New Emissary

‘Caught’ Watching TV

Exclusive Q&A with artist who went around the world to shoot people watching TV.

‘Caught’ Watching TV
Credit: Olivier Culmann

Late last year, I came across news of a captivating photo exhibition showing in various locations around India called ‘TV-Viewers,’ by Olivier Culmann. Organised by the Embassy of France in India and the Alliance Française de Delhi, the series of photos captures people from all over the globe ‘lost’ in the act of TV viewing. The concept is what drew me in first, then realizing the amount of work that went into the individual images–which took Olivier to various international locations including Nigeria, China and Morocco–and then finally the depth and underlying suggestion they carry as a collective body of work that would be impossible if dispersed.

I was recently thrilled to be able to catch up with the busy photographer, a Paris native who currently lives in India with his family, to ask him some questions about his work in the region.

Do you have a favourite country to photograph and if so, why?

It depends on the subject. I like India very much and have some photographic projects going here, but it’s difficult because this country has been photographed so many times and it’s difficult to bring about something new, which is why I tend to usually work on subjects that focus on specific aspect of the society.

I also like to work in Japan. Tendance Floue, my collective of photographers, should be heading to Japan as part of a future project around the world. I hope to be part of that.

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What was your inspiration for ‘TV-Viewers’?

I am very preoccupied by the fact that so many people spend hours in a total passivity in front of television. As a TV-viewer myself, I often feel more a spectator than an actor in the world where I’m living. I wanted to look at this in a more general and global way.

TV-Viewers-2Did you notice distinct differences between the Asian cultures you photographed?

I didn’t really notice big differences from one country to another in the way people were living or watching their televisions. But in India and China, people accepted being photographed much more than in France or Morocco, for example. Their relation with the picture in general is easier and they don’t feel they need to give some kind of value of themselves when they are photographed.

How would you describe your style of photography?

Most of my work could be described as ‘subjective documentary photography.’ But I do like to change my approach and challenge myself in different types of subject, style and category.