Tête-à-tête, a private conversation between two people – was created on the battlefield of love to fain a clearer understanding of love, the pain and unity it embodies. Inspired by the willingness to understand each other and to give its merciless – but necessary – act to righteousness a place within the arts.
To each other we are someone in this world whose reflection we can trust. We are both artists in our own way, and artists when we come together to express the struggles in finding a balance in true friendship. We went through a long period of trying to figure ourselves and each other out in the process – this included a lot of love, heartbreak, awareness and honesty – and it’s not over yet. We are continuously facing new struggles but have found vulnerability within each other, enough to the point of being able to be our complete self with one another. Essentially we created this piece, not only for each other, but as a mirror for any other relationship and the potential we face.
Q. In your respective careers, what have you achieved through the medium of photography?
Elena—It taught me the value of true creative expression, patience and (self-)growth. To me, photography isn’t just the capturing of a moment, but the whole process after it. I develop, scan and handprint my own work, which allows me to be deeply involved and hands-on with my craft. It taught me understanding in allowing myself to feel everything and being able to capture it. Photography allows me to delve into myself and search for myself. I trust my work almost more than I do myself.
Ramez—Authenticity is the greatest virtue of photography and understanding that has been my biggest achievement. When you’re gifted the opportunity to capture a uninterrupted moment and serve the message of life itself… Those are the images that can cause a fortress of beliefs to crumble and help us see beyond our private illusions.
Q. Do you try to convey a certain reality or concept through your photographs?
Elena—I try to portray the truth, always—whatever that may mean. As long as it is rooted in honesty then I’m doing something right.
Ramez— The experience of my life and the authenticity of my awareness, that’s all I have to offer the world.
Q. By teaming up with someone else for photography and for art projects, are you getting closer or further from a search for yourself? (Referring to Elena’s statement: Photography is an eternal search for yourself.)
Elena – I’m pretty lucky to have met Ram and be able to collaborate with him on such an intimate level. Being driven by the same force, we are able to stand equals to each other and allow each other to be exactly who we are, which translates perfectly into photography (or any work we do together). Being able to point the camera at someone who acts as your mirror is a rare and special thing (to me) – it allows both of us to speak truth and vulnerability within our craft. Having a relationship that not only facilitates, but encourages the way you create, is only going to add to your creations. Every now and again we will have a conversation about what we have done for each other and the way we have helped each other grow and one of my answers is ‘you’ve brought me closer to my craft’ and for that I am endlessly thankful. Having someone like Ram in your life leaves no room for anything other than the truth (however painful or beautiful it might be).
Ramez – I advise everyone to find themselves an Elena. Someone who is driven by the same artistic vision and will continue to show unconditional love and support. The unraveling of any artist’s Self (with a capital S) is a fine thing, but at times it can be a lonely voyage filled with isolation and under appreciation and without the encouragement and challenging dialog you have to offer each other, the shadow of your own souls enlightenment can become an all to familiar place. Of course, the search for yourSelf demands that you get closer and further away from your truth in order for those moments of transformation to arise, but having someone who can provide constructive criticism, in a way that’s trying to find what’s right, like judgement, but with an open ended question, leaves room for a honest reflection and expedites artistic and personal growth.
Q. It seems you are both willing to suffer for the sake of a statement. Handling a fireball is a dangerous maneuver. How was this idea born? Did you encounter fear as you planned the making and as you were performing?
Elena – Honestly, it scared the shit out of me. Handling a fire ball, not only in the physical sense, but emotional sense too, only brings to light what I have been running away from for so long (facing myself, being honest with myself, believing in myself, doing something I was scared of, stepping out of my comfort zone, admitting to being vulnerable, but also – and this is a big one, letting go and learning to trust someone else). I don’t think the piece was necessarily born out of something particular, it was just the spark of our relationship as a whole. Watching the piece you can understand the dynamics between us then: I was constantly faced with my own shadow and resistance, as well as acting out of desperation. You can tell there’s a force holding me back instead of fully trusting in myself, whereas Ram was the more confident one. The real birthing of the piece came with our new found understanding and perspective towards it. We’ve kept this piece to ourselves for the past year because the real work wasn’t done once the performance was finished; it was making sense of it all – allowing time and distance to grow between us and our creation. I think it’s important to sometimes sit on your creations until the truth of why we had created it can emerge in a non-forceful way. We can now look back at the work and say that our souls agreement to learn to love unconditionally was the birth of tête-à-tête.
Ramez – I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a willingness to suffer for a statement, great art entails a sacrifice of that which fills you with emptiness. So I would say it’s more a willingness to endure suffering to free ourselves from all that empties us. The hopelessness from pain I guess you could say is where the idea of the piece was born. From the dissonance that came between us as a result of our unwillingness to realize our potential, and the refusal to surrender the illusion of lovers to the hand love had dealt us as life-long companions.
Q. Can you explain the ‘necessity’ envisioned in this statement: Inspired by the willingness to understand each other, and to give its merciless but necessary act to righteousness a place within the arts? (Referring to Elena’s statement on the 22nd of Jan. in our email exchange):
Ramez – That any kind of relationship that challenges you to surrender your ideas and expectations of love to love itself, will by no means be a straight forward transition. But if you’re willing to endure the discomfort that arises from your conflict and pursue the necessary and practical lessons love will provide, you can gradually start to live in accordance and reshape the relationship from the love you do have for each other rather then diminishing your connection completely out of frustration or its failure to feed your self-conceited narrative of love.
Q. Talking about trust. What does trust mean for you?
Elena – Trust means being able to share vulnerability with someone who will not impose personal beliefs or assumptions on to you. Trust means being able to share everything and knowing the other person will be there. Trust is being able to lay bare all our internal feelings and be met with understanding. And although I say all of this, I don’t think trust is black and white, it comes with different challenges and pain, but at the end of the day you know that the other person sees you no matter what.
Ramez – In all honesty the past has only ever revealed trust as an act of naivety, and I haven’t really had too many connections that go beyond surface level to practice and restore my ability to completely trust. But from what I have learned from my connection with El, trust seems to be the proof of love in action, the consequence of unconditional love and belief and it provides a strong foundation for love to exude its certainty in a world forever in motion.
Q. As you initiated this piece, were you planning on acting any given relationship? Were you deeply rooted in the one existing between you?
Elena – While creating this piece and performing it, we were deeply rooted in the relationship between us. We only have each other to go by and translate this experience into something physical – being able to relate this piece with any relationship comes with having an audience and us acting as a mirror for anyone who can relate.
Ramez – tête-à-tête is a French phrase that means ‘A private conversation between two people’.
Elena Cremona is living in London, UK and working as a photographer and darkroom printer. Ramez Vafa is living in Bournemouth, UK devoting his full time as an artist.
All images © Elena Cremona and Ramez Vafa