AN­TOINE D’AGATA has al­ways be­lieved that the truth he seeks can only be re­vealed by drugs, women and dis­tant lands. No voyeur, he sub­jects him­self to the same way of life as those he photographs, shar­ing their suf­fer­ing with them. This to­tal artist liv

SAV­AGE NIGHTS

VOGUE Hommes International (English) - - DUEL - By PHILIPPE AZOURY

—In the au­tumn of 2008, Nan Goldin met An­toine d’Agata, back from a long stay in Cam­bo­dia. He had been her stu­dent in New York in 1990. “Your face was only eyes”, she wrote in a let­ter to him. He was fright­en­ing to look at, so ema­ci­ated that his eyes seemed to take up his en­tire face. His head was shaved, and ev­ery part of his body was tense, as though ready to burst. Ev­ery­one who saw the pho­tog­ra­pher to­wards the end of 2008 upon his re­turn from Cam­bo­dia feared for his life. In­evitably, they all saw that ter­ror had set in and taken over. The pass­ing re­sem­blance to Colonel Kurtz in Apoc­a­lypse Now, which used to make us laugh, had ac­tu­ally fi­nally be­come re­al­ity. And it was quite dif­fer­ent from what we had imag­ined. Quite dif­fer­ent from the fun and games we knew so well — those that are so fa­mil­iar to any­one who paints the town red ev­ery night, in Paris, Tokyo or New York, and spends hours on end sur­rounded by all sorts of worldly junkies, with­drawal–stricken ad­ven­tur­ers, and happy idiots who take four un­wit­ting punk leg­ends as their mod­els.

If you want to plumb the depths of any city, you can also ex­plore the red light dis­tricts. The hu­man wrecks there get by, as best they can, with the despair that hangs per­ma­nently in the air, but you will never have that sen­sa­tion of some­one look­ing at you from the very heart of dark­ness, silently prof­fer­ing the mantra that closes Con­rad’s novel: “Hor­ror, hor­ror, hor­ror'…”.

An­toine d’Agata doesn’t of­ten talk about Cam­bo­dia. He talks about the drugs he found there, the Ice that be­came some­thing of a new name for the dev­as­tated coun­try, bled white by the fury of the Kh­mers rouges. Ice is metham­phetamine. In 2008, it could scarcely be found in Europe, but was widely avail­able in Asia and the United States. In Thai­land, it is known as “yaba”, the “med­i­ca­tion that makes you go mad”. The pro­duc­tion ar­eas in Burma and the Golden Tri­an­gle flooded the Asian mar­ket. It is one of the cru­ellest of drugs imag­in­able on ac­count of its con­cen­trated for­mula, as it en­ables the user to fo­cus ex­clu­sively on a sin­gle point for four or five hours, some­times more. Ice users are so lu­cid, they are almost fright­en­ing. In March 2008, I paid a visit to An­toine d’Agata in Ph­nom Penh. He had been there for four or five months. I re­mem­ber on my first af­ter­noon there go­ing to his lodg­ings on Street 51, at Ka’s. The room went from the bed to the ta­ble, where dozens of lighters were strewn. The ta­ble didn’t face the win­dow; it gave on to a cracked wall. An­toine was there, clip­ping his nails, with his back to the win­dow. He just said: “It’s here. I found it.” By this, I un­der­stood that hav­ing found the place, and the right drug, his jour­ney was near­ing its end — the jour­ney had started thirty years ear­lier. He left Mar­seille when he was 18 for London, where he lived in a suc­ces­sion of squats. Then he went to South Amer­ica. In his bag, he al­ways had the same book: Cé­line’s Jour­ney to the End of the Night. His choice of read­ing ma­te­rial says it all, and hasn’t changed. An­toine d’Agata is said to only take photographs of the night, or rather that he photographs all the syn­onyms of night. Peo­ple who don’t know his work in de­tail even be­lieve that he has never taken a photo in broad day­light in his life. It’s almost true, or, let’s say, it’s a long­stand­ing de­bate. Around 2003, when he’d just turned forty, he be­gan to won­der whether he could phys­i­cally hold out against the sub­stance that was con­sum­ing and crush­ing him. The artist who had re­jected the light of day so ve­he­mently would con­stantly bring up the need — for his men­tal and phys­i­cal sur­vival — to “get off” the night, and take pho­tos by day. Th­ese pho­tos do ac­tu­ally ex­ist. They are al­ways po­lit­i­cal, and have been com­piled in a book that is hard to find to­day. The ti­tle, Psy­chogéo­gra­phie (&pub­lished by Point du Jour in 2005&), is in­spired by Guy De­bord. Si­t­u­a­tion­ism and the rev­o­lu­tion­ary sense of drift­ing is one of An­toine d’Agata’s main in­flu­ences.

A., La Scop­erta mo­tor­way ser­vice sta­tion, April 2014.

Nuevo Laredo, 2005.

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