Interview with Paul Demare for QPN Festival - Nantes, France // September 2014
We have the feeling with COLOSSAL YOUTH to be in front of a certain type of family
pictures. What kind of relations did you have with the young people you photographed?
In what circumstances were these images created?

It is great that my images remind you of family pictures. I stepped into this group as a stranger
and became familiar with those I photographed. I emotionally reconnected to the feelings I had
had as a teenager.

I had been reflecting on the theme of youth since 1986. Aged around 30 I had been working on
my final examination at the Folkwang School. One day I fortunately heard about a party that was
supposed to last for three days. When I arrived at that place, I immediately realized that I had
found the people I had been searching for. It was the late summer of 1988.

The pictures date from the late 1980s, what were your influences at this time?
Did you have any models in mind (photographic, cinematographic ...)?

Larry Clark`s books TULSA and TEENAGE LUST inspired me a lot. While looking at them
in the early 80`s I immediately recognized that I had missed to photograph when I was young
and did not know what to do in life. Scenes I had seen and feelings I had experienced at all
those parties I had celebrated with my friends and classmates during our school years.

I had been a student then and had the opportunity to learn and develop my photographic skills.
When I started to study photography at the Folkwang School in fall 1980, I did not know much
about the history of photography. Although it had always been my somehow unconscious dream
to become a photographer, I wanted to learn painting. I considered photography as too easy.
I thought that people and scenes already exist and that I just had to photograph them. I did not
see the advantage and difficulty in doing so. It was when Garry Winogrand was giving a lecture
at our university in fall 1982, that his presentation opened my eyes for what it means to be a
photographer. From the next day on I started my project Approaching a Neighborhood and
decided to learn and explore the skills of photography. Step by step.

In the beginning I had been also inspired by photographers, such as Diane Arbus, Robert Frank,
Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Doisneau, William Klein, Larry Fink, Mary Ellen Mark and by film
directors like Federico Fellini, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luchino Visconti, Ingmar Bergmann, Éric Rohmer,
Jean-Luc Godard - Alphaville: Une étrange aventure de Lemmy Caution -, Rainer Werner Fassbinder,
Herbert Achternbusch, G.W.Pabst - Westfront 1918 ( 1930 ) -, Edgar Reitz - Heimat -, etc. and
painters such as Rembrand, George Grosz, Christian Schaad, just to mention some. Joseph Beuys
and the FLUXUS movement had been active in Düsseldorf, where I lived until 1986. There are so
many inspirations that flew into my photography that it is impossible to remind all of them. In the
early 80`s I went to the cinema 5 days a week. That opened my mind. In the mid 80`s I got to
know the work of Martin Parr, Paul Graham, Joel Sternfeld and Joel Meyerowitz. Later Nan Goldin
and Nobuyoshi Araki in the early 90`s.

What distance did you need to succeed in this documentary? Was it necessary for you
to be actively part of these parties, or did you prefer to stand back?

In photography I allways have to balance closeness and distance. I attended at these parties in
order to take photographs. I followed my genuine interest in watching very closely and intimately
whatever was going on. Although I had been accepted as a photographer, it was sometimes hard
for me to accept my role as an observer. That caused a big conflict for me. Not for the people I
photographed. Emotionally I have been very close to all of them. It had been my task to transform
my perception into images.

Especially with the birth of children, we notice an evolution in the life of the young people
you photographed. Did you intend to show the transition to adulthood when you started this
work? Would it make sense for you today to go on with the Colossal Youth project and make
new images to show what these young people have become ?

When I started this work I aimed to express the power of rejecting the conventions of bourgeois society.
Photography enabled me to look back to my own feelings as a young person and prolonge this attitude
with the experience of an adult. I focused on the period between childhood and adulthood. The phase
of finding oneself.

The birth of a child was not planned. Indeed, it totally changed Melanie`s life. I had photographed
party life in this clique for more than two years and this new perspective opened my work to the
responsibilities of adulthood.

With Melanie I kept in touch over the years. We occasionally met. I photographed her wedding
and her children. When I presented her the book in 2011, she mentioned that she had become
a grandmother. This means that Fee, the young child from the family photograph, is a mother
herself. Of course, I continue to photograph Melanie with her daughters and the young family.
It feels so great to meet with Fee and her daughter Amelie.

How do you explain the success of COLOSSAL YOUTH (4th edition of the book in 2014)?
Apart from the undeniable quality of your photographic work, how do you understand
the interest that the public (and also the publishers, the festival programmers, the
journalists ...) shows in youth and marginality?

Probably time is ripe. Today these images are historical but do not look like that. This time lag
may help. I have learned to practice patience, feel more relaxed and let the images find their way.
Nowadays they address a broader audience that is additionally interested in the 80`s. Both, the
young and the adult people may see scenes they feel familiar with. This is straight photography.
Vibrant. A personal statement that does not serve any conventions.

The fact that COLOSSAL YOUTH exists as a book provides it with a presence and permanence
you can not wipe off. It is like a mobile exhibition that travels the world. I am very happy with the
design and the haptic of the book. My publisher Hannes Wanderer did it great.

Well, youth is an important period in life. Nobody wants to feel old. It is a source of inspiration.

What does COLOSSAL YOUTH mean in your whole work? A step? Something accomplished
that allowed you to evolve? An inhibiting success?

COLOSSAL YOUTH is a core topic that corresponds with both, my prior and successive projects.

It is, for example, the counterpart of The Good Earth, which I have photographed 10 years later.
My new book. In the time between both works I concentrated on self-portraits. I wanted to explore
my own identity. I aimed to define the interface between privacy and self-expression. A question
that had already preoccupied my mind while I photographed COLOSSAL YOUTH.


// September 2014

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