The work of french photographer antoine D’Agata examines the fragile, often merciless, spaces between reality and its hegemonic interpretation. Drawn from his own physical immersion into global underworlds of prostitution, drug addiction, and violence, D’Agata’s intimately graphic retrievals are the product of new photo-documentary. Born in Marseilles in 1961, D’Agata left France to study at the International Center of Photography in New York in 1990. His images have been published in the books Insomnia, Vortex, and Stigma and Agonie, and he has exhibited at galleries and festivals worldwide. D’Agata recently returned from Asia for an opening at Galería Rita Castellote in Madrid and will participate in a workshop in Fez, Morocco this October for 1000 Words Photography, an online magazine based in London. Here, he speaks to spectatorship as a kind of social cancer, and the complexity of social politics within the interiors of Asia’s sex and drug trade. What, to you, composes the ideal photographic subject? One cannot apprehend reality without being involved physically, without inhaling entirely, or nourishing the liberty to act, to unveil desire or lack thereof, to envision violence. The art accomplice impoverishes reality: if the photographer condemns himself to passivity, is satisfied to observe, to analyze, to denounce, to sublimate, to comment, the resulting photo practices a guilty contemplation. I cross my own limits and the ones of reality, and find a vague space between where the bodies burst, flow, crash, penetrate themselves, and invade themselves in a tentacular mass of flesh. Do you think art can be exploitative? The contemporary proliferation of pictures aims to regulate and neutralize the brutal instinct of the masses–through discernment and free agency. Anguish and oppression are born of abundance. The same can be said of stereotypical pictures, which are symptoms of complicity: soft, loose, cynical. They water us in speech, conventions, clichés. This kindness allows them to abuse a privileged position and cross barriers without ramifications on their social, geographic, or emotional strata. How has your photographic immersion to varying kinds of underworlds affected your interpretation of cultural norms? How about in relation to contemporary photography? After twelve years of broken wandering, the photographic effort was born, inspired by the marginalized persons that reinforced me in the time of many years’ solitude. The photograph was the only alternative to the emotional and social autism I took refuge in. I photograph and I live with individuals that do not have a similar power of choice. In turn, my art has the social characteristics of a pathology regulated by a severe ethics: direction. My relations with the prostitutes of Cambodia are based on a common addiction to methamphetamine. These women are the prototype of the new proletariat in a world where frantic sexual consumerism has replaced desire and memory. Their body is the strategic receptacle of the capitalist who desires the fleeting passion of the flesh. Paradoxically, the prostitutes’ compulsive pleasure, their narcotic lucidity, creates survival in a parallel economy, new zones of shadow, which undermines the foundations of the system–they prefer vice to poverty. My action is restricted, coherent, fitting, like a virus that insidiously introduces itself to a foreign body. I advance the obscurity. I risk destruction because my life only feels validated by the interpretations that I provoke. Still, an artistic practice cannot be justified in terms of its results. Describe your attraction to depravity, or pain, or abuse? Years of slow and reasoned self-destruction, of narcotic experimentations, of urban survival, of liaisons with prostitutes, has provoked in me a slow process of maturation on these questions. One cannot invent a destiny without developing an immunity to stereotypical morals. But still, the wording of the question is insidious. The social designation of what is indecent is an arbitrary classification that allows the system to perpetuate itself. What you designate as depravity was always, for me, an emancipatory tool. I learn every day to question prohibition and transgression. Pornography is no longer transgressive. Do you identify with any cultural figures past/ present who similarly immerse themselves in stigmatized, misunderstood, subversive, or illegal lifestyles for their art? Certain artists and writers who’ve fought to preserve in their work a fragile balance between intelligence and madness, rage and love, beauty and horror. Francis Bacon, Guy Debord, Antonin Artaud, Louis- Ferdinand Céline are references, but I fight to protect myself from modern culture inflation–contemporary art astonishes me with its harmlessness, its resignation, its impregnated ideologies of capitalist production. On the tracks of those that have preceded me, I try to create new forms of excess as a strategic statement against a totalitarian enemy. Despite increased information and exposure on the drug and prostitution issues in Asia, what hasn’t the public learned of these worlds? South Asia is an immense and inexhaustible sexual market. The American soldiers’ inalienable right of pleasure first—Western bourgeois later—has only accelerated the process. Growing cities have allowed the propagation of new artificial drugs, the appearance of more dangerous, but easier to obtain, substances. The Yaba, the Ice, are everywhere. In devastated Cambodia, as elsewhere, these molecular addictions cancel the need for sleep, lessen fatigue. The effects are not hallucinogenic but provoke a precision and concentration of thoughts close to obsession and paranoia. The uniform consumption gives rise to a slow unselfishness. I am, in turn, eager predator and fascinated witness. My photographs have the innocence to believe that it is possible to hold together all the paradoxes that clatter in the margins of the modern world, to confront them without diverting the gaze. What is beautiful? It’s only a vocabulary question. I see beauty only in the immense pain and the fleeting passion of the destinies I glimpse. Beauty remains in the capacity to surpass the conditions imposed upon us. What’s going to happen to the human race in the next 50 years? The concentration of wealth will increase and become unbearable. Bankruptcies, poverty, exclusion, and unemployment will progress inevitably. The dominating possessors of strength–the actors, the heads of businesses and states, will do what they can to rediscover a balance. But the immediate future belongs to those at the loose ends, the infamous communities. This new class will live in the lucid expectation of death, of erotic intensity. This desire will generate an energy that does not exclude a kind of violence. A time of conscience comes after one of outburst. What is on your schedule for the coming year? Without a base, I continue to be nomadic. My next destination is Phnom Penh. I will continue to go to the heart of the sensations, to observe the extinction of breath, the nervous system, the wear of organs. And to find the pictures, the language, and the necessary strategies to oppose the many falsifications which propagate death.