Some may know me working as senior critic here in our forum. I was invited to take that role because I love photography, and I love to discuss the results. In my work there, I try to help people out by “loaning my eyes”, which is my favourite description of what the team of 20 senior critics does. We see beginners work, we see people trying new genres in photography, and we see professionals who were not published and ask for advice, across all aspects of photography, for all skill sets. For me, not only the front page of 1x is a source for inspiration, also postings in critique, the many things we all learn there and the portfolios I scan, to get a sense of what members do who post for critique, what preferences they have, what skills.
It’s about half a year ago when I stumbled across a very funny picture, which showed quite a setup for a fun photograph, good choices in aperture, tones and composition, just little things that could have been done differently. From all these criteria and the complexity of the scene, I had the impression to write a critique for an experienced, engaged professional in photography.
So I “virtually” met Gautier Van Lieshout, a young, very ambitious photographer living in Paris. I was really surprised when he told me he was just 18. Because bringing many models in to a well-chosen location, costumed, handling all that light equipment is nothing I would have spent my time on when I was at his age. I became very curious, and found he had a long career in movie industry and theatre already. Gautier works in projects, in a team he pulled together, including a shining lady as art director, Alexia Vic. Many of you will recognize her, because she’s also a model for various photographers on 1x.
There is an African saying: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."
Gautier started his career in film industry at the age of 7. He was used to big sets, many people, helping hands, tungsten lighting, costumes, make-up artists and hairdressers. So it’s only logical he did not assume you can deliver outstanding results as a one-man show. As the African saying expresses, you might get to a quick and good result, but Gautier thinks bigger.
This introduction is followed by a live interview where you can learn a bit more about him and his goals in life. He wants to be as successful as Peter Lindbergh, his idol. And that’s a long way. You better don’t walk it alone.
Curious as I am, I arranged a meeting in Paris when I travelled to Bretagne for landscapes. I met a very energetic, kind, stylish young man, who had a clear vision in mind what his future will look like. Again, I was impressed. He told me he had his first photo exhibition, “Le temps des femmes” at the age of 17. Gautier was already working with a team, people he knew from university, people that joined by references, people he acquired by Facebook. The glue is a give and take, make-up artists and models need references, his cooperation partner, Pierre, does making-of videos in exceptional quality, and other partners like the Marriott and Make Up for Ever sponsor him non-financially. Not to forget La grande Dame at every set, Alexia, his Directrice Artistique (sounds even better in French!). She backs him up, prepares the next set, has an eye on everything, like the progress of make-up, organizes accessories, negotiates things for him, so he can really concentrate on light and shots, his photography. She’s the good soul at his sets, and as a very determined person with her eyes everywhere, she simply enables him to get to his results. Why I know? I’ll come to that…
Alexia Vic, Art Director
I mentioned I comment on a lot of genres. But I don’t feel comfortable writing about things I know little about. Fashion photography was an undiscovered area for me, as I had never worked with a team.
My little experience of cooperating with others just showed me one thing. It usually helps a lot, but it can also be hindering if you don’t share the same vision, rhythm and goals. Gautier takes potential new team members to two different kinds of sets, sees how they fit within the group. A good team must work together, a banal finding, but essential. Here it is, the “well-oiled machine” around Gautier:
Cassandra Ceschi & Samantha Adamo, MUA Cynthia Lefebvre, Hair Stylist Ema Martins, Backstage Photography
Philippe Boulogne, Light Assistant Pierre (AlgauProduction) , Backstage film Tanguy Chouard, Light Assistant
How do I know they work like well-oiled? Gautier granted me that experience. I was invited to shoot Alexia for one day, with all his team, all his equipment, in a partner location, the Marriott Champs Elysées, and Alexia even loaned fashion from Romain Thévenin. I’m not any knowledgeable in fashion, but ladies probably heard about this young French designer, who fits up celebrities like Grace Jones or Mariah Carey with his creations. He visited us at the set, to see what we were doing. Very nice to meet him, his clothes really impressed me. https://www.romaintheveninparis.com/
In advance, we exchanged a lot via Facebook, one group discussion per shooting, where we were introduced, we connected, had a look at the others work. I researched the location, did a list of perspectives and spots I liked and had ideas for. I also had a look at the amazing costumes Romain creates, wrote a wish list. Alexia arranged the transport, and we’re talking about single dresses up to 15 kilo, heavy fabric, metal and ceramic applications. Fascinating designs, just not always easy to wear. But I believe women just feel great in these clothes, and that’s what you need at a set. I can’t thank Gautier enough, he gathered a group of fantastic people around him and “loaned” them to me. The workflow is so much different than when you work alone. There is no interruption, you need an additional strip – somebody fetches it. Little adjustment to the giraffe holding the beauty dish, stay where you are, don’t lose the perspective, just say what you want and concentrate on the result. While you do the one set, let people carry the sofa from the bar into the suite. They heat up the room in advance, so the model does not get goose bumps. Many eyes see many things, an experienced team simply knows what to do. For me, this was like a photographic paradise. A model who knows what to do, Alexia, an assistant who couldn’t know the equipment any better, Gautier, and nothing to think about but the lights, poses, locations.
Live studio shot - “New Humans”
The next day Gautier continued with his project “New Humans”, a lot of these androgyny photographs, show selfish, stylish and bizarre humans and were published on 1x already. It’s about our society today, where the successful change character and interests. They lose empathy for their surrounding, become cold, beautiful - but empty, busy only with themselves and keeping on the track of success. The works for Gautier’s projects often have some stylish aspect, because that’s all “New Humans” strive for, coolness and beauty.
Gautier created the idea of the glitters together with Cassandra Ceschi. She was there from the real beginning of New Humans’ story. Samantha and Cassandra work as a team, and became Gautier's core « MUA » team. Both did a hell of a job with the complex make-up of four models that day. Cynthia is responsible for everything to do with hair. From her wide skill set she’s also a wig-maker and creates a lot of things for the head beyond just dressing hair. I observed Gautier, his interaction with his team. When he shoots, he just gives short commands. After a few shots are done, the team has a look, or at least a few of them, always Alexia. Things might be rearranged. Philippe is Gautier's first light assistant, he’s a passionate people photographer himself. From a glimpse at a frame he immediately knows what’s wrong. And Ema with her good instinct of sceneries does wonderful backstage photography. Many sessions are documented on the artists websites and on YouTube.
A set of shot takes roundabout 20-30 minutes. Gautier varies angles very deliberately, does series, changes light setups quite frequently. He has the ideas for his photographs in mind long before the shooting. The advantage of working with always the same team is that you don’t need to explain much. Additional ideas may develop at the set, the order of sets may change, and then you feel the high level of loyalty and respect in their human interaction. No loud word, no moaning, all work in unison, no discussion who actually grabs the task. Things get done, everybody shows up in time, like mentioned, a machinery. A very kind and polite kind of “machine”, with a good sense of humour and portion of fun.
This is not a pleading to gather a team around you. But you can find companions and help each other. Tanguy for example does film projects. He has the ideas and storybook in mind. Gautier helps him with light and cameras. It’s a give and take. Make-up-artists need references, here they can try unusual things. Pierre loves filming, for him I believe it’s like hunting. He uses a 200mm mostly and you barely notice him, always capturing from far behind, not getting in the way.
Try to find out what people are after. Help each other and you will learn and grow. 1x is a community. Don’t just drop off your work and hope for a publication. Interact with each other, from the portfolios and profiles it’s easy to find similar preferences and locations. You can see where exchange took me, an amazing experience I would never want to miss.
Watch this artist, I’m pretty convinced in little time from now, he will make it. He had publications in Vogue Italia, Normal Magazine, Eye Magazine, PHOTO magazine, Fine Eye Magazine, Ô magazine, OpenEye Magazine, at the age of 18. For a photographer who sees his future in fashion, you could say he already arrived.
Gautier, if I’d ask your girlfriend Ema to describe you in a few words, what would she say? I’ll see her tomorrow, so be honest!
Ambitious / stressed / passionate / thoughtful
If I remember right, your first exhibition was at the age of 17. What made you want to become a professional photographer at such a young age?
I worked for theatre and cinema for 10 years, from 7-17. I was always interested in fashion, and fascinated by fashion photography. One morning I woke up and decided to change. Why not doing what always impressed me? I called my agent and told him my plan, that I'm not interested in doing film any more.
I came across your first work posted in 1x Critique section, a shot where you brought in five models for a shot, at a well chosen location, all costumed. I was deeply impressed, and I believe you were impressed by the feedback you received from senior critics. What brought you to 1x.com?
I put my first works up to 500px, but the feedback you get there is little, kind of useless. A friend recommended 1x, I had a look and was impressed about the quality of work on the front page and in portfolios. I soon experienced it is a challenge to become published here. But I love challenges. In professional fashion photography, you always need to be the best, too many people are really good. So I kept trying, and I'm at 20 publications today, which I'm very grateful for.
Most of us will be ‘lonely fighters’, I have the pleasure of a passionate photographer as girlfriend, I believe, you too. But you obviously work in teams. As we can see from the various making-of-videos on your personal site, there are many people involved. How did these teams form?
I always worked in teams. If you want to photograph, you can't do many things at once. There is no flow in working if you're busy with fetching stuff, adjusting light, rearrange details. Probably my background as an actor let me know a good result is always a team effort. I was used to many people at a set, letting me do what I want to do and they take care of all the rest.
My first team I gathered from everywhere, recommendations, Facebook, friends. But we did not share the vision and passion, and it fell apart. My team today is just a gem. I test people who want to join, in two scenarios. It's very important they harmonize, not only with me. I like to work with _my_ team, no matter where my career may take me. That's what keeps us together, the trust and loyalty, and of course the fun getting something creative done!
The latest works I saw occasionally play with genders, have a cool touch always, even when emotions are involved, they rather appear synthetically, androgyny. What do you seek when making a picture?
Generally, I don't like emotions in photographs. That's probably a hard statement. Let me explain with two projects. In "Le temps des Femmes" I was very interested in the emotions of the individual women, and my goal was to find scenarios to capture those.
In my "New Humans" series, it's about the little emotions people have today, the missing empathy, being selfish, the pressure people put on themselves to be smart, beautiful and successful. The more they achieve this, the colder they get. In my observation, they form a sect, the sect of people who think they've made it. So in some way my projects are about emotions. It's just not me having an emotion in mind and making that a scene.
Would you like to reveal some details about the creative process and the challenges of realizing your work today?
My work always starts with a vision, and my biggest challenge is to find the right models for it. Finding a location isn't that hard because I work with rather minimalistic setups. My team is like a family sticking together. I work hard and like that, and I rather have too many ideas than I would have a need for new ones.
What bores you to see in images, whether they are portraits, fashion or nudes?
Wildlife an Landscapes! Sorry guys, but if there are no people involved, it's nothing for me. Waiting 6 hours for one picture is nothing that fascinates me. I'm a creative photographer, not a hunter.
Do you consider what your models might desire when being portrayed, or is the result only your vision in a picture?
With the exception of "Le temps des Femmes", which I already referred to, no. As mentioned, I have the vision in mind and models are just the medium to get to that result. I don't ask them.
Your thoughts on Facebook and social media?
I think that Facebook and social media are a good tools. You can work with them, find some people, and develop your communication channels. This is the marketing aspect of the job.
How would you define beauty, not in a real world, but as a photo?
Difficult… I think that beauty is when you say “wow”, a good word. When I see something and I feel to say wow, that photo is beautiful, no matter what the theme is. The first inner reaction is what counts. I’m not sure that you can consider a picture really beautiful after a few more seconds.
What is your view on nudity in photographs? A theme, a medium, a necessity?
Just a theme, nothing else. I use nudity to say something, not just to put nudity on display without any reason.
If you had the chance to work with one photographer for a day, who would that be and why him or her?
Peter Lindbergh, no question about it. He was the one that brought me to photography, his work revolutionized fashion photography. He brought the personality into this genre, established a very different style, a closer relation to models in his work. I would simply love to experience a day with him. In fact I know Stefan Rappo very well, who works for Peter. So maybe it does not stay a dream?
Where do you draw inspiration from? Are there favourite artists or works you study?
Helmut Newton, Peter Lindbergh, Bettina Rheims, David Lachapelle, Pierre et Gilles.
How spontaneous is photography for you? Do you do spend time pre-planning, storyboarding etc. or do you rather let creativity flow during the session?
I spend a lot of time to create my subjects. But when I’m at the set, I change a lot of things. Before, I’ve an idea, a way of thinking, the base plot. Only that, I trust my instinct to make that work.
Is there something else you would like to try in photography?
I would love to do more complex, bigger scenarios, opulent staging, many people involved. I like what I do today, but that is a thing I believe is another, big challenge.
What advice do you have for somebody who wants to pursue photography in this time?
Be strong, fight, always try to be the best. It's a hard time for photography, it became such a common thing today. So you can't deliver half-hearted results, you have deliver the best you can do, always.
What would you do if you were invisible for a day?
<< Big grin >> Haha ! I would take my photos and put them on the desk of Anna Wintour (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Wintour), with my phone number. I would stay there because I want to see her reaction. Maybe she would call me, would my phone ring when I’m invisible?
Where do you see yourself in 3 years? What can we expect to see from Gautier in the future?
I want to work for the best, that's Vogue for me. Hopefully you will see me there, I simply love fashion photography, and this is what I want to achieve. Recently I made it into the Italian Vogue, which is what I was always after. So I will get there, if that's in three years, I don't know.