In the world of photography there is a term known as the decisive moment. Henri Cartier-Bresson said it best, “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression.” A moment in time… the way we see it is not as easy to capture as you may think. It takes patience, a good eye and a love for what you are capturing.
Alain Laboile, a self-taught French artist, quickly mastered finding the decisive moment and has created an incredible body of work. He picked up a camera in 2004 to document his work as a sculptor. Discovering the macro setting on the camera, he took an interest in photographing insects, some of which he submitted to online photography contests and won. In 2007, a whole new world of art was about to begin for Laboile as he pointed his camera towards his family and realized his greatest subjects were right in front of him. At his countryside home, “At The Edge Of The World” in France as he likes to say, he captures the everyday moments of his children’s childhood. The backdrop of his studio is his environment, nature itself. He began to submit his work online and immediately started to receive responses. Within weeks, his art spread worldwide, and he credits this success to social media. With his work displayed in the French Museum of Photography; the first French museum to exhibit his photographs in their 2014 exhibition ‘Aux frontieres de l’intime’ and two books already published with his art, Alain Laboile has definitely made a name for himself among one of the masters.
We are beyond honored to be featuring his art and asking him a few questions in regards to his children’s unplugged upbringing. Welcome Alain to Childhood Unplugged!
Do you remember that pivotal moment when you turned your lens from photographing insects towards your family in 2007 and realized you were onto something big, which was the beginning of your work La Famille?
Yes, it was after the birth of my fifth child in 2007, I pointed my lens towards my growing family and this was, though I did not realize it at first, the starting point of my family album.
I have spent a good amount of time admiring your art and one thought keeps coming to mind, “What an amazing childhood his children are living!” It is not often you see children one with their environment and nature as your children are. How have you seen this lifestyle shape them as individuals?
This simple life close to nature shows them that we can be happy and creative while having a simple life by limiting the consumerism. Each animal is a gift: a rabbit, a fox, a squirrel, a hedgehog, a mole, a mouse, a snake, a spider, a toad… kids are allowed to touch them, but they know that they are not allowed to hurt them. They learn respect. The kids wanted a swimming pool. We decided to dig it ourselves. It was hard-handed work. The entire family was involved in the project. They now know the meaning of effort. There is no ideology hidden behind our lifestyle. We raise our children by following our intuition.
Your six children range in age. While it is easy to document children when they are younger, it becomes more of a challenge as they get older. Do you find that your older children no longer want to be photographed? Or, are they still fine with it?
They never complained that their pictures appear all over the internet. They are proud to see their photos exhibited and published all over the world. I always show my images to my wife and to my children. If one picture is embarrassing for someone, I delete it. If I take less photographs of my teens it is only because they spend much more time out of the home.
I read that your own childhood “had little restraint, no sense of urgency and no concept of time.” growing up in the countryside of France. Did you know before you started your family that this was the way you wanted to raise your children?
We were four brothers, a little bit left to our own, exploring the countryside, not very involved schoolishly. I do not have many memories of my childhood, and no photographs. Both my wife and I grew up in the countryside and we only knew that we wanted to be extremely present for our children. Today it is still the environment that best suits our peaceful family lifestyle. We sometimes feel the lack of cultural opportunities, but we live only 40 km from Bordeaux and three hours by train from Paris.
Unplugging is so important in childhood, but in today’s society there is also a lot of good that comes from technology. You yourself credit social media for your success. I believe there exists a healthy balance between the two. Do your children, especially your older ones, spend time on technological devices?
We have no television, but many computers. First of all, we want to protect ourselves from uninteresting programs and unbearable presenters! Watching television is a total passive activity. Furthermore, the children spend more time outside and play more together without it. We recently started homeschooling. The internet has been a valuable resource.
Do you have boundaries and time restrictions for it?
Not really. We are not very strict regarding schedules like meals and bedtime. When you live with teenagers and small children, you have to be flexible to preserve harmony. The prohibition provokes the frustration. A supervised freedom protects the balance.
You are giving your children a priceless gift by photographing their childhood. What do you want them to remember most when they look back?
Time goes by so quickly. I would like my photos to allow my children to dive back into their childhood when they are adults and feel past emotions. These photographs can be a good help to build themselves as parents. We understand our children better when we remember the child whom we once were and how we lived.
In the majority of your photographs you have captured of your young children, they have very little to no clothes on. While I know this is mostly cultural and completely innocent, there are many people who have a problem with photographing children in the nude. Take Sally Mann for example and all the grief she received for her work Immediate Family. Have you ever had any backlash or negative publicity because of it?
We live in the countryside, in an isolated place. Our children evolve in accordance with nature and the youngest get undressed spontaneously when the weather is fine. As they get older, and the notion of modesty comes, they dress again. It is this infantile nudity which sometimes raises problems. It is sexualized and demonized and this is when the censorship appears. Thanks to my publishers and gallerists, I can show all my photographic work without restriction. I do not mind criticism and attacks on social networks.
You have had worldwide recognition and success with La Famille, a portfolio that you have continued to build. As your children grow into young adults where do you see your art heading in the future?
My little ones are 7 and 8. Two of my teens live at home and the elders spend a lot of time with the family. I usually never photograph kids other than my own. However, when I know them very well, I sometimes make an exception. My oldest daughter’s boy friend whom I’ve known since he was 3 years old, appears in some family photos. Some day, the grand children will enlarge the family. I am not worried about my photographic future! I have a lot of photographic projects in mind.
Alain Laboile’s latest book “At The Edge Of The World ” is available for purchase. I myself own a copy and let me tell you, it is absolutely gorgeous.
To see more of his work, visit Alain Laboile