Capturing the spirit of the world’s most iconic statues

A French photographer documents some of the world’s largest and most arresting statues in a personal project that takes him from Asia to Russia to Europe. Many have religious associations , but Fouillet is just as interested in their cultural significance and physical bulk

You won’t see the Statue of Liberty or Rio de Janeiro’s imposing Christ the Redeemer in Fabrice Fouillet’s Colosses. Nor will you see the Moai heads of Easter Island. What you will find is an array of less familiar outsize statues, equally – if not more – impressive than their famous counterparts.

The Paris-based photographer travelled the world for more than a year to make the series, but it all started when he stumbled across Japan’s Dai Kannon statue online. Built in 1991 and measuring 100m high, it depicts the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy and is literally named “Tall Kannon”. Fouillet was transfixed, and soon found other examples in the country – in particular, Amitabha Buddha in Ushiku, Jibbo Kannon in Kagaonsen, and Grand Byakue in Takazaki.

“These statues really surprised and impressed me,” explains the 40-year-old, who contributes to publications inclusing Wallpaper, Le Monde and The New York Times. “I became interested in their dimensions from a photographic point of view.

“I set out to find others to be sure this would constitute a serious project, and I discovered so many. I realised that beyond their gigantic size they had strong ideological, political and social dimensions.”

Deciding he wanted to see them in person, he immediately booked a flight to Japan. “I’d never been to Japan,” he says. “It was the first place I visited for the project, and I stayed there for eight days. After photographing four statues, I travelled back to France, but I made plans to visit Poland to photograph Christ the King in Swiebodzin, which was built in 2010.”

Trips to the Ukraine, Russia, China, Indonesia, Senegal, Thailand, Myanmar and Turkey followed, and Fouillet ended up being away from home from mid 2013 until the end of 2014. Often shooting early in the day, he avoided the majority of tourists, preferring to shoot the statues alone, or with a few isolated figures for scale. “Most of the time there is this feeling of quietness,” he says. “I didn’t want to focus on the touristic; rather, I wanted to show the statues in their modern context – to see them in their whole surroundings.”

Many of the statues are religious, but Fouillet also found plenty of secular examples; nearly all are just 30 or so years old. “Most of the statues I shot are quite modern, except for the Grand Byakue in Japan, which was erected in 1936,” he says. “I wondered why there were so many statues built from the 1990s onwards. I don’t have the answer – perhaps people needed to find new heroes or something – but it was interesting to explore.”

Fouillet believes the statues say something about commemoration, remembrance and hero worship, as well as the notion of the symbol, but while he was interested in all of these factors, he was also intrigued by the statues’ simple physical form, and how they dominate the landscape. “I generally chose the highest statues, or those that I thought were most interesting in terms of idealisation,” he says. “I studied the surrounding environment of each statue to estimate the feasibility of the image before visiting.

“I tried to highlight the disproportion by comparing the statue to human scale where I could,” he adds. “And I usually spent several hours on site, waiting for better light or walking around each monument, trying to find different points of view.”

This careful preparation is evident in the end result – Fouillet’s images are clean and minimal, with uncluttered compositions. He brings the aesthetic from his commercial still life work, he says, despite the fact that he shoots one in-studio and the other in the great outdoors. “For me, in the work that I do, there are a lot of similarities between these two fields,” he says. “I like things to be precisely positioned – I take care of everything in the frame. I have the same way of composing whether I am in or out of the studio; it’s part of my personality.”

Fouillet has now shot statues in 10 countries, but he says he’s not done yet – he wants to go to Mongolia to shoot an effigy of Genghis Khan, for example, and has his eye on an unfinished construction in India. It’s a big commitment, but he says it’s the perfect foil for his well-paid but tightly commissioned commercial work. “It is important for me to share my time between still life commissioned work and personal projects outside of the studio,” he says. “I like doing still life photography, but these personal projects are a way for me to be happy – they give me freedom. It’s very nice to be able to do them.”

See more of Fabrice’s work here.

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