ÉPHÉMÈRE: AN INTERVIEW WITH PAUL CUPIDO
Photographer Paul Cupido (1972, The Netherlands), who was on the cover of New Dutch Photography Talent 2018, has just launched two photobooks: Continuum and Éphémère. Apart from creating an overview of his highlights, he underlines the concept of the impermanence of life – Cupido’s main source of inspiration. GUP spoke to the artist about his process and his plans for the future, which resulted in a very mindful and inspiring conversation.
Your images are like journeys into serenity and mindfulness. What are the things that inspire your creation?
I’ve thought about it for a long time, but in short, the essence of my work really is about the little moments of wonder in life.
You have just published two books, Éphémère and Continuum, almost at the same time. What are the differences between the two books and what are the similarities? Also, what is the idea behind their titles?
Éphémère is an overview containing the essential highlights of my work so far. There is great poetic beauty in this bittersweet phrase – a metaphor for the fleetingness of life, my main source of inspiration. Continuum is my second true artist book, the sequel to Searching for Mu. There is a substantial difference in approach, as Continuum is an ‘indie’ artwork in itself.
Your book Continuum is printed on special paper and has a special binding, reminiscent of Japanese binding. Could you tell us more about the idea behind this design?
Continuum is not a typically ‘linear’ book — it is designed based on one of my favourite haikus, in which each element is connected to the other, by elliptical paths. Everything cycles and continues on in perpetual motion. I really wanted to have hidden and transparent pages within the book to represent the layers of memories in our minds. They start fresh and sharp, but while they stay with us forever, they fade and intermingle with new memories over time.
It was also important that everything was connected physically to everything else, and because the book was made on the Japanese islands of Ishigaki, Iriomote and Taketomi, we invented a modern twist on Japanese binding. These elements, and the rare paper selection, give an extra layer of perceptual and tactile experience to the act of reading. Akiko (Wakabayashi) also really wanted to push things on many levels and not just show the most iconic and popular photos in sequence. We wanted to create a living thing, with lots of freedom and without any (commercial) concessions.
Soon after graduating from the Fotoacademie in Amsterdam, your artistic career started with a spot in New Dutch Photography Talent in 2018. How do you think your work has evolved since then?
My graduation from the Fotoacademie was the beginning of many things! Winning the Hariban Jury Award in 2017 and being in New 2018 was an incredible boost, which I’m very thankful for. In terms of the bigger picture, I’m not interested in trying to map out a set path or career. I’m focussed on work and creation and this is something that builds and evolves throughout your whole life. Actually, I have never really had a ‘real’ job or career. In the early 90s I dropped out of studying an economics degree, followed my heart and started a sound studio. This enabled me to make a living out of my artistic ‘skills’ in composition and sound design. At some point the continuous cycle of deadlines in the advertising world started to put too much pressure on my health, and luckily, I managed to ‘escape’ just in time. Interestingly there many parallels between sound and photography. Multiple disciplines reinforce one another, and you can learn a lot from overlaps and intersections. Ultimately, I believe life is all about expressing yourself, and the way that manifests itself keeps on evolving. The more focus you have, the more distinct it becomes.
I believe life is all about expressing yourself (…). The more focus you have, the more distinct it becomes”.
In the same year, you also did an Art Residency in LabVerde, Amazonia (Brazil). What did this experience mean to your work and your personal development?
Exploring ecosystems and witnessing the unbelievably rich biodiversity of the rainforest made a life-altering impression on me. I still can’t find the words to describe it. The fundamental cycles of life are so present, that you actually become part of it, and slowly begin to understand that we as human beings are void and subordinate to a larger whole. But this ‘whole’ is ultimately vulnerable to the devastation that we inflict upon it as humans. In the Amazon you feel part of an unspoken dialogue with nature, which brings you back to a more primary state of being – one of a curious and playful child.
If I understand correctly, you focus a lot on personal experiences in your work, like “searching for mu”. What are the personal experiences that you communicate in your latest work?
For me, personal experiences are the initial impulses to create. When presenting the work after a period of contemplation, I hope these feelings and emotions become more abstract and universal. In the end it is not about me, not about us, but a deeper universal emotion and connection.
Do you yourself have any daily rituals that help your creativity flow? Do you practice meditation or any of the mindfulness techniques?
I live in a small sustainable house close to the forest. It is nice to wake up very early while the world is just beginning to stir, with the sounds of rustling trees and birds. I then really start my day by making coffee. Taking the time to brew and pour the coffee is a ritual in itself, and it forces you to slow down and connect with what you’re doing. I then cycle to my atelier listening to my classic Pixies albums. But I find real meditation within my practice of photography. Through walking, I get into a rhythm and from there I begin to play and learn.
In your work, you refer to haikus. What is your relation to this poetry style and in what way does it impact your work?
The great wonder of haiku is that we come to know that nothing is fixed. As Gabriel Rosenstock put it so beautifully, “the gentle art of disappearing”. It is ‘egoless’.
It is not about me, not about us, but a deeper universal emotion and connection”.
How does a body of work become a fully finished project? In other words, how do you realise that your project is ready to be published or showcased?
I don’t know if this answers the question, but for me it works far better to focus on the process and not on the project. I like to share the work in progress, turning the invisible into a momentary snapshot and then go on. This helps me to feel free and it releases the pressure of things having to be finished.
What are the recurring themes in your work?
The concept of Éphémère is in fact always my starting point. The process of genesis, metamorphosis and inevitable disappearance, as well as the symbolic correspondences between earth and body. The universal desire for love is also a theme that repeats throughout my work. In terms of recurring elements, I’m definitely a moon addict, and I love the metaphors in particular connecting elements and objects, especially ladders.
Do you already have some sketches of your future projects? What are they?
I’m working on a conceptual book about the Amazon and on a third Mu-book, the follow-up of Continuum. For collectors who started with Searching for Mu and have Continuum as well, Akiko and I are designing a custom box to put all three books in, as a thank you gift. You will get this for free with the third book.
In your work, you are drawn to a dark, mysterious colour scheme – is there a specific concept behind your choice of colours and their combinations?
Taco Hidde Bakker captured this perfectly [in the introduction to Éphémère]: “The ephemeral is also expressed through the moonlit landscapes and the dusk, that transitional zone in between the harsh light of day and the depths of the night”. I also like to quote my mentor Klavdij Sluban: “art is digging into darkness”. Of course, this is not meant literally (laughing), but, yes, I truly believe beauty often arises from the obscure, and I’m always fascinated by a mysterious atmosphere. The nocturnal reawakens our primal senses.
The universal desire for love is also a theme that repeats throughout my work”.
Are your images spontaneous or are they staged?
I believe that where the recipe starts, creativity ends, so personally, I’m not interested in highly produced photography, with all the lighting, makeup and styling teams involved. This just doesn’t fit within the philosophy behind my work, which is truly about play. I love exploring coincidences and embracing mistakes. The photo that you would throw away at first, often is the most beautiful in the end. I like to just go out with a little camera and walk and walk and walk, breathe, trust, let go, and see what happens.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I hope to become a better human being, and to still be able to keep searching for the beauty in the poignant knowledge that life inevitably ends and we disappear into the infinite nothing.