12 mai. 2022JIL KUGENER: CAPTURING THE MUNDANE
Jil Kugener is a Luxembourgish photographer whose first exhibition at Am Gronn was a real success. From street photography to portraits, the talented visual storyteller seeks to capture the authenticity of everyday life on her many travels. Check out her new exhibition at the Quaichleker Bichereck in Echternach until the 30th May.
Could you tell us more about your current exhibition?
This exhibition is my second one, although it’s the first one I’m doing completely on my own. It all started when I met my mother’s friend who owns a little bookshop in the centre of Echternach. I immediately fell in love with the place, it’s very casual and cozy, it feels like you’re sitting in somebody’s living room. I asked him if I could show my pictures there and he was delighted at the idea! I focused on a selection of urban portraits, mostly street photography because that’s how my photographic journey started. The photographs are from my travels, from 2019 to 2022, including the lockdown phase when I was taking pictures in Luxembourg and Scotland, always trying to capture small moments. The selection process for this exhibition allowed me to take the time to go through my archive and look at my work from a different perspective; I really feel like these are some of my best pictures from the past three years. All of them reflect my desire to capture the small moments in everyday life, the mundane. This is my main theme, but right now I’m trying to delve in the world of portraiture a bit more as I’d like to experiment and expand my skills.
© Jil Kugener
When did you start doing street photography?
I believe it started in 2014 when I discovered analogue photography back in high school. I was introduced to both analogue and digital photography during the first year and then you could specialise in one of them in the second and third year. Up to that point I had no art background, I was studying literature and languages, so this class allowed me to do something artistic in the last three years of high school. In that class, I learned how to use an analogue camera, how to develop my own film and how to appreciate how immersive the whole process is. Most of all, it taught me how valuable patience is in any analogue process. Back then I only shot in black and white. One summer I decided to start using colour film after my brother suggested it. Although black and white pictures offer a very interesting perspective, it can be limiting at times. Colour can be so much more revealing, and colour composition and colour balance are some of the elements I’m looking for in this moment of my artistic development.
One of the main trips that was important for my photography journey was New York in 2019, some will recognise a few pictures from both my exhibitions at Am Gronn and Quaichleker Bichereck! Looking back on those pictures, the colour is what spoke to me the most. And in a way, these pictures are a way for me to capture memories that might otherwise get lost in the excess of impressions I get during my trips. For example, a person walking through the streets minding their own business, having an ice cream or a street musician playing the saxophone, it’s the simple things really. My mother believes in practicing gratitude every day, appreciating the small things and drawing happiness from them as much as possible, and I think her mindset has not only influenced my personal life but also the way I capture moments and share them with other people.
Travelling is a big part of your work, is it a personal hobby or strictly for artistic purposes?
I started appreciating travelling more when I linked it to photography. My camera allows me to explore a city in very anonymous way. I do enjoy travelling with other people but what I love the most is walking through a city and discovering it for the first time, getting lost and seeing a city through captured moments. Travelling and photography are very much interconnected for me and that obviously came to a halt during lockdown; I was stuck in Scotland with bad weather for four months and during that time I had to find a new way to connect with my art. I had just got to together with my girlfriend around that time so when we were living together, I started taking portraits of her. Because I know her so well, I felt really comfortable taking her portraits and diving into the world of portraiture. It wasn’t as daunting as I thought it would be, and doing it with someone so familiar while you are still figuring out to properly take portraits wasn’t nearly as awkward as it would have been with a stranger. As being surrounded by new visual inspiration regularly brings out a lot of new ideas and fuels my photography, I like to discover new places and travel as much as I can. Capturing a sense of normality and the mundane aspect of everyday life gives me a feeling of connectedness rather than just looking at all of the big monuments or the sightseeing spots in a city.
© Jil Kugener
How do you deal with taking pictures of random people from a legal perspective?
Usually, I try to have some eye contact with people first, if they seem like they don’t have a problem with it then I just go for it! What also helps is that I do take a lot of pictures of people from their backs or from further away, so there is still this sense of anonymity which I like. When I went to New York in 2019, I felt this sense of openness from American people, a very different attitude towards cameras compared to Luxembourg. For example, I saw this very aesthetically pleasing gas station on one of my walks and as I was taking pictures of it the owner asked me to stop, that it made him uncomfortable. I obviously respected his wishes, but I feel like a situation like that would be much less likely to happen in New York because everyone is so used to being photographed, possibly because of America’s media culture. Here in Europe, people seem to be more private, more camera-shy. Neither culture is positive or negative, but it does impact the type of pictures I take based on where I travel.
Are you currently a full-time photographer?
I’m a freelance photographer, I do projects here and there. My most recent one was for a musician called Boy From Home, he’s a friend of mine and I took pictures for his new single. I try to work with friends as much as possible as my goal this year is to build a portfolio. I also had photoshoots with the Luxembourgish musicians Maale Gars and ZANA. Even though it is my biggest passion, I don’t want to commit myself fully to photography because that is not my main focus at this point in my life. Right now, I’m working at Mudam as a freelance art mediator, after having finished my studies in English and History of Art in Scotland. Since I’m taking a one-year break from university before starting my Master’s in September, this year gave me a lot of free time to travel and take pictures for my own pleasure. This year I told myself that whatever permanent job I have in the future, I want to have time to be a freelance photographer, have passion projects and inspiring collaborations. I’m not doing it full time because I feel happiest having a range of different things to do and be passionate about. I always want to choose why and when I take pictures, because authenticity is what I’m trying to capture through these genuine moments of everyday life. I always chose to listen to my feelings, because if I don’t, I risk my pictures reflecting that.
© Jil Kugener
Has your time as a student in Scotland influenced your street photography?
Moving to Scotland definitely made me more open to travelling a bit further because it initially seemed so far away from home. It’s very different from Luxembourg in a lot of ways and I guess it gave me this strong desire to explore the world. I dared to go to a place that barely anyone that I knew ever went to, I didn’t know what to expect but I took this leap of faith and it paid off. It taught me how important it is to get out of your comfort zone. It encouraged me to travel more by myself, and that’s what I did when I travelled to New York. I had just turned 21 and was lucky enough to find a really cheap flight and did some couchsurfing with a stranger in Brooklyn, it was insane! But since the last lockdown, I challenged myself to do more portraits, to capture genuine emotions and fierceness in a person’s face. I appreciate the balance that I have found between the anonymity of strangers and the vulnerability of familiar faces.