Olivier Chantôme is a French photographer and author who has captured the beauty of the Middle East during his extensive travels. With an eye for detail, he allows us to experience the different sceneries through his eyes.
” Capturing the instant before it disappears…
Watching remains of past – Contemplating life : from the young to the old age – Watching future in the desolated lands
A diachronic and meditative approach to the world, between East and West. “
Olivier is 32 years old and currently resides in Germany. I had the chance to sit down with him and talk about his art and his travel experiences.
His first trip was in July 2006 when he travelled from Paris to Sofia by bus and later to Istanbul by train. The initial plan was to travel to Syria and Lebanon. However, these plans were cancelled due to the Lebanon war. Instead it was a long Anatolian journey, which only sparked his love for traveling.
In 2007 he then took a trip to Israel and Palestine.
Why did you choose Israel & Palestine as your next travel destination?
“When I was a Sociology student at University, I wrote my Master thesis about Diaspora and specifically about the Jewish Diaspora in France. In this sense, I wanted to go to “Eretz Israel” (editor note: The land of Israel), and see the situation with my own eyes. I was lucky because during this period the situation was calm. We wanted to see Israel and the Palestinian Territories and saw a lot of paradoxes in these societies. In Israel, I saw the best and the worst: Two extremes.”
When did you first get interested in the Middle East?
“My best experience and the beginning of my passion of the Middle East began during my Master’s degree in Development studies. During the first year I studied the Lebanon war and during the 2nd year I lived in Cairo. I am totally different now after having lived in Egypt in 2009. These were strange times in Egypt. It was the “dictatorship” of Mubarak. I was in Sinai a lot, visited the Monastery St. Catherine and I was in Alexandria until the Libyan border, and the Suez Canal. Now it’s almost impossible and dangerous after the revolution and the high level of insecurity.”
After spending the year in Cairo, Olivier came back to France and started working in Paris with frequent business trips to Istanbul. It was a typical job, be he soon realized that it wasn’t for him.
What does photography mean to you?
“For me, photography is still like Henri Cartier-Bresson’s definition: Capturing the decisive moment. I think that photography is the expression of one reality – my own reality. When I press the button of my camera, I try to isolate one furtive moment from one reality. She still allows to create bridges between a lot of worlds and cultures. In fact, photography is a universal medium, a grammary or a vocabulary to understand our world. In this sense, a picture is only a sample of our world. A photographer decides to keep only one sample of reality, like a gift to the world, a tribute to human cultures.
Shoot something or someone, it’s like being an explorer or maybe a mystic: Someone trying to capture and to catch reality.”
How can intercultural differences in the Middle East/North Africa be bridged through art?
“Difficult question, but crucial! Actually, in the global media we hear a lot of absurdities and nonsense about intercultural differences in the Middle East and North Africa. Art and photography can be one of the solutions to educate people about intercultural differences. Diversity in the human culture is the most important thing in our world. Art must to be the royal way to a better comprehension. And now, it’s very important that artists on the other side of the Mediterranean show their work in Europe to break these clichés.”
Olivier is currently working on his book, which he describes as a “fake autobiography”. Tell us a little bit about it.
“It’s a trip through Egypt, Lebanon, Iran and Berlin. It’s not mystical but it contains a lot of Sufism and also contains my photography. The story changes as I write it. The chapters are like a diary. The story is about a writer who lives in Egypt during the revolution and he wants to write a book about ruins, but he can’t finish his novel. It’s a book in a book. It’s about the situation in Syria and I have a chapter in Lebanon with a big focus on the civil war as well as a chapter about Iran, Tehran, Sufism and the Suez Canal. It ends in Berlin. I would like to finish this project and start other projects.”
Tell us about your exhibitions, Oli!
“I had my first personal exhibition in Dresden (Germany) last June and it was like a dream for me. This exhibition was titled “A journey through silence” with pictures from Egypt, Lebanon, Iran, Armenia, India and France!
And now, I hope to have my first exhibition in the Middle East in 2018. Also, I am working with a musical collective from North Africa and the Middle East about a musical and photographic project and about an exhibition project about memory in ex-German Democratic Republic.”
We are very excited about Olivier’s upcoming projects. You can check out Olivier’s work here: