I regularly receive similar questions about my work, so I decided to digest the answers in an article.
Initial version created May 5, 2005.
Updated Thursday 18 March 2021 at 1:46pm.
Read time ~- minutes.
When did you take up photography?
Many family members used to take and print photographs before I was born, and there was a dedicated darkroom in the house which was always ready for anyone to use. However I didn't start with photography. I started drawing and painting a lot. Maybe because I wanted to express myself in a different way. The first time I really discovered photography was during the first month at fine arts school. It was on the program and was a required skill to qualify. I became so enthusiastic with it that I ended up doing my first exhibition at the Gallerie Rivaud in Poitiers some months later.
Where did you acquire technical knowledge?
Although I can't be sure of this, I think that having been in the company of photographers from an early age some of their knowledge washed off on me. Also because of this I wasn't in awe of the medium, so learning wasn't really that difficult. I studied chemistry and physics before going to arts school, so that made understanding optical theory and the principles of darkroom processing easier. I started on artistic interpretation and history with Alain Fleig, and pursued this, over the next few years, alone or with my father and a friend of mine. I read a lot about it and then had the great chance of spending a week with Philippe Salaün who was printer for Robert Doisneau at the time. His technical skills influenced me a lot at the time, especially with regards to film and the development process.
How do you decide to pursue a project?
The project I prefer it the one that grows slowly in my mind, I can see the final pictures in my head and find places and technics to get them out. For long exposures you need to know a little where and when you will do it as it needs a lot of equipment, especially a big tripod to compensate vibrations and wind. It also depend of luminosity, the weather, how is the moon, the ocean, the sky and the overall scene.
So your interest in a topic comes before you photograph it?
Yes, as I said, I'm a visual human being, creation always comes from what I see. It could be a logical next step on an existing project, an idea might come when I see a place or experience a specific artistic situation, it might be a derivation of another photographer's work, just attempting to find out how it was done or to give my own interpretation of the subject when I find it interesting. Once I have reproduced it by myself, I can go further and explore new ideas and I have new tools at my disposal.
Nevertheless, most of the time, it is while traveling or during a walk that I discover many places to photograph. I like the places that I do not know yet, where I can put my vision according to the feeling virgin of all references.
How do you choose your locations?
Most of the time, because there is an element, a situation that will bring a particular sensation to the image, in terms of aesthetics or meaning, a temporal meaning, a past activity, nostalgia, serenity or tranquility.. For example I love water cooling, smoke and clouds, wind in the trees, the rotation of the earth confronted to human construction associated to graphical minimal scenes. Wide open landscapes produce a feeling of space and freedom in me.
From which photographers have you taken inspiration?
There are many. The first when I was young was Jean-Loup Sieff with his dark prints and wide views. Although there is often people in his shots they seem always to be alone in the place they are or in their lives. Ansel Adams has a beautiful sense of landscape with subtle renderings that give you the sensation of having been in the place. I have seen many collections and prints that have obviously influenced me. I can cite without specific order Platon, Elliott Erwitt, Man Ray, André Kertész, Robert Mapplethorpe, Edward Weston, Rolf Horn, Bill Schwab, Gérard Laurenceau, Frank Horvat, Chip Forelli, Bill Brandt, Sally Mann, Berenice Abbott, Yasuhiro Ishimoto, Richard Avedon, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Dominique Issermann, Helmut Newton, Arnold Newman, Robert et Shana Parkeharrison, Pascal Renoux, Michael Kenna, David Fokos, Sarah Moon and Josef Hoflehner.
Why do you do long exposures?
The first time was while testing an infrared filter on a Canon 20D
, in 2005. Whatever, I published these photographs in forums and the feedback was very critical, reproaching me for retouching my images with Photoshop to give such effects. After that I discover some photographers had already embraced the style, but I liked the mood and start doing more and more slow shutter speed shots. With long exposure I can see time manipulation that I can't see with my normal eyes. It also produces interesting graphical effects that in some way invert reality. You see clouds and stars moving but water seems to be quiet or frozen. Static elements seem to be magnified or blurred with the abnormally visible things that move around them. In a world where everybody is rushing about and instant accurate images are everywhere, there seems to be a certain luxury in sitting down, slowing down, being alone, eliminating disturbing sounds, not having a time limit, applying a new way of listening and watching, and trying to capture a long piece of a moment. I also find the unpredictability that is inherent with long exposures and the empirical method of exposure measurement is just like an addition of reality, elements, me and the camera. To perceive the elegance of the world with a very random part is very exciting.
What does photography means for you?
When I started studying art I thought I would be a 3D hyperealistic scene creator. With 3D you start from an totally empty universe, dark, without any light or point of view. You can do what you want but if you don't place a referring point to set reality in the scene, the spectator will be totally lost or will think that you were on drugs or delirious.
I was creating empty places, with water, ice, snow, fog and mist, reflections, refraction, subtle lights and soft shadows. I'm was always fascinated by places empty of people with mysterious atmospheres. It makes me believe I'm privileged and have my very own universe. Perhaps I think while I'm doing it that I'm the only human conversing closely with the world, using my camera as a translator between us. Exploring is fascinating.
I think in photography I found the medium I need, a combination between time to achieve result, travelling, technical skills and visual representation. Anyway, I don't shoot black and white because I'm colour blind, which is what a lot of people think. With a static representation of the world, you loose 3-dimensions, perfume, time, sensation that can be felt on the skin, sounds feelings. With black-and-white you loose one more essential information: colour. So you are closer to suggestion than assertion, and there is abundant place for sensation and imagination, in a elegant nuance of grey shades.
And then, it must be admitted, each new successful photograph is a pleasure to share, endlessly exciting.
How many pictures do you make in a shoot?
Surprisingly, I don't do many. Most of time I do one shot, without bracketing. I control quickly the rendering in the LCD monitor for a digital camera and that's all. I try it again if I'm too far off mark with the exposure and I think I won't be able to work with it later. Maybe I do 5 to 15 shots a day, rarely more.
This is why I like the medium format 120, 12 views are quickly taken and usable in stride. in 135, 37 views seem like an eternity to me.
Do you use any filter when you shoot?
Yes with daylight long exposures. I use IR or neutral filters, sometimes combined, and a polarising one. I can also add a yellow, orange or red filter to increase the contrast if needed.
What is your greatest enjoyment during your work?
Each part is interesting and is a specific creation process. From the idea to making it all possible to have the raw material to exploit the way I feel my interpretation. Travelling is always a pleasure, you are out alone or with a friend, having a good dinner in a place you select because you love it. Shooting moment is also important, especially when you have fed your mind with the result. Although there is almost always a post processing to do, the instant when you know you have it is amazing, having the inner and the outer fitting together is a great source of enjoyment.
Can you describe your darkroom equipment?
I used film for 12 years. I tried to evolve my own processing to match my needs and finally I developed everything from film to print. I have written a complete work flow (in french) you can find on my site. Now I only use digital so graphic software is needed to finalise the raw material. It's almost the same process than for a negative print, I have to burn and dodge areas to obtain the render I want. The sensor material, like a negative, can be worked several different ways with a creative skill. To make it unique and personal I need to make many aesthetic decisions, which can be done in from few minutes to up to 2 hours. Sometimes I go back over some work, some days after and correct something to finalise it. Spending too much time working on one shot could be dangerous and it is better to have some hindsight to be more objective. I sometimes miss film and paper, but I must admit that digital processing and printing produce really beautiful results, sometimes better than film does, at least in my opinion. The only regret is for long exposures, digital noise is a pain and you need to pay much more attention for long time shutter speeds. Anyway CMOS technology is improving, I hope the future will bring us ideal solutions. One other point is that chemical prints need a lot of good quality water during the final wash, and I was always ashamed to use so much of this precious vital liquid.
Do you enjoy darkroom work?
Yes I love it, it's the moment when the final render will appear and where your mind meets the reality. It brings me the excitation to finalise a project, so when it is done I feel alleviated, free, with my mind at ease until the next idea prevent me from sleeping.
But during the work I need to be alone to be concentrated and totally in the picture.
Can you speak of you equipment?
Yes I would be able to, but I think this is not essential. You have it listed on my site because I have many requests about it, but there are many cameras, lenses, pods, films, chemical and what so ever that are used to create so you should be able to find your own creative tools.
What size prints do you make?
Always 9 x 9 inches for the square format, in a 11.7 x 15.6 print. I use different types of paper or techniques, from common to museum high quality prints with pigment inks that will be stable for more than one century.
Why do you crop and tone your photographs?
Why not? So many people imagine that all photographers shot straight to the print.
From the film processing to the darkroom print there are many possible adjustments and manipulations. These go from pushing film, cropping, the effect of paper grade, bath temperatures and filtering to masking, time exposure and toning. You know this when you have done it by yourself but many photographers send their film and print to a laboratory.
Personally, I always loved warm tones, I feel more softness in the suggestion and bring it to another time dimension, a moody feeling that puts me in a sensible receptive condition. I'm not obsessed by the reality, but more by suggesting emotional feelings rather than beauty. Often I listen this is "pure beauty", but the definition of beauty is strictly limited. I prefer feelings much more, and possible stories behind the power of suggestion, with a full sentence putting all together in a comprehensible appreciation. That's the challenge. I love square format because of it's perfect elegant geometry state and its tension which can be divided in many more little ones, a least for me. Considering all of this, that's why I don't like telling what I think technically because it seems more sensible than the representation of the image. What is your camera, what is your film, what is your aperture, time exposure, etc etc... If one camera can achieve the work for anything I would be such a pain. I prefer telling to try to understand what you are doing, then you will able to make what you want. If the image brings me something emotionally, that's perfect and it is how I interact with it. I don't wonder what camera, lens, digital or film, the image stands by itself.
Anyway this is my philosophy and you should only follow yours!
Do you develop your films yourself?
It depends on the moments, but 90% yes, and I like it a lot, it is a special moment, where I have to be concentrated, which allows me to escape a little from everyday life. I appreciate the rigor relative, attempting to reproduce consistency in my method
How do you convey edition information on each print?
I put a stamp on the back then add the shot and month date, the same for print date, the edition number and my signature. I also sign, date and number under the image print.
How has the vision of your work changed from when you started to today?
When I was young I just shoot what I saw, rarely with any specific underlying idea, just because I loved the light and the graphic. Now I try more to put my sensations, my life feelings, something that connects me to the universe, natural elements and how human needs to fight against them. I observe and think more, I like nostalgia, solitude, see the time passing, the imperceptible movement we can't see because we are always on the run. I like also places with histories, many time for example I look at the ruins and thinking of these forgotten guys who has working hard on this piece of rock, or sculpture. He lets his signature creation, but we don't know anything about him, his life, his doubt. Finally, the composition of the image is probably the most complex part so that it can become natural.
How do you see yourself in the digital age?
Perfectly well, but I think I will be able take things further when sensors will be better in long exposures capabilities. If have my own technique and I always try to improve on it. Currently, I'm quite satisfied by the result but new ideas are a real motivation for me and extend my creative horizon. Raw material is like a "positive negative" for me. Anyway it is a tool for expression, I also use old lenses mounted on recent digital bodies and it produces absolutely impressive results. The translation to 2D, even when drawing, painting, film or digital is altered by default, it's an optical suggestion of 3D with minor to major visual alterations showing my point of view.
What are your plans for the future?
I don't have any particular pressure on me to create, I'll see how things turn out. I always enjoy the process of an idea moving from my mind to the final print. This can entail many months of reflection, travelling, by day or night to wild places. As long as I'm getting satisfaction and feel that I am getting something out of it I will pursue with the motivation.