Frédéric Chabot is a Montreal-based photographer and artist.
Where did you grow up?
North of Montréal, in a small village of merely two thousand inhabitants, with no neighbors for miles in almost every direction.
Do you have any interesting childhood stories that you could share with us?
I do, but those are not actual memories, it’s what I’ve been told. When I was like 5 or 6, they said I tried to tame a bull on several attempts, they said I escaped a ball of lightning that slowly travel from the dining room window to the drain in the kitchen. It may sound like mythology. I like to think it is, but it is also the truth, I’ve always trusted what my mom says.
When did you start taking photographs?
It’s when I found an article on old Russian and Chinese cameras that were full of flaws and imperfections and that some guys were trying to introduced similar cameras, with the likes of plastic cameras called: Holga and Diana. I remember being charm that they had girls names. But they caught me at –imperfections- anyway. It was ten years ago.
Are you self taught in photography?
I thought I was, until I recently discovered that my musical background is intimately related to how I work with a camera in my hands. It’s all a matter of learning something and then unlearning it. So if self taught is being your own teacher, well no I’m not, I’ve been taught to do that. I’ve been taught to undo everything I put so much effort in, to let it have his own life. His own melody and rhythm.
How often do you shoot? Do you have a favorite camera or film that you use?
I used to shoot at least one roll of film, every week. I don’t anymore, I’m too lazy. Now it depends on the people I’m with, the mood I’m in, the light I witness, the ideas I’m obsessing with.
I have an old 35mm Konica that i use since the beginning, it’s all clunky, the bulb stays stuck, the light meter is broken, there’s screws missing (it’s my own personal Tom Waits). Of course Holga taught me well. But this year I worked my ass off, and I got myself a Hasselblad, just for the sound it makes. And my wife made me fall in love with the PZ silver shade.
Do you engage in different kinds of art aside from photography? What else do you do? Did photography come before these other mediums?
I don’t play music that much anymore. Sometimes I do, but it feels like fiddling with the past. I do work on drawings and paintings that are, strongly bound to photography. Although photography is more visceral, to me, I could spend a lot of time organizing one single image in my mind, painting is something more spontaneous.
What do you do in your spare time?
I drink way too much coffee, and I stare at the emptiness. It almost sounds like a defect or a flaw, but I’m sure it’s not.
Do you prefer shooting black and white or color images?
It works the other way around. B&W is kind to me.
Do you have a favorite photographer or artist?
After Francesca.Woodman, there is Rose & Olive alongside Tina Kazakhishvili. Before Basquiat and Lino (a great illustrator from Québec) there was Betty Goodwin. And floating above all else the music genius of The Books and all the white noise that Do Make Say Think had produced so far.
Where have you always wanted to travel to, and why?
I’d never had the desire of travels. I didn’t need it, somehow. Until three years ago I married that Australian woman, in a subway in New York. I left everything and went to live with her. I would now gladly trade my home in Montréal with a nice little flat in Fitzroy, Melbourne. This is one sexy place… The sweet and sour dilemma of choosing your own path. This is why I love staying at home so much. I guess.
Are you currently working on any new projects?
I am actually working on a book project, on a five year collaboration with a woman I never met. About a story that never shares any words. I also apply for a biennial of drawing in a Fine Art museum. And always looking forward to work with different photographers.
I grew up on the east coast of the U.S. - between Washington D.C. and Baltimore. Now; living in Baltimore.
Are you self-taught? Or did you attend any kind of schooling for photography?
School has always been a nightmare for me. I have made several attempts to have the experience of art school, but it was made clear to me that I would need to be rich to attend. Even winning scholarships it would have been impossible for me to complete more than a semester. What I've learned has come through experimentation, trial & error, and the graciousness of other artists I've met. Part of me still seeks the structure and experience of school but I've come to accept that it wasn't meant for me, and that I okay with that.
How long have you been shooting for? What originally sparked your interest in photography?
My interest in photography began in 2004. I was able to afford a digital camera by blowing up balloons and I began photographing fragments of my surrounding. In 2005 I gained access to a darkroom and I knew that this was going to be an addiction. I remember shooting my first roll of B&W film... Lenora and I crawled in a window of this very small, wooden church. I had her stand in front of the old wooden organ, wearing a masquerade mask and holding a baby octopus. I accidentally wrapped the film on the processing spool too tightly and only one or two photographs appeared in warped portions of the film. It was a beautiful mistake and this sparked my true interest in photography and my passion for experimentation.
Do you have a favorite camera or film that you shoot with?
No. When I have a vision for something I'm often imagining it through the medium; whether it's the endless types of Polaroid film, Color, B&W, Slide, or digital - the camera is usually chosen after I've decided on the film type. Each camera I bring to a shoot is capable of doing something different and it's very difficult for my to bring just one camera. Depending on the subject I will bring a Pentax 6x7, Polaroid SX-70, Polaroid 110a converted, Spectra camera, Graphic View or Nikon D90.
Looking at some of your images that are of abandoned buildings or ‘urban exploration’, I often feel this sense of defeat; this quiet and isolated nostalgia. I also find that even when you are not present in these images, I’m looking for you, or I feel as though you’re already there- around a corner, or just out of view. What is the connection between these images and yourself, or your sense of self?
That's something difficult for me to explain... I should say first that I am a horribly shy person and feel awkward when I am surrounded by people. Regardless of a buildings history, there's a strange comfort that I have stepping back in time, observing the rain leak through the floors, plants growing through the walls, the wind blowing, watching the light glow through vine covered windows... I seek a certain connection to my surroundings that I am unable to do in the real world. I also find the adventure, danger and risks of exploring invigorating and the building itself to be a refuge. The images can mean different things to me on multiple levels but ultimately my processes of exploring is an ongoing course of finding where I fit in this world.
When did you first start or become curious in abandoned exploration? Do you have a favorite place to visit / shoot in?
As a child I wasn't allowed to leave the neighborhood I lived in but I would explore just about as far as I could walk. I found an old house that sat alone in this overgrown field. I remember thinking that there was a witch there and I wanted to know her. When I got close enough the to house I realized the door was open, so I walked in and snooped around the place. I remember going up the wooden stairs to the top floor and finding the room completely untouched. Old 50's coats hung up, the bed made and suitcases packed like the family was going on vacation. I remember reading some old love letters and being curious about what happened. My imagination was endless. It wasn't for years later when I started doing photography that I was reminded of this place and with a camera and car, I had a dangerous addiction. In the exploring community, it's frowned upon to post the names of places online, but there is a large hospital complex about an hour away that I love shooting in. It was originally opened in the 20s and was a mental institution and child development center that closed in the 90s because of endless lawsuits of patient abuse. The property contains a main hospital building and about 10 other small buildings - all being consumed by plants.
Does it ever become hard for you to create or display work based on how personal it is to you?
Yes. There are a lot of photographs that will never be seen, but I think that's normal, like a diary.
Do you have any role models or is there any particular person that you look up to?
Visually, I look up to the works of Roger Ballen, Mario Giacomelli and various artist within the online photography scene. Also, music artist like Dandi Wind, Planningtorock, Duchess Says and Zola Jesus keep me stimulated.
Are you currently working on any new projects?
Yes. Last night I got back from northern Albania where I documented a long stretch of traveling, hiking and exploring. I have some Polaroids, but mostly film taken with my Pentax 6x7. It's going to take a while to develop, print and display. I imagine that people that normally follow my work may be disappointed in the ratio of hiking to decay, but the photographs will help me remember how great it was. The trip was life changing and I'm very fortunate to have seen so much and met so many genuine people.
When you were younger, is there a specific career that you thought you would end up pursuing?
I remember always wanting to be an artist. Though, I wouldn't mind being an auto mechanic, or janitor.
How do you pass the time when you aren’t shooting?
I work at a photo lab full time and tending to the needs of my birds.