Sophie Calle: ‘I asked for the moon and I got it’

When Sophie Calle first tried photography, she was told to pick another career. The great French conceptual artist reveals how she persevered – and finally got her revenge

I was living in a village in northern California. In a photographer’s house. I wanted to make use of everything to hand there. Cameras. A darkroom. Seizing the opportunity. I had always been attracted to cemeteries, and so I went to the one in the village and took photographs of some graves without really realising how strange they were. One had an inscription “Brother-Sister” with no family name. I was pleased with the pictures. I called my father, who had always said he would help me once I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I had been gone for nearly seven years and wanted to return to Paris. Any reason would do. Why not photography?

So I went back and enrolled on a photography course. The teacher took me up to the first level of the Eiffel Tower. From there, I photographed gardeners laying turf for a lawn. I didn’t feel I needed a teacher for that. It was the only class I ever attended.

I liked those pictures from the Eiffel Tower. Quite liked them. I was lost and had no real desires. My father was an art collector. And I don’t think he was proud of me. I decided to win him over. I paid close attention to what he had hanging on his apartment walls that I thought could be imitated: I found Duane Michals, his black and white photographs, his handwritten captions. And I got down to it.

In my work, it is the text that has counted most. And yet the image was the beginning of everything. My first work was called The Sleepers. I asked people to give me a few hours of their sleep. To come and sleep in my bed. To let themselves be looked at and photographed. To answer a few questions. To each participant, I suggested an eight-hour stay. I contacted by phone people I didn’t know and whose names were suggested by shared acquaintances, a few friends, and residents of the neighbourhood whose work required them to sleep during the day: the baker for instance. I intended my bedroom to become a constantly occupied space for eight days, with sleepers succeeding one another at regular intervals. The occupation of the bed began on Sunday 1 April 1979 at 5pm, and ended on Monday 9 April at 10 am

see full article here

Comments are closed.