Alice Cloutier-Lachance’s work bears a striking resemblance to Francesca Woodman’s. Alice is an emerging Canadian photographer, and, coincidentally, she is friends with Monse Muro, whom we interview for our January 2021 issue. She creates mysterious, monochromatic photographs of her friends and family, sometimes blurred, so as to reveal just enough to keep us wondering. She is fascinated by the materiality of photography, and almost exclusively works with film, which she develops herself, and makes all of her prints by hand, a process she documents on her Instagram account. Alice gave us a few moments of her time for a chat over Zoom, and we discussed her years travelling in Australia and Asia, her upcoming projects, and how social media influences the way we consume art.
Who are you?
My name is Alice, I’m 26 years old, and I’m from Montreal. I guess you could say I’m a photographer, but I have a hard time associating myself with that label. I think I would rather describe myself as an image maker. When I was young, my dad used to love photography, and he set up a darkroom in the basement of our house. He used to take portraits of my sister and I, then he would develop his film himself and print the photographs. I wasn’t interested in photography yet, but it has always been in my life. After college, I travelled for a few years and I brought a few cameras with me. I ended up staying in Australia for four years, and that’s when I started to do more photography and trying to find my style.
What did you do in Australia?
At first I just went there while travelling. After college [In Québec, students go to college for two or three years after high school to figure out what they want to do before going to university], I took a year off and I travelled for four months in Asia. I felt so happy there. I was supposed to come back to Montréal to study Psychology, which I really didn’t want to do. So I kept travelling, and I went to Australia where I ended up meeting someone and staying for four years.
So you never went back to school?
Not until I came back from Australia.
How would you describe your aesthetic?
I don’t really know. I love black and white photography. I think I would describe my aesthetic as silent, like taking a pause. I see my work as moving in the present in relation to the past. Past experiences and memories can change our perception of the present and influence the decisions we make. I don’t like that word, but it’s nostalgic in a way. I feel like moments in our lives always pass so fast. We live rapidly, we experience emotions but we don’t have the time to stop and really feel them. I think my photos represent that moment when you stop and you think about everything that’s happening to you, or about your past. It’s like a pause.
How did you find it? How has it evolved since you got started?
I think that finding your aesthetic is always an ongoing process in any art form. Especially with social media. We’re surrounded by photographs. We’re always inspired by others. Sometimes I ask myself : “Am I doing this because others are doing it this way or because I genuinely like it this way ?”. When I was in Australia, I tried so many different kinds of photography, like fashion photography, and other things. I remember one photoshoot that I did with a girl named Courtney, who I didn’t really know well at the time and then became my friend. We did that shoot just for fun. I was shooting on film, in black and white, and everything flowed very nicely. The space (her apartment) inspired me, she trusted my vision, and I trusted her. I took a photo which I entitled “La sieste” (“The nap”), and which is still one of my favorite photos I’ve ever taken. When I first looked at it I thought : “This is what I want my aesthetic to be”. I felt like the photo was just mysterious enough. It tells a story but not the whole story. It lets you imagine the rest.
So you only work with film?
Not only, but mostly. It comes and goes. Sometimes I want to do more digital, more medium format, or more 35mm. But I mostly work with film. I like the intimacy of it. I also mostly work with black and white photography, so I develop my own film, which makes my relationship with the work even more intimate. I enjoy it more than editing digitally, because I don’t have the patience for that.
Why black and white?
I think it’s because I adore the process of black and white photography. I love shooting analog, then going to the darkroom and developing my film myself, then printing my images myself. It’s a very personal way to work with photography. I also love how black and white photos don’t tell you everything. They tell you just enough. You have to use your imagination to dig deeper into the photograph.
Who and/or what inspires you? Which artists have influenced your work the most?
A lot of things inspire me. I love listening to music, and photographers like Justine Kurland, or Francesca Woodman. But I think that what inspires me the most is people. Sometimes I feel like we meet people and we have crushes on them which have nothing to do with romantic love or attraction. It’s because their personality is so great, they have so many things to say, and that’s what I find the most inspiring. I also love little villages, open spaces, and nature. So I would say it’s a mix of both people and places. For example, my friend Monse Muro [who we interviewed last month] inspires me with her photos but also by who she is. I trust her vision, and I also trust the person that she is, so it all flows really well. I love that kind of people, the ones who inspire you by who they are. I feel like I need to have a connection to the person I’m photographing. So I would say that people are my biggest inspiration.
How do you work? What are the different steps in the making of a photograph?
It really depends. Sometimes I have a precise image in my head, and it’s just a matter of recreating it. For example, I took a photo of my sister, entitled “Les yeux fermés” (“Closed eyes”), of her standing in a field with her hand in front of her face. We took it in a village, and I knew exactly what I wanted. But sometimes, I’m just in a place that inspires me, with friends that are willing to try things, and I work from there. It really depends on whether I have a precise idea of what I want, or if I just want to have fun and go with the flow.
Are you a full-time photographer or do you have a day job?
I have a part-time job working for a clothing brand. I’m also going to university now to study Photography and it takes a lot of my time.
So you didn’t go for Psychology after all!
No, not at all!
What initially interested you in Psychology?
I think it was more about the fact that I thought I needed to go to university. For a long time I didn’t know what I liked. I think I’ve always been interested in art. When I was younger I used to dance, and for a while I wanted to work in cinema, but it always felt unattainable somehow. Everyone says that working in artistic fields is difficult, that it’s hard to make a name for yourself. So I never seriously envisioned it. But I really didn’t want to study Psychology and I love photography. I don’t know if I’m really going to be a photographer but I want to work in that field.
What does a typical day look like for you? How do you balance photography, school and work?
It really depends on whether I have classes or have to work or have a photoshoot. My shoots aren’t super organized, because I love going outside of the city. I’m in a village right now for a shoot I want to do there. I have friends coming next week and I took some time off work. I bought clothes that I think are inspiring, and I started thinking about the photos that I want to take. Sometimes I need to make prints because I sold a few, so I work in the darkroom in the basement of my parents’ house, mostly at night so that it’s completely dark. I make all my prints by hand, that’s really important to me. It really depends, I don’t have a specific schedule.
Have you ever wanted to experiment with other art forms?
Yeah, definitely! I love black and white photography because of the materiality, and in my first year of university I took two classes in lithography, which is a printmaking technique. I love lithography, it brings a sense of intimacy to the photos. I love that process of printmaking, so I definitely want to continue with that. It’s just so hard to have access to the press and the equipment. I’ll also be taking a photogravure class in a few weeks, which is another image making technique. I love printmaking techniques that bring materiality to the images, it makes them more personal.
What was your favorite experience in your career and/or your favorite photograph you took and why?
It’s funny because I read Monse’s interview and she answered this question with “I hope the best is still to come”, and I also think that the best experiences are in the future for me. I’m still young and so many exciting things are coming! My favorite photo I’ve ever taken is probably “La sieste” (“The nap”), which I took in Australia, because it sets the standard for what I want my work to look like. Also, last year I was stuck in a village with my sister for two months when the pandemic started, because they closed the borders and we couldn’t go back to Montréal. I had lived abroad for four years, and when I came back she left to live in another city, so we didn’t get to spend much time together during these years despite the fact that we always had a close relationship. When we were isolated together for those two months, we got the opportunity to rediscover our relationship, and I took that photograph of her called “Les yeux fermés” (“Closed eyes”), which is one of my favorite photos ever. I’m very happy with how it looks and I love that it represents this moment in my relationship with my sister.
Is there anything you’d like to achieve in your career?
I would love to do a photobook one day! I’m currently working on a project that I’d love to make into a book. It might sound a bit cheesy, but I feel like with social media we’re always exposed to other people’s work and we always compare ourselves, so something I’d like to achieve is to build trust in my work and not compare myself to others anymore. I think this would be a good achievement. Because of social media, we expect to see masterpieces every single day, and we feel like we have to post work all the time. But good work takes time, and we need to accept that.
What would you like people to feel through your work?
It’s funny because at university we spend a lot of time explaining the concept behind our work, and explaining what we want people to feel. I know what my work means to me, but I think that it is the viewer’s task to create their own interpretation of it. I love that people can create their own stories when looking at artwork. I would like people to stop, take a breath, and look at the work, but there is not something that I’d like them to feel exactly. To me my work is about temporality, moving through emotions, and about how life changes. I make portraits but they don’t depict people’s faces explicitly. When you don’t see a face, you can project yourself into the image, and it can resonate with you in a more intimate way. That’s what I want.
What have you been watching, listening to, and/or reading lately?
I haven’t watched a lot of movies recently, but I’ve read Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami. I can see myself in many little parts of that book, parts that remind me of what my images are to me. I’ve highlighted so many lines in it. In the book, Murakami compares people’s lives and thoughts to a labyrinth. It’s hard to find your way inside of yourself. To me, my images are like a search for something, I don’t even know what.
What is next for you?
I’m working on several projects right now. I want to keep making the kind of work I’m doing now, and because I’m interested in people and their stories, I’d like to make a kind of documentary project. I have one in the works with one of my friends, but it’s going to take some time for it to be completed, because I really want to get to know the people I’ll be photographing before I photograph them. It’s still early so I won’t say too much about it. I’m just trying different things, and seeing where it takes me.
Is there a question you wish I had asked you?
Maybe : “What have you learned so far?”. I love to ask that question to people because they interpret it in different ways.
So what have you learned so far?
I still have so much to learn, but so far, I would say that things take time. If you have a photograph that you want to make and it doesn’t work out, give it time, and it will happen. It also works for your personal life. If you don’t know what something means now, it’s okay, you will figure it out with time, and with time you will get over grief. I have learned to accept that things take time.
Alice Cloutier-Lachance is a visual artist currently studying at Concordia University, doing a Bachelor in Fine Arts with a major in photography and a minor in print media. Inspired by the concepts of “presence” and of “detachment”, Alice’s work is mostly printed in the darkroom and with printing techniques.
You can view more of Alice’s work on her website and her Instagram.