Reine Paradis

by Keely Shinners

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"Colors are very important in the visions of my series."
Walking into Reine Paradis’s exhibition, “Jungle,” feels surreal, not quite quotidien, and not quite like a dream. There are the familiar white walls and meticulously displayed works one might find in any gallery show, but bathed in the peculiar, romantic light of midday sun through the blue film on the windows. The images, fifteen from Reine’s latest series, depict strange, uncanny worlds of bright colors, sharp geometries, and anonymous figures, harkening to abstract painting and minimalist surrealism. But still, there are beautiful, intricate details lurking beneath the intensity-- the texture of an empty pool, grass peeking out of the concrete-- reminders that these are photographs. Manicured and staged, but real nevertheless.

Talking with Reine feels no different. She is casual, calm, and comfortable as we discuss her work. We drink coconut water and talk about how in love we are with L.A., like old friends. But we also dig into deeper questions of imagination, performance, balance, and dedication to art- making, the kinds of conversations you might expect in a critical theory seminar, not between two young women drinking coconut water on a hot afternoon in June.

Art is a medium of representation that chooses neither reality or fantasy, but allows room for fluidity, new dimensions, in-between space. This is the aim of Reine’s project as a whole, the language we continually returned to in our conversation. How do you create a world in between the real and the imaginary?

How long have you been in LA?

It’s been four years.

And you’re originally from France?

Yes, the southwest, near Toulouse. I grew up in a very remote place, in the countryside. Not far from town, but my house was very remote.

You envision and then draw out all of your images before you photograph them. What is the role of the vision in your work?

It’s very important. It’s from the visions that I start developing all the scenes. Usually, it comes from a location that I discover and that inspires me. But it can also come from pure imagination. Sometimes, the scene evolves over one or two years. Sometimes, a scene appears as a whole. Sometimes there are fragmented pieces of the scene, and they all merge together with time. Usually, it takes a while.

Do you find it difficult to translate this vision into a tangible image?

No, actually, images are perfect to illustrate what I have in my mind. I can create exactly what I have in my mind with my system, with all the locations that I discover.

How do you tow the line between reality and imagination, especially working in the photographic medium, which is so often conflated with realism?

The way I use photography as a medium is not the conventional way, like you said, to just shoot what is real in your eyes. I use photography to make real what I have in my mind. My work is a mix of reality and imagination. It merges them to create a new world. When you look at my images, it feels surrealistic. But at the same time, if you really look close, you know that it’s real in some sort of way. It’s between the two.

Your work is very meticulous-- well manicured lines, sharp colors, diligent continuity between the images in the series. Why is this meticulousness important to you?

It just came naturally. I knew I always wanted to use photography in my work. Naturally, it imposed itself to my system of creation. Also, since I am photographed in the image, I can really feel the image.

You said you always knew you wanted to work with photography. What was your first introduction?

I went to art school in France. I didn’t go to photography school, but I was exposed to photography. Most of the time, I used photography for my projects. Again, it just came naturally with my work.

How did LA influence this series?

When I moved to LA four years ago, I started shooting a lot of buildings. I love the light here, because it is so different. I love the intensity of the light, in LA, and Palm Springs. I shot some of my scenes there too. The light makes you look at things very differently. Also, what I love about LA is that the colors are very intense. You have buildings that are very symmetrical, minimalist. They’re very different from where I grew up. When I moved, right away, I was attracted to this kind of architecture. Those vast areas. You can really start dreaming. It’s very different from Paris, or anywhere else in France.

Would you say, other than the architecture or the colors, something about the intensity of the people or culture inspired you?

Yeah, maybe it contributed to my vision. Also, the fact that, in LA, I felt for the first time in my life very liberated. I moved by myself. I didn’t know anybody. I had never been to the States before. I didn’t plan to go back. I really took a decision to move, and I found a way to get a visa and everything. After the first day, actually, I knew I wanted to stay. I loved everything. I still love everything about LA.

When you look at the image, you can find little details-- the grass peeking out the cement, the filter in the pool-- that break up the intensity of the image. When you look at these details, do they excite you, or do you wish the images were cleaner?

Actually, I like the details. The white in the pool has this texture; you can see the filter. When I was retouching the images, I saw those details. I kept them intentionally. It adds another dimension to those images. And more on the “real” side of the image.

Why blue, orange, and mint for this series? Did those colors just speak to you aesthetically, or are there more of semantics meaning behind the colors specifically?

The blue that I use is a Klein blue. Since I was maybe 14 years old, I always loved this color. It’s been my favorite color for the last fifteen years. I’m very drawn to this blue. I’m not really aware of the effects this blue has on me directly. But I’m sure there is something. I feel, in my images, the blue is calmer. It’s the sky, the lake. It’s a peaceful color. I have been into this neon orange for a few years as well. The combination of the two colors came naturally. The orange is as intense as the blue, in its own way.

The blue and the orange are really intense, but the blue feels more natural, and the orange is more artificial.

Yeah. Blue is what is real, and orange is more the imagination or creation of the new world. Regarding the minty color, it happened by chance, actually. It started with the image on the roof of a 7/11. At first, I wanted to change the color to orange. But I think it looks goodwith those blue and orange.

It’s a softer color.

The mint compliments the blue and the orange. Colors are very important in the visions of my series. I think with colors. Sometimes, I develop scenes just by using the colors.

You are the model in all of your photographs. You also wear a blonde wig in them. What is the thought process behind being in all of your images?

At first, I wanted to have somebody to be the model. Then, I thought,  it feels more natural that I am part of the image. I feel, now, that it is very important that I am part of the image. I know exactly the emotion that I have when I paint the scene at first. When we shoot the scene, I really feel the energy. I feel it would be different if it were somebody else. You can describe to somebody an emotion or feeling, but only to an extent. I think, for this series, it makes it even deeper, more alive.

I want to ask about the role of performance in your work. Are you thinking about becoming a different character for each of the photos?

For each scene, the mood or feeling is very different. There is no scene that would have the same emotion. When I shoot, I don’t think about a character that could inspire this emotion. It really comes from the feeling of the scene.

So it’s not a persona, but more performing a certain depth?

Yes. With the body also. Some of the images are softer, some are tight in the body. In some of the images, you don’t know if I’m alive or dead. For example, “Tennis.” Some of the postures are passive, some are dynamic, like the lake. But there is always this image of the film still, as if you were shooting a movie, and you paused it. It’s as if you caught someone just before something happened. They are on the brink. In “Tennis,” the image could have been shot just after something happened. But again, you don’t know. I never had in mind that some specific thing happened. It’s an in-between moment.

Some of the figures in these photos are active-- the diving photo for example-- and some are passive-- like the figure lying down on a tennis court. What are you saying with the combination of active and passive characters in this series?

It depends on the vision of the scene and what accompanies the themes or mood. But this is decided with the original little paintings. I know what will be the theme with the body. A lot of the figures in your photos are obscured, looking away from the camera, veiled by umbrellas and sunhats.

Why look away?

It’s not something that I decided, to not expose my face. Maybe it would distract the scene. In my images, the place, the background, and the character are as important. If suddenly, you would see my face, your eye would go straight to it, and it wouldn’t be balanced. Yes, the character is important, but it’s not everything in the image. It’s part of a whole entity. The body, also, without the face, can reflect an energy. Also, it gives the viewer the possibility to imagine his own story. I also have a wig. If I don’t tell you it’s me, you won’t think it’s me at first. I do that for the same reason, so it’s not all about the character, but instead, it works for the image as a whole.

Tell me more about the origami animals. What is the thought process behind adding those to the scene?

They are as important as the character. For each scene, they appear in the vision. Then, I have to do research and make them look how I envisioned. They are between reality and imagination again. You know it’s a real paper sculpture, but it’s not a real animal.

Tell me more about the "Jungle." It seems kind of antithetical to the pictures, which are so fresh, open, and urban, not at all like the suffocating, naturalism feeling of a jungle. Is it like a concrete jungle? Did you want the title to be antithetical to the work?

I called this series “Jungle” because of the first scene I wanted to shoot in LA.  For a few months, I scouted a lot of places, looking for that jungle. I found a great location and for practically a year, I went to this jungle whenever I could go to manicure it. In the end, the location was a bit too wild for my initial vision but while I was there, I had these other ideas that emerged for the series. Also, I feel, in a way, because I have animals and a lot is going on in these images, especially when you see them together, it could be a jungle. It could be a new sort of jungle. Not a real place, and not totally a fake place. It’s an imaginary space.

That story seems to capture the idea of discovering the place, which inspires everything else.

Yeah. It is the root of inspiration for the whole series.

You're working on a new series right now. Is it a continuation of “Jungle?” What is going to be different about this round of photos?

I have already conceptualized all of the scenes. There will be fifteen in the series, the same number as this one. I would say it’s an evolution of the first series, but I don’t think it will be called “Jungle.”

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