Interview with Photographer Guillaume Simoneau

Montreal-based photographer, Guillaume Simoneau opens his solo exhibition Love and War this week at CONTACT Gallery, Toronto. An intimate portrayal of a young U.S. Army Sergeant’s love life, Simoneau followed Caroline Annandale’s development between the ages of 16 and 25. His thoughtful and telling portraits represent Annandale’s transformation as she learns to balance her personal world with her deployment to Iraq. With work that centres primarily on transitional spaces within universal themes, Love and War is a unique look at youth and the poetry of romance. Aesthetica speaks to Simoneau about his approach to photography and his new exhibition.

A: Love and War is the title of your exhibition, is it meant to express a contradiction or the inseparable nature of the two?
GS: At the moment I’m sitting in a room filled with Frida Kahlo’s work. A quote on the wall of the exhibition reads: “I suffered two grave accidents in my life. One in which a streetcar knocked me down. The other accident is Diego”. When you look at Frida’s work before and after her accidents you quickly realize the creative potential of adversity. While I also believe in peaceful sources of inspiration, I would be lying if I told you I didn’t believe in the inseparable nature of love, creativity and adversity.

A: You photographed Caroline Annandale for several years, this must have had an impact on you personally? Did it change your view of war?
GS: Excellent question. It did indeed change my view of war. But more importantly it changed my view of military personnel, especially soldiers. Having spent a lot of time down in south USA with some of them, I now understand how your social, physical and geographical context can lead you to take decisions you wouldn’t even have considered given a different environment. I now have a much more forgiving view of young souls enrolling. Where I still have issues, is with decision makers orchestrating these armed interventions from the start.

A: As well as photographs this exhibition includes letters, text messages and correspondence, why did you include this?
GS: I am almost as obsessed with words as I am with photography. Consequently, including written material in the building of this broken narrative was only natural.

A: What other photography projects have you worked on?
GS: Between Grass and Steel, which was a series of portraits taken over seven summers, of graduating high-school students during their after-prom gatherings.

A: What is it that inspires you to take a photo?
One thing only, intuition. Raw, un-intellectualized impulse.

A: What are your future plans?
GS: Publishing Love and War with Dewi Lewis and produce a major body of work about the visual rhetoric pertaining to success and its surroundings.

A: What do you want your photos to tell viewers?
GS: That everything is going to be ok.

Love and War, Guillaume Simoneau, until 2 March, CONTACT Gallery, 80 Spadina Avenue, Suite 310, Toronto, Ontario, M5V 2J4, Canada.

1. Wearing army uniform for me, Kennesaw, Georgia, 2008, c-print, 24×24 from Love and War series.
2. On bed, Kennesaw, Georgia, 2008, c-print, 24×24 from Love and War series.
3. Grass hopper on rose, Kennesaw, Georgia, 2008, c-print, 24×30 from Love and War series.
4. Canadian Marine jacket, Kennesaw, Georgia, 2008, c-print, 24×30 from Love and War series.