Madagascar has been hosting me since 1976, on November 11th. I’ve been through this country more than any other. The years do not guarantee a beautiful harvest; it is difficult to photograph in the capital where I live, because everything holds you, everything takes you; you are somehow stolen there.
A “good” photographer, like a good soldier, is a photographer on a mission, body and soul. So you have to go out and stick to it.
Despite my long years in Madagascar, I am a stranger there: you can’t escape his physique, his accent, his way of life, his draw. Good in a way: a little outside, I have a “perched” point of view. On the other hand, in a country where, advantageously, there are few foreigners, you often benefit from an initial dose of sympathy.
Madagascar, a photogenic country? We do not experience the enormous landscape shocks of Africa, nor do we meet its giant animals, its extraordinary inhabitants; Madagascar, precisely by the way, is “mini”, both for its animals, its inhabitants and its landscapes. Mini but “Gasy”: it is a detached mini-continent, which has developed its own fauna, its own language, its own rites. Its population is a patchwork of Africa and Asia; English and French influences have sculpted other features. You will not find another Madagascar elsewhere.
Madagascar is not on the main roads, and it is still largely protected from globalization. Madagascar is not as disfigured as Cambodia, for example, with its string markets designed by poorly refined urban planners, or its mercantile towns, threading identical cubes, devoted to trade, in neon lights and plastic, over miles.
Unfortunately, perhaps, poverty also preserves. Otherwise why else would there be so many thatched roofs and motorless canoes in Madagascar? Tourism is confidential, its beaches are not concreted, 10 km from the capital, it is the Middle Ages: neither running water nor electricity, carts by hills and valleys, Dantean tracks, frightfully gullied, schedules punctuated by the succession of days and nights.
All this develops a feeling of otherness that gives back to photography its letters of nobility: photography saves people and threatened places from oblivion.
The photo also implies an empathy for his Subject. This is where Madagascar spoils us: there is not a small village at the end of a beach or a mountain path, which does not reveal the wonderful ingenuity of its inhabitants adapting to hostile environments. Humanity is probably worth more to a toy or a makeshift utensil from agile hands than to its atom bomb or its buildings “scratching the sky”.
That’s not to say I’m acting like an ethnologist. Nor in the social or political sphere. Perhaps not in ecology (as a preservation tool). I aim for aesthetics in things and people, their evolutionary ingenuity. The “aestheticism” displayed here is as much opposed to the aseptic vision of Madagascar as to the shock reporting aimed at making people cry in thatched cottages (i.e. today in the media). Madagascar holds a wealth and uniqueness that will disappear one day, laminated by a certain idea of “progress”. It is the plastic surgeon who expresses himself.