Published on March 28th, 2014 | by Chris Campbell


Tweaking Reality, Life/Death, & Trilobites

The countless promos for pricy perfumes, the ads for high-end rum, and all the other irksome marketing humdrum vanished from the streets of Paris. And what settled into the newly blank spaces? Marvel, awe, and beauty, thanks to Etienne Lavie.

OMG, who stole my ads? is Lavie’s project. Intrigued, I emailed Lavie a request for an interview which he politely declined. He was declining all interviews.

All photos by Etienne Lavie unless noted otherwise.

CC: Why no interviews?

EL: Because I don’t want what I say to blur what I do, my images. But, I would love to be featured on your website, which I found very interesting. Very in line with my way of life. How could we do it?  

[We decided that the questions should skirt around the project itself, letting the endeavor exist independently.]

CC: What instigated you to tweak reality to a more suitable form? And is it a satisfying feeling?

This work has deep roots in me, years perhaps. So one day, in the evening, I had an epiphany about our occidental societies. So much time, energy and money are spent to push us toward a bad direction. (Eat ! Buy! Throw away and buy again! Don’t be satisfied! Why would you be? You are not even a top model.)

Each ad is selling not just a car, a phone, or a jewel, but a whole way of life based on possession and impatience.

I asked myself: “what if all the ads in the world were coaxing us to be patient, passionate, satisfied with what we have, deeply curious, tolerant, and eager to forgive others? And it’s about more than the ads being detrimental; it became about asking myself what would happen if that advertising energy were redirected into addressing our need for satisfying values.

A  whirlwind of images and pictures came to my mind. I was moved, a little transporté. I felt great, and I only had to start creating these images. That was the best part. Now that I have begun this work it is a great feeling, indeed, to tweak reality to a more suitable form. It is about freedom.


CC: What kind of a kid were you? How wild was your imagination? And can you trace your enamorment with art to a particular moment in time?

I was always in the streets of my neighborhood; I was speaking a lot with elderly people. I remember these older folk called me “neighborhood sunshine”. (Le rayon de soleil du quartier). I am quite proud about that.

I don’t know if my imagination was wild when I was very young, but since I became a grown up I do think my imagination is fertile. I am unearthing concepts, ideas, inventions often.

I love innovation. For example James Dyson, the CEO of Dyson, fascinates me. He is a creator and had to fight against stodgy companies who didn’t want to buy his invention. To solve this he simply created his own company.

Recently, I had the chance to meet Joël de Rosnay who is a kind of famous innovation guru in France. He was born in 1937; he was one of the first surfers in France, back in the 50’s; he spent his life seeking and encouraging innovation. You can see in his shining eyes that his way of seeing things, his curiosity, is a great gift for life. It is not about staying young. It is about getting old but staying thirsty.

About my enamorment with art it comes from my elder brother whom I always considered as a great artist, and maybe a genius. He is a designer for Airbus.

Joel de Rosnay likes to explore molecular biology, the sciences of complexity, emerging information technology, and their implications for the future evolution of humanity. Image by PhOtOnQuAnTiQuE.

Rosnay also likes to surf. Cowabunga! Image by Carrefour du Futur.

CC: What advice do you have for others regarding how to invest mental energy in redressing reality rather than feeling negative emotions or feeling pissed off about the current state of things?

Let it go. One example is if somebody harms you. You link yourself to your offender by resenting them. If you truly, very deeply forgive him/her you are not linked anymore. So it is a kind of selfish forgiveness, and I’m okay with that.

CC: What do you most fear? What is the scariest thing you can think of?

War. When I was a child discovering World War II was, of course, a big shock.  My main fear was to face war one day. And until recently it has been death. I think about death all the time. That is one reason why I started photography. I don’t know why, but I don’t think I will live to be very old.

But Trilobites help me a lot right now, to face my own death.

I recently discovered the immense past existence of Trilobites. These marine animals ruled the world for 400 million years. It was 150 million years before dinosaurs. Then they vanished. There were 20,000 different species of Trilobites, some 70 cm (27 inches) long. They were pretty well organized. They were the bosses on earth. Christianism is about 2.000 years old. I don’t mean our lives have no value. It is quite the opposite. We can enjoy being a tiny part of something great.

Oh, and when you are pissed off, Trilobites can help too. In a traffic jam quit honking and just yell TRILOBITE!

Image by flemertown.Featured image by Mike Beauregard.

CC: Photographers play with light. What is your relationship with light like? Has keenly observing its patterns/tendencies given you any unusual insights?

I think most photographers feel the same: it is great luck to become aware of the different kinds of lights. Hard light, soft light. Warm, cold, etc. You begin to enjoy the day differently.

I love skies too. I live on the fifth floor with a great view of Paris from the roof. Some sunrises are breathtaking. I’ve taken pictures of them for years and I love the images.

CC: What is your dreamscape like? Do you have recurring dreams or nightmares? Do you observe any connections between dreams and waking reality?

I have a recurring dream I snowboard, or I slide on the snow atop all kinds of different stuff. I snowboard and surf in real life, but living in Paris doesn’t afford many opportunities to partake in these hobbies. So I love these dreams!

CC: Are there any rituals surrounding your artistic process?

Not really. Except that I edit while listening to music. Unless I am too tired to do both at the same time.

CC: If the interior of your brain is a place, how would you describe it? What is it like?

A beach from Biarritz, Basque country, France.

Biarritz. Image by Pedroko.Biarritz. Côte des Basques. Image by Petit Boudha.

CC: If freedom were a taste, what would it taste like?


CC: What is your relationship with technology like?

Paradoxical. I always love new technologies. But I keep them at a distance whenever I can. The goal is to really be present where I am.

I gave up smartphones for two years. I had a very cheap phone with no apps. I was fed up with too much information (mail, sms, twitter, push alerts, etc.). Then I came back to a smartphone. But I keep my distance. For example, I don’t use it as an alarm clock. I have an old alarm clock. It is better for sleeping.

CC: How do you define magic?

Making believe.

CC: What’s the last book you read, the last movie you saw, the last album you listened to?

Right now I’m reading a history of happiness in France since 1945.

Last movie: Diplomatie. A French movie about World War II. It’s about how a diplomat convinced the German military governor not to destroy Paris at the liberation. Based on a true story. By the way what this diplomat did was kind of a magic trick.

Last album : Dark Swing from N’didi. I didn’t know her until this morning. But another album I’ve been stuck on these last few weeks is by Rivière Noire.


CC: What’s next for you? Any trips to America on the schedule? We’d love to have you redress our ad-choked cities.

I would love to! But no trip is planned for the USA right now. I love the United States. I have been there about fifteen times and of course I would have plenty of work with your ads! My next trips will be to Venice and London.

CC: What do you envision the world will be like in 2060?

I’ll tell you that in 2061. It will be more accurate.

CC: While we are looking into the future, to steal one from the great James Lipton, if heaven exists what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Come in! I’ll show you Trilobites.

Tweaking Reality, Life/Death, & Trilobites

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About the Author

I live on an island floating in the Puget Sound, a stone's throw from downtown Seattle. I am keenly interested in nature, mysticism, the cosmos, futurism, existentialism, nihilism, kitsch, satire, and miscellaneous whimsy.

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