Photos by Cassell A Ferere. Transcribed by Tawny Casey.
Secrets of Sincerity: François-Marie Banier
Impish, irascible, idealistic, and heartfelt: these are just a few words to describe French novelist, playwright, artist, actor, and photographer François-Marie Banier. This past Paris Fashion Week, we had the pleasure of meeting FMB and even visiting his home, which occupies an entire building on the storied Left Bank of Paris. ‘Storied’ also describes his life, which intersects with some of the greatest minds and figures of the 20th century. At the age of 16, he met Salvador Dalí, with whom he would discuss art at the Hotel Meurice. He published his first novel, Les Résidences secondaires ou la Vie distraite (Second Homes or Distracted Life), at age 22, and since has released a trove of photography books, novels, and plays, in addition to appearing in several films and having art exhibitions from Moscow to Los Angeles.
Francois answered our post-visit questions by email, while producing his latest book from Steidl.
Q: You’ve known some of the most famous figures in history, including Salvador Dalí, Pablo Picasso, Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Kate Moss, Johnny Depp, Mick Jagger, Samuel Beckett, and Princess Caroline of Monaco, to name a few. Do any stand out in particular? Do they possess anything in common?
I love people who shine with freedom, spirit, and talent, and have a deep soul. Famous or not.
You just happen to know the famous ones.
Famous people and anonymous people are just persons. I never met Picasso but I was friends with Jacqueline [Roque], his last wife, who kept him in her heart until it was too much, so she killed herself.
Salvador Dalí, I met him I was 16. I sold him my first drawings. We stayed —- him, and Gala [Dalí] his wife — very close until the end.
He loved to be famous, to sign dollars on Fifth in New York. He had an influence on me, I must admit. Before him, a sense of humor, I didn’t know what it was.
Famous people and anonymous people are just persons
He was Warhol before Warhol. He adored to shock people. He had a great knowledge, a huge culture. I learned a lot from him and from Gala, muse of poets.
Dalí was Warhol before Warhol
Q: What is your opinion of our culture of celebrity? Do celebrities of today differ from celebrities of the past?
More than shining stars, I like dark stars.
All “my” people I photograph are more than stars; they are figures of God. Their eyes, their attitude, their way to be who they are touched me so deeply. It’s only through photography you can show to the world the grandeur of humanity.
through photography you can show the grandeur of humanity
Very old, sick, destroyed, they are like superb old trees, like an enormous wave in the sand painted by Courbet, old men and women painted by Rembrandt, cripples by Goya, music by Liszt, Wagner, Holiday, Ray Charles, danced by very young girls and boys. We are linked to them from the minute of our birth, our face full of wrinkles and tears.
Q: What’s the difference between a celebrity and an artist?
An artist gives and gives and gives.
A celebrity, it’s a joke. There are good jokes …
Q: You’ve spent much of your life in France. You’ll be traveling to New York soon. How do you feel about the United States?
Black, Irish, Italians, Mexicans, anti-Trumps, U.S. soldiers who save the WORLD against Hitler: I love the United States since forever.
I love the United States since forever
You are wealthy, it’s your duty to continue. You do not lie; for an American it’s a crime! Good! Let me ask you, so, why Trump?
Q: You have several books of photography, which are candid, and sometimes surrealist. What is your approach to photography, and what are you trying to capture in your art?
I want to show beauty and mystery. I am so impressed when I see the profile of a new letter of the alphabet. Remember the Egyptian language by writing. As a child I invented birds, camels, zeros, signs until I discovered there are real people but nobody pays attention to them.
there are real people but nobody pays attention to them
Remember how we met on the street in Paris, rue de Rivoli. At first glance, without any reason to meet, we got along. I saw this girl with you. Blonde hair, unique way of walking, of being, I photographed her.
Q: You are a painter as well as a photographer. What is your inspiration? What drives you?
A fabulous curiosity, energy, love. I want to capture secrets of light, secrets of freedom, secrets of sincerity, secrets of jealousy, secrets of laughs, secrets of life and … and to show to people these secrets give emotions, creation, another world.
I want to capture secrets of sincerity
Q: Visiting your atelier, it is clear you are in love with the female form, as well as dark-skinned people of all kinds. What draws you to the beauty of these subjects?
I love your question and I regret you are gone. In Europe they wouldn’t say that. You are right.
Phenomenally right, would say the divine Maya Angelou.
The beauty of people makes me sing but I have, when I sing, an awful voice, so I paint, I write, I love, I photograph.
Q: You’ve been working to have a statue created to celebrate Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov, the Soviet colonel who saved the world from nuclear holocaust by refusing to launch an atomic bomb. Tell me more about this project.
Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov … really my friends you want to make something great out of our encounter. Now we can talk …
In 1983, this Russian soldier was at the key nuclear center in Moscow. On his screen, one night, there were signs of a missile attack from the U.S.A.
From the Kremlin, he received the order to respond immediately with atomic bombs.
he received the order to respond immediately with atomic bombs
Petrov knew if he did it, half of the planet, if not all of it, would be in ashes.
In fifteen minutes, the U.S, missiles would have done their “work.” Petrov disobeyed.
Twenty minutes later, he saw he was right: nothing happened. A second “attack” on Kremlin appeared on his screens. Same order: Respond. The soldier Petrov didn’t and SAVED THE WORLD.
Petrov was honored in the U.S.A
One day later, instead of congratulations, a general asks Petrov; Why you didn’t do what you had to do? Interesting to think what is sometimes a general: an absurdity.
Petrov was received in the U.S.A as he was never otherwise received and honored. He wanted to meet Kevin Costner. If it was me I would ask to once more this angel: Nicole Kidman, and Brad Pitt I love more and more, or Sean Penn who I photographed but I couldn’t tell him how much I love his walk, and Irving Penn, his uncle, who I met a lot when I was press officer of Pierre Cardin in the early ‘70s.
A great man too, I visited every time I came to New York.
Q: Your home in Paris is magnificent. You originally occupied it as an apartment, and then slowly bought the building. Your life has been blessed in so many ways. What are you most grateful for?
Most grateful for visitors like you.
By visitors to in my exhibitions in Stuttgart, Rome, Tokyo, Los Angeles. People in the street who come and talk to me, like I talk to all these people I make friends forever.
Q: What needs to change?
Q: What must stay the same?