Interviews / Stories
Interview: Photographer Alexandre de Venderets (France)
I started photography when I was a kid and continued until I graduated from University. However, after having served in the French army I started a career in international relations, working for the United Nations, and I stopped taking pictures. Funny enough sometimes, through the years, I was nostalgic about the noise of the camera when taking a picture; like an old dream it was resurfacing every so often. In 2010 I was lucky to survive the earthquake in Haiti; many good friends died in this tragedy. Back in Europe, a bit depressed as a result of all the losses and the overall working environment, a friend of mine, professional photographer covering war zones and weddings to pay for his trips abroad, convinced me to start photography again and at first somewhere between models and war zones! The spectrum was wide!
At first it was not easy having left the world of analog photography to reenter with a digital camera! My first attempts were on missions and personal travels. Rapidly I could see the results on my computer and I liked it. Back in Paris I then tried for the first time a shooting with a model; and honestly for this first shooting I was as worried as her – not really knowing where to start from!
Very rapidly I realized photography was an escape to a new world. I would put my field boots in the wardrobe, throw the diplomatic passport in a draw, along with everything associated to wars and other natural or man-made catastrophes. Then I would enter the world of photography where everything was a discovery. I took a few courses in Paris to learn a few tricks and just tried different kinds of shootings with many models. In winter I would focus on studio work and when the weather was good preferably in nice Paris locations, such as the Palais Royal. I started with portraits, moved on to some form of fashion and then reached some frustrations. I could see that nude photography was popular and photoshop provided the expected improvements on a picture. The problem is whatever I did in my life was never mainstreamed. I could have avoided the army, I joined a parachute regiment. I could have had a desk job; I preferred warlords in desperate locations. When it comes to photography the feeling was the same; nude is popular, so let’s do something.
I therefore decided to remain focus on portraits and fashion but knew that rapidly this approach would have its limits and I would get bored. So I started to ask myself what makes men turn their head to watch a woman passing-by. Could it be the pencil skirt and high heels? The answer was ‘yes it was the pencil skirt and high heels’! This is the moment when a number of key words came up to my mind; Helmut Newton, fetish fashion (latex), sensual women, street photography, Louboutin shoes. So bit by bit I decided to associate fetish fashion with normal conservative fashion; what the French call “BCBG”. A conservative dressed lady with a latex pencil skirt and ‘Louboutin’ high heels. Something that would make a woman as sexy as possible, without showing much, even anything!
With enough pictures, I constructed a website; easy enough for me to use it. The site was part of a community and continuously hit the first 2% out of 700+ websites in Paris area alone. In less than 12 months I would have enough models willing to shoot with me. I was extremely grateful to these ladies agreeing to spend their limited free time to shoot in public or in a studio, and often endlessly repeating the same scene or pose as many times as necessary until we got it right!
However, after over 6 years shooting models I am now aiming at something different. This what I like with photography; one can whenever change technic and style! In recent months I thought to revert to analog photography; the good old days of films.
As of today I shoot with a Voigtlander R2M, a Pentax 67, a small Cosina and in the weeks to come a Mamiya RZ67. As for digital shooting, I have found a lot of pleasure with the Fuji XT-1m, with 35mm/1.4, 18-55mm/2.8 and the amazing X100/23mm. However, I do found analog shooting more challenging. With a digital camera you can shoot as many pictures as you want and it’s hard not to get it right. Even on manual settings it’s hard! Out of a few hundred shots one is bound, mathematically, to get one good shot! With analog shooting, you have to carefully think and evaluate before pressing the button. Each picture matters! Then, to make things worse, you have to wait to see the results and I find this part really exciting. Every time I go to the lab the heart speed increases a bit! So yes, I think a lot before pressing the button of the Pentax 67! Sometimes for days!
Thank you for your question; ‘am I a hobbyist or a paid professional?’
This is a point that always interested me. I think the answer is a bit like academia or writing books! How many books sale above 500 copies during the course of a year; barely 10%. How many ‘professional’ photographers can make a living out of their job? Some I guess, but not many! How many ‘war reporters’ I met in the field shooting combat situations and then dozens of weddings back in Europe to pay for the next trip to an exciting zone; to live their passion? Unfortunately, many! I think in today’s world anybody can take an amazing picture with a small compact or even a smart phone! It is no longer the prerogative of ‘professional photographers’ only! This means I think to make a difference today you need to ‘MAKE’ a picture and not just ‘TAKE’ a picture! Everyone can take a picture but maybe it’s ‘joe blog’ who is going to have THE picture that makes a real difference, in whatever field. So maybe the difference between paid professionals or hobbyists is a very thin line! I am not a paid photographer, but who knows maybe one day fate will offer an incredible picture! A bit like the late Samuel Huntington and his essay on ‘The Clash of Civilisations’ in 1993. One essay propelled the author to international stardom in his field, against others who had written many books taking dust in university shelves! One picture can do the same against thousands not making any difference whatsoever!
So in conclusion, I hope to continue my passion and always keep on learning and progressing. Helmut Newton and a number of his ‘descendants’ like Szymon Brodziak and the late Marc Lagrange are extremely inspirational. For war photography, Robert Capa of course, the late Rémi Ochlik who died in Syria. Women have also been inspirational, from Martha Gellhorn who opened the ‘road’ to the late Marie Colvin who also lost her life in Syria (with Rémi Ochlik).
As for your question for advice to a new photographer, I think I shall pass! I am not convinced I have any recommendations to offer, apart maybe…..keep learning and enjoy it!
Allow me to thank you for this interview and most importantly for your magazine. It’s a must in the fashion industry and having it on line allows me to consult it from anywhere; even in the jungle of equatorial Africa where I am at the moment!
Alexandre de Venderets
Julia Michel T
Julia Michel T
Julia Michel T