Anais C. – or Anais Colors depending on the platform – is a photographer from Guadeloupe. Her career started about eight years ago and took shape in Paris while she was working there. Since then, her passion is undiminished as she continues to evolve her art through her experiences – particularly that of being a woman behind the lens in an often very masculine setting. Anais tells her story. Anais tells others. But above all Anais makes things happen. Encounter.
For you, being an artist is… To transmit emotions, to speak about subjects that touch us, to be the megaphone of a cause, to externalise things which one has in oneself. Art can be political if it takes a stand but art is above all cathartic.
Your inspirations: Recently, Gaël Rapon for his work in natural light and the femininity that emerges from his photos and my mentor, Manu Dorlis for his black and white shots that sublimates black skin.
Your weapons of choice: A Canon 6D Mark II 50mm 1.2 lens and a lighter Fujifilm when I travel.
The woman behind the camera
I would say my artistic journey really starts in 2012 in Paris when I bought my first single-lens reflex camera after the trusty compact I was using from Guadeloupe broke down. It was a semi-professional camera, something not too complex for me to get the hang of. But photography started long before with my love for details and nature. Even today macro photography continues to drive me. The early morning dew in my parents’ garden has something magical about it.
Paris in 2012, that’s when I started to position myself and maybe it was a natural evolution of what I was already doing. With my friends, I liked to capture the moment, to show what I saw of them that they did not expect. My single-lens reflex is the camera of my first portraits, of my first mini-series.
At the time, we were still pretty far from the Instagram and selfie culture. With this series, I wanted to show my friends that being photogenic was a false concept. I took them naturally and then wearing a maré tèt.
When I returned to Guadeloupe, I started talking with visual artists I had met in Paris… which opened my eyes to the local art world. It was a real triggering moment – beyond taking a simple snapshot, I could also tell a story. I was inspired by moments in my life and that’s how Manman Dlo was born, which I was lucky enough to be able to exhibit in 2017 first at the Festival Cri de Femmes and then at the Festival Éritaj.
In 2018 I chose to go back to school and get a degree in Photography – a source of many challenges, if only administrative ones (laughs). The course did not exist in Guadeloupe, so I had to study online with all the complications that implied. I passed it in two years instead of one because I didn’t want to put my professional activity on hold.
My degree allowed me to acquire the basics I lacked as a self-taught person and especially the structure I needed.
I took the opportunity to propose photos of Mas Maten and I did my internship with the Festival Eritaj chaperoned by Laurence Maquiaba. It was a clear bias that earned me a ‘Very Good’ grade (laughs) and I am proud of it!
The changeover: from practising photography to living one’s art
The series of the changeover will have to be my collaboration with La Tchipie. After the publication of her best-selling book, Ma peau mérite toutes les douceurs du monde, the author wanted to stage some of her short stories. We talked a lot about the concept and I was really able to draw from myself, from my own emotions, to bring the project to life.
The goal was to provoke the public, to disturb them. That’s how the idea of the infamous photo with a used condom in the centre came about. The idea was to illustrate the confusion of a woman desperately in love with someone unable to return her affection using our urban legends. And everyone got the message.
I have a passion for the magico-religious, our folklore, our tales, etc. I was able to explore all this with La Tchipie and by participating in the realisation of the covers of Dyablès and Channda, the fantastic saga in Creole by Timalo.
Today I think I have reached a new stage in my creative process where I feel ready to talk about subjects that are more personal to me, which I was careful to avoid before. Of course, there is a slight measure of anxiety because I am very aware of the effects this could have on my other professional activity.
This need to show the intimate keeps evolving with time and I know that one day I will let go no matter what the impact. I also want to build more concepts and really make my audience feel emotions, creating a reaction.
Art, culture and Guadeloupe: the assessment
There are so many photographers practising in Guadeloupe and it’s great to have such a wide range of perspectives, but not many are exploring fine art photography. I still feel like I have to walk on eggshells and I feel very isolated in the field, especially as a woman.
Globalisation and social networks have revolutionised photography, but not without causing a certain standardisation of styles made popular by algorithms over which we have no control. And all this is still very much digital. In my opinion, art photography is something physical, something that leaves a mark.
There are a lot of artists who are on the move – there is work being done in Guadeloupe and simultaneously from Guadeloupe to the outside. However, there is a flagrant lack of structures… or the few that exist often privilege small groups of confirmed artists without necessarily creating a space for those who would like to develop at home.
In Guyana, for example, there is a photography biennial open to all. Of course, there is a selection, but we give a chance to lesser-known photographers to show their work. If I didn’t have a circle of friends who are visual artists, I wouldn’t have heard of anything that is being done here, whereas I have no difficulty in finding out about what is happening in France, the USA or Africa…
I don’t know if it’s a lack of means or a lack of interest, especially this year when the COVID crisis has seriously damaged the arts and culture industry.
I’ve thought a lot about going full-time, but in the end, I like the freedom that comes with not being entirely dependent on photography. The risk of abandoning myself to the mainstream in order to make money is too great. And that’s what I don’t want. I’m really impressed by those who manage to combine the two, but it’s not for me.
I had a few exhibition projects this year, but COVID changed that dramatically. Instead, I’m focusing on personal projects, though I don’t set deadlines for myself. The virtual could be a solution. For now, I prefer to focus on my creative process.
Changing the photographic landscape of Guadeloupe
I think I explore a lot of subjects but it took me some time to identify what makes me vibrate. The relationship to the body and especially the female body is very important to me. The body in movement, the details that tell a story, it’s really very special to me. Maybe that’s why I appreciate so much the carnival – Guadeloupean or Caribbean – these bodies moving in unison, I live it very deeply.
In Grenada, I felt the same energy. I felt the need to capture the moment, to share it. That’s how the Black Blood series was born.
The women’s body in all its complexity, in its evolution. I live it personally, I want to talk about it, that women talk about it.
My dynamic with male bodies is different, more sexualised because I want to arouse desire. I am also in an approach which aims at bringing out what one traditionally associates with the female genre with these male bodies… to reverse the stereotypes in a way.
Woman and photographer: battle of the genders
Being a woman photographer is a whole other world. Obviously, it affects my work – the way I see the world, my experiences – my art is the sum of all of that. Intrinsically it’s the fruit of what makes me a woman.
But it also affects how my art is perceived, some of the expectations of the audience, and also how I interact with the world when I’m working on a set.
When I started out, it took a long time for people to accept me in the milieu, which I didn’t like because I just wanted to live my art, not to do a militant act. I pay attention to the people around me and today I’m lucky to work with artists who see me as their peer. We are all here to serve the set, not each other’s egos.
Dealing with male models, especially for nude work, is a different matter. As a woman, you learn to be prepared for anything, so if I contact a potential nude model, I make sure there is no ambiguity. It’s really tricky. Just scroll down a Twitter or Instagram feed to find examples of drift and abuse when the situation is reversed.
It was in this regard that I contacted Maïa Mazaurette who regularly paints nude men. I needed advice and she was kind enough to explain to me that she pays all her models in order to establish clear limits – it is a contractual relationship, nothing else.
It is a precaution among others but it does not guarantee anything. It seems to me that it is difficult to dissociate the artist’s eye from the person’s eye. Taking a picture of a man is not the same as desiring him or suggesting sexual relations. The proof is – after the publication of my male nude series, questions were flying. Everyone wanted to know if something happened between us… and that’s not normal.
In this context, seeking out a model can lead to misinterpretations and the power balance can be oddly reversed even though I am the one with the camera in hand. I wish I didn’t have to think about all this, but these are definitely considerations that question me in my art.
The public’s reception
There are plenty of sexy or female nude photos. I want to propose something else.
The reactions that followed the photoshoot of Ma peau mérite toutes les douceurs du monde – which also includes shots of naked men – were revealing in that they were much divided!
Women have generally responded positively and publicly with likes or by leaving comments. Some commented and interacted with my content for the very first time. They wanted to share their surprise, appreciation or share their own experiences. Others approached me in DM to discuss my work further. But none of them took this as an opportunity to contact the model.
It was interesting because we know what happens in the opposite case. Posing for pictures does not mean that one is willing to receive objectifying messages in private (or worse) or that one is seeking attention. The easy interpretation might be that women more easily dissociate their appreciation for artistic content from their desire, or at least that they don’t act on it as easily as men.
So far, most of the negative feedback I’ve received has been from men. Seeing naked men is not normalised in our artistic landscape, so putting them forward creates a certain discomfort. Yet women’s bodies almost belong to the public space and to our collective unconscious.
Stripping a man also reveals to the public the way we treat women’s naked bodies, it is putting the world in front of a certain reality that we prefer to ignore otherwise. It’s time to get off the beaten track!
Discovering yourself as an artist
One of my best memories as a photographer is quite recent. I worked on an art project for G’Ny not too long ago. Together we did a lot of preparatory work… which allowed for a very harmonious photo shoot despite some unforeseen circumstances.
This work has led to a real moment of communion between us and I can’t wait to experience it again and again. I understand more and more how I function and it seems as if I have put my finger on a new part of myself.
Even if I sometimes pass in front of the lens, I prefer to keep control (laughs). Otherwise, the project has to make sense to me, I have to trust it, like for Adéola Bambé‘s Oshun project. It was a total risk but it was really worth it.
No matter what happens, I continue to grow, nurture and mature my art and creative process. Right now, I’m trying to get back to things that are a little more spontaneous, walking with my camera in hand to reconnect with the unexpected. Things change all the time and I rediscover myself each time. This is perhaps the most exciting adventure.
Follow Anais on Intagram @anaiscolors