Yan Morvan is one of the most hefty-sacked photographers we've ever met. Over the past 35 years he's kicked it with Hell's Angels, traveled to the world's most fucked-up war zones, worked with the most notorious serial killer France has ever known, and been sentenced to death twice.
Yan participated in the birth of French photojournalism and helped elevate the form to an art. He was the first to show interest in the French rocker's fights and benders, way back in 1975. His book about the delinquent gangs of the Parisian suburbs is one of the few in existence. (Are you feeling inadequate yet? Because we're not done.) He documented the lives of those seriously injured in road accidents, the world's new sexual practices, and historical reenactments performed by the obsessive nerds who do historical reenactments. Morvan was a teacher, an art thief, and a Situationist sympathizer—all while paying taxes and starting a family. Yan spoke with us over coffee in his kitchen.
Vice: How did you become interested in photography?
Yan Morvan: I think the very first photo I took was in 1967 at the Monaco Grand Prix. I was 13 and photographed race cars with my dad. That was the year that Lorenzo Bandini crashed and burned, and I took photos of it with my Kodak camera.
That's a good start.
After that, I studied science at university. I was a part of a little group of crypto-Situationists--the sort of thing that appeals to true slackers.
You've read all their books then, I guess.
All of them. I've read everything. The Wyckaert's, the Vaneigem's…
Well then you must not have been that much of a slacker.
I was, because I didn't understand anything. The only thing of Debord's that I enjoyed were his two Panegyric volumes, in which he discusses his problems with alcohol. That's what I enjoyed. The rest, his theories, well—it's undeniable that he was right. I was driving the other day and thinking to myself that I almost expect to see a Carrefour ad illustrated with a Larry Clark photo, with a caption along the lines of "Don't shoot up, live a clean life." You know what I mean?
Anyway, what I found amusing was that we get it in the neck from the established order—the Ordre Nouveau, and the Trotskyists. It was after the Loi Debré, I think, when we formed an alliance with the ARA—the Revolutionary Anarchist Alliance—and got together after class to fight with just about everyone. The Stalinists and Maoists came to help us too. But not the Maoists who were pro-China, just the pro-Albanian Maoists. It was quite a funny time. It was a bit like when you go to the natural history museum and say to yourself, "Wow, all these things really existed!"