Nadjib Le Fleurier

The Man Behind The Lens

“I use different mediums – I use photography, sculpture and whatever else that I need to use when it actually conveys what I want to say. But at the moment and for the last few years I’ve been using mainly photography. The idea is to illustrate various aspects of human life using nature or using human beings; whichever I use, I always convey the same emotions.”
Nadjib Le Fleurier

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Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib Le Fleurier

To coincide with his music-centric “Selected Works” month-long exhibition of photographic prints at the Windmill Hotel, Cricklewood, from May 1st to June 1st, 2014, quote: “…illustrating the deep, mental, emotional, and physical bond between instrument and their musicians,” ukvibe’s Michael “The Dood” Edwards sought to learn first-hand what initiated the idea and also garner further insight into the mind of this dedicated purveyor of “Visual Arts,” Nadjib Le Fluerier during a rare interview.

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The Dood: Nadjib, before we get into the essence of the exhibition, can you give the ukvibe readership a brief synopsis of who you are, and when and where you discovered your passion for photography and visual arts in general?

Nadjib: Well briefly, I’m mixed race Franco/Indian – my father was Indian. I was brought up in Paris, but I lived in a sort of artists intellectual elite. That was part of my father’s life. We lived in a small accommodation as children and we shared a flat with an artist, a Spanish refugee, a painter. I think that was my first contact with art.

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Nadjib with his grandfather
Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib Le Fleurier

The Dood: How old were you?

Nadjib: One, two or three… So at that stage, the bedroom was shared between me, my younger brother and that painter’s daughter, and he was storing a painting in the room. So I had the painting in my face, I had the smell of the paint and I used to love to go to his studio, so he made a small easel for me. And that’s where I started really, I started with him. It wasn’t an academic education, I started with him. Then I carried on working with some of my father’s friends, mostly in paintings, sculpture and engraving; working in my father’s friends studios. And this has never left me. I was going to school and doing sport like every other kid, but I had this other part of my life which was that visual expression.

I carried on my studies up to University, at that time I went to an art school, but I couldn’t reconcile fine art with academic studies – I didn’t like it, so I stopped it and carried on doing my own work exhibiting here and there in Paris. But at the end of those formative years as a mixed-race person, I ended up asking myself, “Am I happy here?” “Where can I really be happy?” The answer to that was to obviously leave and travel. So I’ve lived in different countries, India, the West Indies, Holland, then I came to London and that’s when I felt comfortable; I felt that I could actually attempt to do what I wanted to do.

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Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib Le Fleurier

The Dood: When did you leave Paris to travel to India and Europe?

Nadjib: 1982/3, I was about twenty-two/twenty-three, I can’t remember exactly.

The Dood: Was it a few months or a few years before you eventually settled in London?

Nadjib: I left in I think was in ’82, and I reached England in ’88, so quite a few years.

The Dood: But you were discovering yourself and also broadening your horizons?

Nadjib: Yes.

The Dood: Travel broadens the mind right?

Nadjib: That’s right! The thing is no one in my family has ever lived where they were born.

The Dood: Nomads?

Nadjib: We’re kind of modern-day nomads in a way. The specificity in our family is that we’ve got different languages; French, English and various others. So we’ve always felt that we don’t belong to a country, we don’t belong to a ruler, we go where we feel that we can do what we want to do. So in that sense leaving France wasn’t difficult, what was difficult was to find the place that I was going to actually stay in and that I’ll be happy with. London just provided me with that environment.

The Dood: Did you start and raise your family in London?

Nadjib: Yes.

The Dood: When did you identify visual arts as being your main career path and source of income to support your family?

Nadjib: As you know the life of an artist is hap-hazardous financially, so I’ve always had odd jobs here and there, but the closest to fine art was design. So I’ve always been here and there dipping into the design world, but when my first daughter was born, that’s when I decided to leave fine arts for a while – at least as long as I needed to provide for and educate them and pay the mortgage, so I worked purely in design and advertising. I did that from 1990 when my first daughter was born and I stopped in 2004.

So during that time it was a bit of a weird period for me, because I had a successful career which is what you would call “a profession” if one was to write it on their CV, but my being, my essence has always been of an artist. So I had to hold that urge for all those years because I had decided to focus on bringing up my family and putting one hundred percent of my time in there. So I was a bit like an alcoholic crossing the road when he sees a pub, I had to stay away from it. I knew that I would be able to come back to it once I brought up the kids and that I have lived a little bit more and hopefully have a little bit more to say.

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Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib Le Fleurier

The Dood: So fine art/visual art was always your chief definite aim?

Nadjib: Well that’s what I grew up with, so when people were asking me what you will do later I was always a bit stuck as what to say; because being an artist is not only a profession, it’s a way of life. In a way when they were asking what profession I want to do, I couldn’t answer. And when I saw people wanting to be doctors and this and that, I thought, “Oh, this is serious! Because I haven’t got anything, I’m only an artist.” This is what I was from the start really.

The Dood: Thank you for that brief synopsis. I believe our initial introduction was via our mutual friend, trumpeter, composer and bandleader Kevin Davy and our subsequent gig review of The Kevin Davy Quartet’s (KD Q) performance at the Hackney Picture House in March 2013. Fast forwarding to 2014 – why this exhibition and why now?

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Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib Le Fleurier

Nadjib: I use different mediums – I use photography, sculpture and whatever else that I need to use when it actually conveys what I wanted to say. But at the moment and for the last few years I’ve been using mainly photography. The idea is to illustrate various aspects of human life using nature or using human beings; whichever I use, I always convey the same emotions. The thing about music is that music again has been part of my life since I was a child. My father used to play piano and we had music in the house all the time. So I learned music, I grew up with music, I play music, and I had noticed at a young age watching my father play that there is a relationship between him and his instrument. There was a body language; some of the emotions were conveyed through the music and through the body language and through that relationship between him and the music.

So I started to do that again when I was in London, and not simply take pictures of musicians as a Rock ‘n’ Roll star photograph – but really concentrate on close-ups, whether it is the hands, the mouth, the connection with the instrument, or the body language at the end of the bar, but at the end of the song, or in the middle of a solo; anything that can convey music in visually. The reason for me to do it now, is that I felt that over the years I have amassed a substantial amount of work which enables me to separate it into different strands. And this particular body of work that is this exhibition is focusing on the hands and on the mouth; with wind instruments, string instruments and piano.

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Tony Kofi
Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib Le Fleurier

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Tori Handsley
Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib Le Fleurier

The Dood: Very concise?

Nadjib: That’s right. I needed to have a huge body of work to be able to say, “Okay, now I’m just working on winds, now I’m working on strings, now I’m working on keyboard, now working on hands. It’s only now that I have enough to actually select specific aspects of the music environment and actually create something, a story in a way that makes some sense through – I think this time it is seventeen 32” x 42” frames and three or four huge A2 portraits. The huge ones are more like portraits, like something that stands over a chimney place.

The Dood: Are the prints straightforward enlarged photographs from the raw file?

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Kevin Davy
Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib Le Fleurier

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Orphy ‘Vibes’ Robinson
Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib Le Fleurier

Nadjib: I rarely use photography as such and just give the photography. The photography is in a way the canvas; after that I use affect or I change colours or a change the grain – I change the contrast in order to convey what I want to. So is not a picture just taken and printed, it’s worked; it’s a departure from the original as it were.

The Dood: I can see from the eclectic mix of subjects that you have a diverse love of Jazz in all its forms, would that be an accurate observation?

Nadjib: Yes. I like everything from old jazz, really old traditional New Orleans Jazz, right up to improvisation. I like a very simple tune, but I also respect and admire technique. But ultimately what is the essential element for me is that it has to move me, it has to touch me. If it’s technical but it doesn’t touch me, I’m not quite as interested. I can appreciate the technique, but it hasn’t given me what I expect, what I expect is to be transported, to be moved, to be touched. I expect the music to generate an image, to stimulate my imagination, bring back memories – it has to touch me one way or another.

The Dood: You’ve broached the answer to my next question, which was, “What inspires you to pick up the camera and go along the Charlie Wright’s or a Mau Mau’s etc?”

Nadjib: I think I can add there, that there is obviously the pleasure of the music. But with the camera, because I know music and once I observe the musicians for a little while before taking pictures, I’ve got the camera ready with a sense of anticipation; because after a while I know at what time what movement is going to come, what expression on the face is going to come – because each musician develops a body language that is unique to him or her. And this is what I try to capture.

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Ayanna Witter-Johnson
Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib Le Fleurier

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Roan McCormick
Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib Le Fleurier

The Dood: Have you done any exhibitions previous to this one?

Nadjib: I’ve done quite a lot of exhibitions throughout the years – solo and group exhibitions, but this is the first time I am showing the work around music.

The Dood: Have any of your offspring shown any creative talent in the realm of visual arts?

Nadjib: They’ve obviously been exposed to it, and as kids they would come in my studio, they would paint and they would draw, they would do sculpture with clay. I’ve got a lot of tools and I build furniture as well, so the younger one is quite handy in that sense, she builds furniture with me. When I’m doing something in the house repairing, changing, converting, she puts her overalls on and she’s creative in that sense. They’re not creative in the conventional sense meaning they’re not musicians or artists, or writers. But they’ve picked up the essential bit of being an artist which is to create – which is the concept of imagining, conceiving and making.

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Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib Le Fleurier

The Dood: That’s very potent; please elaborate?

Nadjib: Imagining, conceiving and then giving life (making) – that’s creating! You sit down and something comes into your mind – a dream – something you see triggers an idea, you develop it, so it’s something that started in your brain as pure imagination, pure dream; and it becomes a reality, something you gave birth to, something that is materially existing, that is alive and there!

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Omar Puente Fiffe
Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib Le Fleurier

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Pat Thomas
Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib Le Fleurier

The Dood: Outside of your father’s friend who were some of your photographic of visual art inspirations in general?

Nadjib: There are too many to mention, but again the formative element was that my father’s friend worked at the Louvre Museum in Paris. I had the privilege to go there outside of hours and into the cellar, which holds more than what is open to the public. I think what influenced me the most, because I had to study that as well, was the ‘Old Masters’ i.e. light, colours and composition – a sense of perspective and composition which was and still is essentially my work. Whatever work you’re going to see, there is a sense of composition. Even if it’s live, it is a composition.

The Dood: From your career thus far what advice would you give to young aspiring fine artists or visual artists?

Nadjib: The first thing you have to do is to put yourself in a particular state of mind. And the simplest way to define or describe that state of mind is to try to recapture the innocence of a child’s eyes and the child’s heart. Be open to what you see, be receptive and acknowledge what you feel, what your environment is, what is happening, what you’re living, what you’re experience is making you feel; then try and transmit that to others in one way or another – whether it be music, dance, writing, visual, whatever means you have of communication; because this is still ultimately a mode of communication, passing something onto others.

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Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib Le Fleurier

The Dood: What plans do you have for the future?

Nadjib: I’ve been working on a long book, a long story with different chapters, always using nature to illustrate certain aspects of human nature. This is convenient because by using nature and not the human figure, my message can be universal. You can’t say, “Oh, this is not me, it’s not my skin colour, or it’s not my religion, or it’s not my region.” – It’s nature. So it can reach anybody, and I feel that in that way my message can be universal, and it can’t be turned down on bigotry or racist reasons… I’m addressing anybody. So I illustrate various aspects of human life, I’ve illustrated death, I’ve illustrated rebirth, I’ve illustrated fertility and eroticism, which are intrinsically linked to the survival of human nature besides the pleasure of life itself.

And now in Cornwall I’ve been taking pictures of slates and rocks and the harsh landscapes of the shore front to illustrate the memory of the passing of time that doesn’t add to the memory of who was there before. So in a sense I could call it “The Ancestors.” So that’s my next exhibition. I’m going to unveil it in Cornwall because that’s where it’s originated, and then show it in London in the next coming months.

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Nadjib with daughters Leila and Aminah
Photo: Courtesy of Nadjib Le Fleurier

The Dood: Nadjib Le Fleurier, I look forward to reviewing the exhibition during the time it’s on show and subsequent exhibitions as well. Thank you.

Nadjib: Thank you.

Michael J Edwards

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