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“I know where the naked bodies should be placed”

ONLINE EXCLUSIVE! A new exhibition by French photographer Ruben Brulat, whose work explores the connection between the nude human body and grand landscapes of natural elements, is on display now at Urban Spree through Sep 22.

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Photo by Ryan O’Shea

Urban Spree sees the exhibition of French photographer Ruben Brulat, whose work explores the connection between the nude human body and grand landscapes of natural elements.

As a young romantic, French photographer Ruben Brulat was known for lending his own naked body to geographic self-portraits – nakedness embracing the surrounding urban/landscapes – from the Alps to a mythical nocturnal La Défense. Brulat took the challenge further (literally) by making a one-and-a-half year pilgrimage from Paris to China, with many stops on his way back.

Five out of the 12 large format pictures of the resulting series (Sharing Paths) are now exhibited at Urban Spree. In them, naked bodies (not his own anymore) embrace natural elements, from the red sand hills of the Gobi Desert in Mongolia, to the volcanoes of Indonesia or the tropical forests of Nepal – in grandiose, perfectly staged compositions.

Also on display is Instances, a series of behind-the-scenes shots: a game of Buzkashi played with the headless body of a goat, prayers in Uzbekistan or Nepal, households in Tibet, a flag-waving man in a distant Japanese village. The smaller snapshots work as a fascinating testimony of the traveller’s reality behind the artist’s reality, while their immediacy perfectly completes the more distant aesthetics of Brulat’s work.

Check out the actual work at the slideshow to the left.

Where does your fascination with nature and travelling come from?

I come from a family of craftsmen. We lived in a tiny house separated from the rest of the world in the middle of vineyards in the South of France. So when I was young I was always in nature. My parents loved hiking and they’d take me to the Alps when I was three months old. And then there were a lot of people passing by, a lot of strangers, and I could imagine stories about them, think of places that they might come from. Probably that’s what attracted me in seeking new places.

And what about photography?

I discovered photography when I was 19. I had a camera and suddenly I realised that I could actually channel all of my energy there. Amazing! First, I started taking self-portraits. And then one day I was in Iceland. I was alone there, in the middle of nowhere, and all of a sudden I thought: this rock over there looks fantastic, I want to embrace it with my bare skin. It was actually both – to embrace and to be embraced. Will I be accepted? Can I really be a part of it? My work with naked bodies was an intensive experience, beyond everything I had lived through before.

Your naked bodies are very interesting. They seem more magnetic than erotic…

I am fascinated by the relationship between the body and the landscape. What is the dialogue between them? What do we do, or how do we feel when there is nothing left to us but the body? It’s also a bit about coming back to the origins, when we were wandering in nature. I love the simplicity, the physicality of feelings. At the same time it’s a very philosophical, a transcendental experience. I would compare it to meditation.

It also looks potentially… painful! Has the experience been traumatic to you or any of your models?

You feel so vulnerable and fragile, but also so strong. Because you are there. Because you’ve made it. But those were temporary, “pathing-through” bits of experience. If you would have gone slightly too far, for instance, stayed in the snow for more than the couple of minutes I needed for the shot, you wouldn’t have made it. Sometimes it was painful. People had wounds. Once there were leeches all around. But somehow the very decision to go there naked has always been the biggest step.

Who are those people in the pictures?

It all started when I was photographing myself naked in nature. That was for my Primates series. Then I set out for a long journey and while travelling I was meeting so many interesting people. Sometimes they were travellers, just like I was. Sometimes they were locals. So after a few days of co-travelling or friendship and sharing things and emotions I would ask them if they wanted to share this experience with me.

How was the work on the series actually organised?

There was nothing pre-planned. I did not know beforehand which specific spots I would take and what specific pictures. I would wait for this moment where I would have a person who would be ready, where there would be nature that would be magnificent enough to give you all of the feelings, and see if the light was right. So basically the whole idea was – randomness. I had hundreds of possibilities for taking pictures, but if there was no right person around, or I felt the place was not right I would just let it all go and keep on going. For me that was a new challenge.

But you also must have known very well what you wanted…

I let the randomness decide for me. So it was intuitive. But again, when I am at the moment I take decisions according to what I had in mind.

What exactly did you have in mind to bring unity into this rather intuitive and accidental process?

I take mostly vertical format pictures, because I like the movement of the landscape. Then there’s never the sky. I do not look at it. I look at the earth. Whatever is there on the ground. So it’s very terrestrial. Then I work with the scale and proportions. I know where the naked bodies should be placed. Those are the constants of my work so far. And that’s what brings unity.

You’ve been travelling for over a year and must have assembled a huge amount of material. Are you going to explore this narrative further?

The book I’ve made was a way for me to finally put all those things together. Paths was 15 pictures, three of which were lost when passing through Iranian customs. There are 12 left and that’s it.

What about a Berlin project?

I love this place. But I think I am just too restless to settle for a project here. My plan is to go somewhere exotic. Into the mountains. And just walk there. Alone. And take photos. The unknown is something I get extremely attracted to. It is my comfort zone, but it does not mean that I am comfortable there. How am I going to respond to it? How is it going to change me? Or assault me? It’s all interesting in the end. So I guess I’ll keep on working on the naked bodies embracing nature. I feel there is still potential there. But then I’ll probably end up somewhere completely different.

Ruben Brulat – Sharing Paths. Sep 7-Sep 22. Urban Spree Galerie. Revaler Str. 99 Warschauer Str. S+U Warschauer Str.

Tue – Sat: 12:00 – 20:00