a bound destiny. And it also seems to me that the city and modernity tend to take away our humanity.

That’s why I added the letter h to urban. To remind us the essential, the city is only a decoration and it is the most important human. The vortex illustrates the double movement of inspiration and aspiration.

C_U: When did you start this series, did you plan ahead, or do you followed the flow?

B W: I did the first part of this work in 2008 when, by chance, I discovered in Tokyo the double exposure in digital. All the double exhibits of the Origins series were made directly on my camera. Then I went back to Tokyo in 2011. Just after the Fukushima disaster. I then discovered a city that had darkened.

Modernity and progress then became sources of anxiety. This gave me the idea of dealing with the subject of man and the city but also the meeting between the economy and ecology. I really wanted to talk about the future in pictures and make anticipatory photography.

Therefore, I decided to leave 7 months in Asia to work on my subject. I sequenced my work and for four months I toured the largest Asian cities to achieve the maximum photographic urban and architectural.

Then I spent almost three months in Cambodia to make human portraits. The idea was to confront the extremes. As many cities as Shanghai or Tokyo are rich and connected, Cambodia is a poor and disconnected place. I think that the art of confrontation of extremes and contrasts are very interesting because they raise questions.

The hurban vortex project has been exhibited for two months in Paris (University of Jussieu and gallery), six months in Cannes, three months in Dubai and is currently exposed to the Alliance Française of Abu Dhabi

C_U: How long does it take to make the whole project? How many photos, places …?

B W: Several years! I started my shoots in 2008 and finished this part in 2012. Then, for two years, I worked at home to build the three series and tell my story. I had in stock nearly 15,000 urban photos and about 5,000 portraits.

In 2015, I edited Hurban Vortex in self-publishing and concentrated on distribution and then exhibitions. In fact, I think it’s a job that will never really end. He evolves and he is always moving, like life!

C_U: Can you share with us any story behind your photo project?

B W: When I was in Cambodia, I asked my assistant photographer to explain to people that I wanted to take a picture of my approach. Very often he would come back to me and be very amused and say to me: “You know Boris, I talk to them about ecology and the internet to explain the Hurban Vortex project but the people here do not know what it is that the ecology and do not use the internet “.

I replied that it was a good sign because it’s exactly the kind of contrasts I was looking for. In Tokyo or Bangkok, everyone knows what it is. Opposing opposites, there is nothing more interesting. This opens up very interesting perspectives for reflection.

C_U: Do you have a favorite photo? What makes it special for you?

B W: My favorite photo is always next. The one I have not done yet; ) The most important for me is the emotion that emanates from a face. That’s also why the photos and the genre I prefer is indubitably the portrait.

The work is grained in the notions of excessive urbanization, the loss of temporal markers, ecological upheavals and mankind’s place in a bruised and battered ecosystem.

C_U: What relationship did you get with the people you’ve portrayed?

B W: For the Hurban Vortex project, I wanted to do photographic staging. I did not want a reflection of people for what they are but for what they could bring to my story. So I asked Cambodians to wear black glasses and gas masks to illustrate the future. So they were a bit like actors.

That’s why I planned a budget before leaving. All work deserves to be paid and it seemed normal to pay people to help me tell the story I had in mind. In the end, everyone was happy and it must be so if we want to do a good job.

C_U: Does your creative photographic reportage also have a human rights message?

B W: A humanist message most certainly. I wanted to put man at the center of the reflection on progress, the city, economy, and ecology. Show that it is not just a statistic or a commodity but the most important element. If the cities are beautiful and modern but the human is no longer in its place, there is a big problem.

The original basis for the Hurban-Vortex project was brought about by two trips to Japan. The project sequenced traveling in China and Cambogia.

C_U: Do you think your work can increase the awareness of a different reality?

B W: I think that this work, like any artistic project, is interesting because it carries with it a reflection. Reflections do not necessarily change things but they are invitations to ask questions. The double exposure is interesting because it also allows passing messages in a watermark. An image transcribes a reality while two deliberately mixed images give a point of view.

C_U: What is your relationship with Asia today and how does this project suggest you go back to telling new stories?

B W: I chose the Asian continent for this work because I lose all my references and I realize that I need others to move forward. The need to have others and to realize it is essential, I believe. We do not create alone but under multiple influences and with others.

Boris Wilensky

Asia was the first step in this work and I hope very soon to have the pleasure of continuing it on other continents. In Africa, Europe or South America, for example. The subjects I treat are global and universal. Everywhere there are humans and cities so it would be interesting to have a broad vision of this work because the problem is global.

Organised into three separate photographic series: Origin – Collapse – Post, the images and words of Hurban-Vortex invite you to think about mankind, the urban space, modernity and the future.
The Hurban-Vortex project won the 2016 Paris Artistes professional jury’s award.
Boris Wilensky is a storytelling photographer

Topic: photography asia,portrait photography

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