Crossing the Great Divide
Gilles de Beauchêne
French photographer, Gilles de Beauchêne, creates interplay between the world of fine art photography and advertising in an attempt to make those worlds co-exist.
The image has triumphed; and by becoming the most important signifier of our times, it has transformed our perceptions and experiences of the world beyond recognition. Enter Gilles de Beauchêne, a highly sought after advertising and editorial photographer (for brands such as Zenith and Louis Vuitton), who takes his craft and experiences with him into the fine art world. In recent years, since digital has prevailed, there have been a multitude of symposiums and raucous debates; what does it mean to make an image? The boundaries of image-making have continued to change as technology offers more opportunities for creative exploration. De Beauchêne makes art; combining digital and traditional photography techniques, he inverts meaning through his surreal creations. Playing with perspective from the infinitely large to the minuscule, he manipulates images to perfection. De Beauchêne’s personal work asserts his imagination, he creates a photographic discourse that surveys the subconscious fantasy worlds that we inhabit, but at the same time he creates new spaces and alternative realities.
When did you first become interested in photography? What were the steps involved in moving from an assistant to a professional photographer?
I was born in 1964 and I discovered photography when I was 14-years-old. Then I started developing, in house, my black and white photography. I studied photography at the EFET School in Paris, in the evenings and weekends. I was learning all about using film, balancing temperatures of colours, and different techniques in photography, because, as you know, digital photography didn’t exist back then. I had a day job as a programmer at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, which paid for my studies. After graduating, I worked for six months as a photographer’s assistant. From that moment, it became clear that I should open my own studio, which I did in 1989. Since then, I have been working and practising photography for over 20 years for leading luxury brands, including Van Cleef & Arpels, Veuve Clicquot, and Guerlain.
There’s a vast difference between advertising and fine art photography, working in both worlds, how do you balance the two?
In a world where advertising is restricted by the “politically correct” with certain rules, regulations of what you present and how you present it; I needed to find another territory of expression and a place where I could purely breathe. So, between commissions, I always bring my ideas for personal projects to life through my fine art photography. It is important for me to have a balance between personal work and commercial work; personal work can influence commercial work and vice versa. Unfortunately, I have the feeling that in France people don’t think that you can work in both worlds; that is to be an artist and also work in advertising.
Photography is the mode of mass communication, what language do your pictures speak?
The camera has been democratised. Today, everyone has one and feels like a photographer and artist. I still have an advantage; I can tell a story in one picture. I have learnt from my experience in advertising that an idea, concept and product need to be understood and loved at first sight. One of my images, Haute Couture is a strong statement about the way I see the fashion industry and its lack of respect for women. When female models try on clothes or walk down the catwalk, they are no more than just dummies or dolls. Female models must be slim; they must show no expression, or display a cold attitude and be disdainful of the public that has come to see them. Suddenly, they have turned into untouchable icons. Haute Couture is a comment on this phenomenon.
Artists have the power to change our perceptions of the world, how does your photography agree or disagree with this statement?
Real artists have the power to change our perceptions of the world. My work is much more about entertaining viewers. I hope my images are a source of inspiration, so they can create stories of their own, and yes, why not change perceptions too.
Your images invite viewers into a constructed reality, where anything is possible, what do these fantasies say about the world today?
Today, I feel the world is without fantasy; this is why I create these images. We all need more dreams in our lives and to take things less seriously. Often, I have interns in my studio who want to become professional photographers. I always tell them that it’s not going to be easy, because they are not the only ones, and this is how the world works today. Like my images, they need to create their own reality, believe in it and follow their ambitions.
Your images are crafted objects, what’s the process involved in creating these works with regards to directing scenes, controlling the lighting, enhancing colour, manipulation and staging the details?
From concept development to treatment and production, when I am not working on a commission, it can take me a few days to three weeks. When I have an idea, I always draw it first and prepare a storyboard. I look for a model; meet with him or her to discuss in detail the image I want to create. Then, I brief the team: model, make-up artist, hairdresser, stylist and when needed, a model-maker. Most of the time, the components and elements that comprise the image are shot separately and merged together in Photoshop. I will then spend two or three days retouching, changing colours and looking for a unique picture. It takes time for me to make the image as real as I imagine it in my “wonderful worlds.”
By playing with perspective you are converging conceptual art and photography, meaning that the boundaries of photography are endless, how does this flexibility of the genre inspire you?
Yes, the boundaries of photography are endless. Today, I feel more like a painter or an image-maker than purely a photographer. I love Doisneau, Ronis and Brassaï because they photographed the society in which they lived, and were witnesses of daily life. I don’t feel the same, because I like to construct my own worlds and creatures. I am a dreamer and boundaries do not exist anymore.
You work has a cinematic feel, who has influenced you?
It varies and they don’t all necessarily come from photography, although I constantly review the work of other photographers. My inspiration comes from artists such as Norman Rockwell, David Roberts and Juan Manuel Ugarte. I think there is incredible strength in their work. They combine a design composition with a strong message. Ironically my heroes are Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy and Cary Grant, all of whom acted in black and white films. I like old cinema, and generally the photography is very good. In another style, I like Tim Burton and his multiple universes, his sense of humour and storytelling techniques. Larry and Andy Wachowski’s Matrix (1999) had a significant influence on me, and it radically changed my thought processes. The special effects and art direction opened my eyes to new ways of expressing ideas and that anything is possible. Everyday you can push the limits further.
What are your future plans? Do you plan to create more fine art photography, and are there any plans for any exhibitions?
I plan on finishing the series Play the Game!! and Propaganda. In 2010, I have an exhibition in Miami at Zadok Art Gallery, and I will be publishing a book. However, before that I hope to find a gallery to represent my work in the UK.