In a photographic career spanning 25 years, Seb Janiak has explored a remarkably diverse range of areas. A survey of his work would form a virtually complete picture of all the options offered by the photographic medium, such is its scope. In keeping with the lively tradition at the heart of photography, technological innovations open up the possibility of new types of image. However, only a handful of people can successfully forge an artistic idiom and blaze a trail in the uncharted territory unveiled by the new tools available to them. Fewer still can also provide innovative solutions to the issues raised by previous generations, but Seb Janiak features among their ranks. From his matte paintings with their revolutionary new techniques and unique perspectives in the mid-1980s, to his latest photographs of laser beams passing through prisms, attempting to capture light in its original purity without the use of artificial means (mirroring the endeavors of the founding fathers of photography in the first half of the 19th century), Janiak has successfully preserved a sense of cohesion while covering the full range of possibilities offered by photography. This cohesion is all the more remarkable considering the major break with the past in photography over the last thirty years represented by the advent of digital technology. Rejecting the straitjacket of specific schools or eras, but exploiting instead the complex nature of the world around him, Seb Janiak uses – and reveals in his photographs – the vibrant power of opposites. His deeply creative energy is echoed in a life marked by success and withdrawal, the superficial and the profound, rootedness and transcendence. Janiak started out as a young freelance graphic designer without specific aspirations to be an artist, who wanted above all to give free rein to his curiosity and to experiment with a piece of equipment which he discovered by chance and which opened up the possibility of creating stunning images. In 1987, images could be created and digitally enhanced using Quantel Paintbox. Seb Janiak was one of the very first people to extend its use beyond the TV and film applications for which it was originally designed in order to produce photographic images for exhibition. In these photographs, scenes of unbridled fantasy were reconstructed with a hitherto unprecedented degree of realism. This marked the dawn of a new photographic esthetic. A variety of different shots taken all over the world could be assembled digitally into large-format images conjuring up a sci-fi world suffused with the staggering transparency of photography. This new style of image would become the staple fare of the next two decades, but Janiak’s achievement lay in being the first to create them. Seb Janiak is a pioneer, spurred on by a restless desire to observe the world, challenge it and apply his artistic skills to reshaping it. He has an unquenchable thirst for everything that supplements our understanding of reality, opens up new perspectives and creates meaning. Whether he is dealing with institutionalized phenomena (religion, science, and astrophysics in particular) or niche areas (esotericism, ufology) his imagination draws on humanity in all its boundless diversity, transcending time and place. An overview of his work is instructive in this respect. The success of his early digital photos was followed by a meteoric rise in the world of advertising in 1995. With significant resources at his disposal, Seb Janiak achieved fame and created images which described and shaped their times in equal measure. He made a seamless transition from still images to video and the most influential musicians quickly approached him to direct their music videos, including Daft Punk, Janet Jackson, and Robbie Williams. In 2005, after ten years of frenetic activity, major health problems forced Janiak to make radical lifestyle changes. At the height of his artistic powers, he resumed his experiments with photography, free from the constraints of commissioned work. Drawing inspiration for his work from a variety of sources over the years such as traditional oriental texts (including the Tibetan Book of the Dead ) or the history of Western art, Janiak created strikingly powerful ensembles in which human figures were replaced by nature and ideas. Since 2011, he has set new parameters on this research by restricting himself to the techniques of analog photography, namely double exposure, superimposition and photomontage. This consummate master of digital editing abandoned what people were all too ready to consider his main forte. This limited range of options has proved fruitful, leading him to perfect increasingly complex systems in the studio to produce photographs of magnetic fields using ferrofluids, laser beams, sunlight (Visible light), or even air bubbles (Vacuity). In this way, he re-establishes the link with the photographic tradition in its earliest incarnation, when the skill of the artist was crucial and the key challenge was to capture light in permanent form.In what can be viewed as a yearning for simplicity or even a form of asceticism, Seb Janiak continues to translate his thoughts on man’s fate, the world and its mysterious forces, time and light into images. He devotes equal attention to analyzing all of these evolving phenomena which are a permanent feature of his work, echoing their ceaseless patterns of renewal in his own creative approach.
By Paul Frèches, Former galerist and curator, now cultural attaché at the Consulate general of France in Shanghai.