The Conversation - Q&A with Raphaëlle Stopin

Your recent series, The Conversation, deals with  practice called "Speaking in Tongues".  Could you tell us what this means , and what you are trying to capture in this conversation?

The series deals primarily with the idea of truth, what constitutes this and how the ‘authentic’ is attained within a staged moment.  Speaking in tongues is a biblical phenomena in which a person utters incomprehensible speech-like syllables, and is considered by some part of a sacred language.  I am interested in the process of representing another’s internal experience, and to capture something so inherently personal is a huge challenge and acutely problematic.  Not only did I wish to confront these problems, but I also wanted question my own approach (apparent in the accompanying transcript which is both critical and supportive), inviting criticism and discussion in an attempt to understand whether the revelation of the process behind work can affect the success of an image.


How did you cast your models, choose their environment?  How did you direct them, if you directed them at all?  In other words what is the process for a photo shoot?

I placed a very simple online advert in a local newspaper that called for participants who spoke in tongues.  From the people that responded, I arranged to meet just two regularly and asked to sit in their company during daily prayer.  As the women grew accustomed to my presence, we ventured outside, seeking local and often public spaces as backdrops for the photos. Throughout the time I spent with them, I developed a very clear idea of what it was I wanted to capture, but this was never divulged, all that was revealed was the fixed prayer location.


Were there moments when you, as a photographer, felt like you were intruding? 

From the very beginning of the process I was welcomed as an observer, I never felt as though I was imposing, and it was comfortable to sit, listen and observe. Both participants were very vocal during worship and would sometimes include me in their prayer, which was unexpected, a little embarrassing, but thoughtful at the same time.  To understand the experience more fully and establish an alternative point of view, I produced a transcript of their responses to my questions about being photographed.


In this context, where to an extent the model abandons herself  to a state of oblivion and ecstasy, what is you approach to portraiture?   Is a portrait a document of reality or  staged performance?  Bearing this in mind why did you choose a cinematic light?

I used lighting to denote control and challenge notions of truth by disrupting a more traditional documentary aesthetic. By conflating photographic genres (the documentary, the portrait etc.) merging them, or perhaps upsetting the lines that separate them, ambiguity was created.  It makes it difficult to determine fact from fiction and what is real, whether there is integrity in what I depict, and the degree to which content has been manipulated.



Dominic is a London based visual artist and graduate from the Royal College of Art





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