" Jocelen Janon is a liar.
What's more, lying is his trade. Whether moving through crowds of protestors in the city centre or shooting transvestites in a houseboat in Hillsborough, his MO is the same.
He assumes an alter ego, an other 'I', and lies to get his shot.
'Photography is a big lie,' he insists, in a French accent so thick you're inclined to hear everything he says as a profound, existentialist statement ('I am a liar who tells the truth; I am here but am I here really; I am an "I" until I am another "I").
'You are becoming a liar, spending your time lying,' he persists, gently (because Jocelen is a gentle, jovial, Gerard Depardieu type).
'Sometimes you tell stories when you want to get the picture. You can't say the boring truth. You have to add something in there, because you want the story.'
Jocelen's alter ego is a Mt Eden photographer who takes charge, who directs, who flirts, who laughs and jokes in order to connect with his models, who can be anything required in the moment to ensure he gets the shot he wants and needs.
He has rules, of course. No gratuitous nudity. No porn. No severed arms. And, in the case of his latest series, which will be exhibited at The Digital Darkroom this month, no houseboat fires.
Nevertheless, when Jocelen has a camera in his hands, he is playing a rôle, acting according to a set of generic conventions that would have had his hero, French literary theorist Roland Barthes, in a post-structuralist tizzy.
It's Jocelen's awareness of his submission to these conventions that leads Jocelen to come clean, and confess his duplicity.
'While I'm doing the job I'm an alter ego, because I've got my camera and all that stuff and I speak in a different way—I direct them a little bit. I don't speak like that in real life.
'Then you have the ambiguity of sometimes feeling like grabbing them and turning the arm.
But at the same time you can't do it. It's like a cat and mouse game, a little bit, between the model and the photographer. You've got to imagine in your head, then try to make it. But without being rude or impolite.'
Last December, Jocelen began a photographic exploration of other people's other 'I'—the selves that they prefer to be when away from their public and professional contexts.
The project is rooted in Jocelen's own fascination with what is human, what is hidden, what is real, and what is cliché.
More specifically, the project began with his own questioning of the mythology of the Kiwi bloke—the Fred Dagg type who crops up in the news every now and again to represent the typical New Zealander.
The stereotype was so dated that he felt compelled to go and explore what the modern New Zealander looked like.
Meanwhile, he was completing a separate project, Vaudeville, a book co-authored / photographed with Brian Low, and focusing predominantly on Lilly Loca's Vaudeville Cabaret.
It was during this project that Jocelen met several people who were actors or teachers during the day and burlesque performers at night.
His search for what was typically NZ very quickly became an exploration of the human desire and capacity to be atypical.
A call-out on Facebook resulted in 'models' from as far as Wellington volunteering to travel to Hillsborough in order to have their alter egos photographed, along with their everyday selves.
From December to June, Jocelen photographed 66 people, shooting some 16,000 pictures in a tiny houseboat on a beach in Hillsborough—an inspiring location which allowed Jocelen to shoot in consistent, natural light, but away from curious eyes.
From such diverse professions as teachers and fetish models, Jocelen's models were given almost complete freedom to express their alter ego. He captured each one as their 'normal' self, then each as their other. Both pictures will be shown at the exhibition.
For some, the shift between selves was dramatic. For others, there was hardly a transition. And for some, it was the alter ego that appeared more 'normal' than the everyday self. Others, in an attempt to shake off societal rules and cliches, just exchanged them for other sets of cliches.
'A lot of them are hiding from society,' Jocelen says, in an attempt to both critique and defend his models. 'But they also use other cliches.They try to escape rules, and in a way they obey new rules.
'Despite Jocelen's admission re photography and 'lying', he nevertheless got to witness some remarkable transformations which, he emphasises, never degenerated into exhibitionism, into a sort of 'freak show'.
One man dresses as a woman; one woman wears a fish around her neck; another strips naked and bears a knife, to indicate the constant pain she is feeling.
'I'm interested in humanity,' he says—a statement that is backed up by his extraordinary shots.
'I'm not trying to do a freak show. I'm trying to avoid that at any cost. It's a fine line but I try to avoid any cliché that way.'
I think NZ is very conservative as a society. If someone goes topless on the beach they call the police. I'm not used to that. When I was on the beach in France there were breasts everywhere and I don't care, I don't look. NZ is very prudish and very protective and they can't say too many things either.
'These people are escaping that by going to the alter ego space. It's a different space to be. They are trying to put a wall between NZ society and themselves. But it's ambiguous— it's both a protest against society and a way of protecting themselves against society."
photo: David Williams.