Photography & Fashion An interview with Laurent Elie Badessi.
We caught up with renowned French Born and NYC-based photographer and Twyla artist, Laurent Badessi, before Paris Fashion Week commences to see what he's been up to lately and dive a little deeper into what inspires him. Read our interview with him below!
First things first, what have you been up to lately?
I have been working on several group shows in Europe: one at the National Portrait Gallery in London, one at the Musée de l’Elysée in Lausanne and one at La Bibliothèque Nationale de France in Paris. I have also just finished shooting the new SS campaign for French Fashion designer Anne Fontaine in my hometown of Provence which will be coming out soon.
A recurring theme in your work is the butterfly as seen in your Innocence portfolio for Twyla. What was the inspiration behind using these beautiful creatures?
As mentioned, I grew up in Provence, so they were very much a part of my life as a child. The Innocence series was a way to celebrate these beautiful creatures that in most cultures are a positive symbol. It was also a way to revisit a bit of my childhood memories.
Can you tell us about two central themes to your practice: light and time?
Photography is all about light. The etymology of the word comes from the Greek and means “drawing with light.” Time in photography is also very important because it allows the capture of a fraction of a moment. In my Innocence series, besides using the butterflies as my main subject, I conceived this project because it was the perfect excuse for me to combine both light and time. I created metallic sculptures from foil that reflected the light and colors and timing gave me the possibility with my camera to freeze these ephemeral reflections.
As a photographer, it seems that you have a unique process in which you sketch your images before you shoot them. How did that develop and how is it integral to the final product?
Indeed, I like to sketch before I make a new series. It provides me with a clear vision of what I will create, especially if I need to show other people involved my vision. It gives them a better understanding of what I am trying to achieve. On paper, I can make changes easily and anticipate any challenges I will face during the actual shoot. Drawing is something I have been doing since I was a child.
How does the West’s fixation on luxury and designer fashions influence your work?
I am a global citizen as I have spent a big part of my life traveling and living in different places, so not only Europe or the West does influence me, but all cultures. I am very sensitive to beauty and perfection. When I work in fashion or other commercial assignments, I do like to work with luxury brands especially those that use a great “savoir faire.” The craftsmanship involved to produce couture clothes, fine jewelry and leather goods is very close to the making of art if I might say, therefore I get very inspired when I get to photograph these kind of pieces.
How has your photography practice evolved? What do you think are the most important influences on your artistic development?
My attitude is pretty much the same. From the beginning I have followed my instinct and explored subjects that I find interesting along my journey in life. I am curious and I am attracted to things that intrigue me. I like to explore them and I do so with the medium I know the best, photography. I rarely follow trends, I just like to follow my own feelings. I surely prefer to create something that will become timeless. What has probably evolved the most is my passion for art. All forms of art are deeply part of my life and inspire me greatly every day in my creative process. It can be something I have seen in a museum, in a movie, at the ballet or it can be a piece of music that profoundly resonated in me; it has happened many, many times.
You’ve collaborated with luxury fashion brands such as Charles Jourdan where your photography was featured prominently on a large-scale billboard in Times Square. Can you elaborate more on your experience with collaborations and how it influences your work?
The Charles Jourdan experience was a great one, because first of all, even though it was shot for a commercial assignment, I was approached as an artist and given carte blanche for the creative process of the campaign. Secondly, it was a great challenge because I had to walk in the footsteps of legendary fashion photographer Guy Bourdin who helped the brand for over two decades prior to establish its very unique style. Many of these iconic images Bourdin shot for Charles Jourdan are still clearly present in peoples’ minds. When something is so impactful and recognizable, and you are sharing the same medium, I feel that it is best to do something totally different. Black and white is the way I started in photography and it has always been my forte, so that is how I approached the campaign. This style worked well as there were no bright colors in the designs we were shooting and it was in great contrast with Bourdin’s extremely colorful palette.
My photographs had a place on their own in the advertising history of the Charles Jourdan company. They did bring a new approach to the brand, though I kept the sexy and chic characteristics of the women who wear these shoes. Lastly, I like when there is a story behind a series of photographs and in this case I wanted to play with mythology, as well as fetishism because the collection that Patrick Cox (the designer in house at that time) had created included several designs that were flirting with bondage. The campaign was a major success and it was a great honor for me to learn that the images had been integrated into the collection of le Musée de la publicité at Le Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris.
What has been your favorite project so far?
With no hesitation my very first important series, which I shot for my master’s degree. I went to live for several months with various tribes in Africa. Tribes that had rarely or never been exposed to the medium. I taught them photography borrowing my teacher Michel Semeniako’s concept “La photographie négociée” that could be translated into English by negotiated photography. It was a very interactive way to work with the subjects, which enabled me to greatly analyze the relationship that occurs between the photographer and the sitter during a photo session. The fascinating part is that, when I showed them the Polaroids I took of them (before digital photography, it was the only way to obtain an instant photograph) they could not recognize themselves. The only image they ever had seen of themselves was their life-size reflection in a mirror or water. To them, it was nearly impossible to conceive that their image could be shrunk to such a small size and permanently printed on a piece of paper. They loved it and thought it was pure magic. It was as thrilling for me as it was for them to share that experience. This undertaking was definitely unforgettable and to date my favorite series of photographs!
Do you have a favorite fashion brand?
There are many brands I like, but I would say that they are mainly the ones that have a true philosophy behind their products and that stick to it. It is also a plus if they use real, fine craftsmanship. Craftsmanship is important to me because I am the 4th generation photographer in my family. At the very beginning, photographers weren’t really considered artists, but more like craftsmen. They knew all the different phases of photography like creating their own chemicals, using wet plates, even sometimes building their own camera.... I do care about that aspect of the craftsmanship, which helps people respect and understand better the medium they are using, especially in these times where everyone claims to be a photographer, a painter or videographer.
Can you briefly tell us about the experience working on a commercial with film director Norry Niven who has earned six Emmy’s including some for his promo work for hit series such as Homeland and Dexter?
I have known Norry for a long time, basically since I moved to the US over than 20 years ago. We haven’t spent too much time together, but when we do meet up we have interesting conversations about creating images and telling stories. We also have always discussed the possibility of collaborating on a project together. I embraced photography at a young age, but my very first passion was movies. I wanted to be a filmmaker before photography sucked me in. Not too long ago, Norry and I collaborated on a commercial. I love his work and coincidentally, he was the first one to buy the first print I made of my Innocence series. Since then, he and his wife have collected my work. We are both busy with our respective careers, but I hope if the right projects come along, we will do more together soon. I would enjoy it very much because we have a similar approach in making images—we are passionate about what we do, we love art, and we have fun creating stories, but most of all, we enjoy sharing them.