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Jean-Luc Billet: Ethereal Landscape Art

by Yvette Depaepe
Published the 13th of March 2023


Jean-Luc Billet has an inextinguishable thirst for beauty, space, freedom and solitude... This is all very well expressed in his splendid minimal and ethereal images.  When out shooting, he collects sensations, feelings and emotions and that is the raw material of his creations. Let's follow him into his magic world and learn some more about the excellent artist photographer he is.


'Murmur of the sea'


Dear Jean-Luc, first I would like to thank you for taking the time to answer this questionnaire! To begin, please introduce yourself shortly and tell us more about you, your hobbies or other projects you are involved in!

I have always lived in France, on the Atlantic coast. I studied art history and visual arts and divided my time between teaching art and practising various disciplines like drawing, painting, sculpture... Photography has always been present in my carreer as a teacher as well as in my personal practice, but remained in the background for a long time. It became more and more important over the last 15 years until it replaced my other practices.


When and how did you start your photographic journey?

It may have been when I got a Kodak 'Instamatic' at a present for my 14th birthday. At that time, I started and managed a film lab in my school... Maybe!...
During my studies, I used a lot photography but then the course was not linear with long periods devoted to other preoccupations and bursts of interest resulting in taking the enlarger out of the cupboard. But I returned to black and white during a stay in Rome in 1997 and greatly improved my printing technique in the following years until the end of the analogue era.


'Erosion' (South Corsica – France)


For many of us photography is either a hobby or a way of life. How would you define your relationship with photography?

It has become an essential to me. It is closely linked to another passion of mine: nature, wide open spaces, coastal areas, walking on trails from here and elsewhere, journeys on foot in deserts or in the mountains. This is where I collect images, sensations, feelings and emotions that will be the raw material of my creations.


'Sandwind / Vent de Sable


What would be the most important experience so far that has influenced your steps in photography?

It is thanks to the digital era and technoligy that photography became my number one in my artistic practice. I used to make large selenium toned silver prints, which I found very time-consuming and space-consuming, and I found it increasingly difficult to bear the claustrophobia felt in the darkroom. Digital came at the right time to open up new horizons for me and I decided to invest in training time (self-taught) and equipment.





'Sandwind / Vent de Sable'


You have your very own style. Why are you so drawn by ethereal and minimal landscape photography?

Would an in-depth psychoanalysis allow me to answer this question? I don't know! But it seems to me that at part of the answer would be found in my childhood... which I will obviously not dwell on here. To simplify, I would say an inextinguishable thirst for beauty, space, freedom and solitude...


'Erg Admer'


What is more important to you, the mood/story behind your images or the technical perfection?

In the text introducing the 'Erg Admer' exhibition on my 1X profile, I explain that I started this journey with a new digital camera that I did not master at all. The result: many technically unsatisfactory photos, especially overexposed skies. In order to restore the lights and moods engraved in my mind, I needed the technique. My conclusion at the end of the 'erg Admer' exhibition: 'I no longer know if this desert is faithful to reality but it seems to me that it perfectly in line with what I had kept of it, including others than visual dimensions. Above all, I have found my intimate desert, the one I carried within me long before I was able to walk through it. And this is essential for me'. On 1X, many comments emphasised the 'natural' aspect of these images, even though some of them are very elaborate. This gave me great satisfaction thanks to the technique, which is able to compensate for our mistakes or shortcomings. But I am a little wary of "perfection" which is never very far from the artificial...


'Erg Admer'


What generally is your relationship to your subject matter beyond being an observer?

I would like to show NATURE out of our time and civilization as virgin spaces without traces of human intervention. So the natural tends towards the supernatural. At the same time I want to blend in, to inhabit them, but symbolically, without any notion of appropriation. My images also speak of respect for our environment, of preserving the beauty essential to our lives. When I made my series "Sand Wind -Vent de Sable" the idea which guided me was showing the shores under the effect of the wind as if I was discovering them sitting on top of a magic carpet... without leaving any trace! And beyond the visual, there are all these fundamental sensations provided by the elements: the wind, the rain, the heat...


'Erg Admer'

Do you prepare carefully the locations where you are intending to photograph?

The coastline where I live is very well preserved; it is an inexhaustible subject. I know that coastline perfectly well and know where to go to find what I'm looking for: vast beaches, dunes, deep forests, foreshore, cliffs, rocks, pebbles, etc. All I need is the weather forecast and the tide times. To photograph in the mountains; I look for the routes which allow me to reach the mineral altitudes without too many difficulties.  After all, it is the weather which has the control. On the other hand, when traveling and reaching my destination, I tend to let myself be carried away and take advantage of all the beauty that presents itself.  I keep my eyes wide open to a new world.


'Sandwind / Vent de Sable'


Describe your overall photographic vision.

I would gladly adopt the definition by photographer Daniel Challe: "Being a photographer means carrying deep down the desire for a vibration with nature, cities, landscapes, bodies. Rhythm that comes from the first look of the childhood, of this faculty of feeling and experiencing, which sometimes gets lost on the way in the adult world dominated by weariness, adaptation, reason."


'Sandwind / Vent de Sable'


What are the main features of a successful landscape photographer in your opinion?

The landscape is neither a screen, nor a subject in which we are going to be interested with the sole aim of translating it into a screen. The photographer is not IN FRONT of a landscape but IN a landscape, he is an integral part of it. His perceptions, his movements, his analysis will naturally lead him to make choices among the many possibilities available to him: point of view, framing and shooting parameters. This requires a certain letting go, not aiming for the spectacular, and staying as close as possible to one's own truth and that of the landscape.


'Sandwind / Vent de Sable'


Can you please tell us something more about your workflow from the idea to the final product?

For me, shooting is only half the battle. Obviously the choices made at that time are decisive. For example, I am thinking of the methods and parameters to reinforce the idea of space in my landscape photos. But discovering my images later, I have the impression they are raw material that remains to be shaped. I therefore particularly appreciate the flexibility of raw files and all the tools available to us which allow us to work with the same state of mind and the same freedom as the painter in front of his canvas. The result is satisfactory when the agreement between reality and feeling is perfect… if we succeed!


'Terra Incognito'


'Terra Incognito'

In parallel I have recently developed another image creation that I group under the generic term of "Chimeras". The various confinements linked to covid have motivated these escapes towards the imagination. Because of the lack of possibilities to go out to take pictures, I began to rediscover second-choice images (those which were not selected but which we did not dare to throw away), using the means of creative editing (retouching, photomontage, etc.). By developing this option I then started to take specific shots for certain projects. Thus the images titled 'Terra Incognita' published at the moment on 1X, are coming from various series grouped under this general title.


'Terra Incognito'


Where do you look to find inspiration and what inspires you the most?

I'm not looking… When I'm working on a topic, there's always one or two others in the queue! The sources can be multiple, shot on a randomly encountered subject that seems to deserve development, encounter with a forgotten image while searching in the archives, unexpected bifurcation when editing a photo, reading, inspiring encounter while frequenting exhibitions and publication platforms…


'Terra Incognito'

Many are of the opinion that the gear is not very important when the passion for photography is strong. However, can you please share with us what gear you use (camera, lenses, lighting, tripod, etc.)?

I don't like to be overly loaded and cluttered to roam nature, I don't have the latest devices or the most up-to-date software, but at the same time I like to produce quality images that I print myself - even to present in an exhibition. Currently I use equipment called "Expert" (medium range). Either a reflex NIKON APSC equipped with a 16/85 lens, which suffered a lot while traveling (I would like to replace it soon with a full-frame hybrid).I completed it more recently with a hybrid LUMIX GX8 equipped with several lenses; much lighter and more compact and with an image quality equivalent to that of my reflex. It quickly became a discreet and essential companion for all my nature getaways (treks, deserts, mountains, etc.). I also have a heavy Manfrotto tripod for long exposures and withstanding storms, a reliable computer, two screens including a comfortable and obviously calibrated EIZO, and an EPSON A3+ printer. But when I have a technical talk with some photographers, I feel a bit like an image craftsman, ignorant of a lot about the evolution of sophisticated cameras and software tools.


What would be your favourite photo? Please tell us the story behind it.


'Erg Admer'


I have a print of this photo on a wall in my living room for a long time, and it will no doubt remain so for a long time. I never get enough of it! It soothes me, reassures me, fills me with a feeling of fullness. It was taken in February in the South Algerian Sahara: after a long walk in the burning canyons of Tassili N'Ajjer, the first dunes of Erg Admer appear as the sun goes down. All around, the landscape is simply sublime (Several great travellers, who knew what they were talking about, defined this region as one of the most beautiful places on earth!). Beneath the colours of the setting sun, the infinity of dunes undulating towards infinity, the Ténéré and the Niger. The silence is total, the impression of delectable sweetness. This contemplative break was followed by a night in a hollow of a dune, under the magic of the stars. I am happy and fulfilled to have been there that evening. I feels like if there is a part of my soul in this image...


'Erg Admer'

Who are your favorite photographers or mentors whose works have influenced you and your photography?

I am not only influenced by links to photography but to all areas of the visual arts. I had the professional opportunity to deepen and share them through screenings, visits to exhibitions or museums and the organization of cultural trips. In the beginning, especially painters influenced me: Caspar David Friedrich, Paul Klee, Max Ernst, Leonardo Crémonini, Antoni Tapiès.  But also sculptors: Giuseppe Penone, Anselm Kiefer, Andy Goldsworthy…
As for the photographers, they are numerous.  I will mention Henri Cartier-Bresson for his eye, Pentti Sammallathi for his poetry, Ansel Adams for his sublimated landscapes, but also Magdi Senadji, Bernard Descamps, Alvarez Bravo and so many others. Without forgetting the trips in 'Genesis' by Sebastião Salgado which I never can have enough.


Now, since we have almost reached the end of this interview, I would kindly ask you to share with us your plans or photographic projects you would like to be involved in.

I often work on several projects at the same time. I am currently finishing two.
The first is called '(a) fleur de sable': I surveyed the beaches of my region at dawn to collect the delicate graphic poems left by the waves on the sand during the night and tried to restore them as well as possible, to present them as precious creations.
The second, entitled 'Vestiges', very personal, concentrates multiple aspects of my history, my passions and my artistic activities. These are montages combining photographs of my sculptural achievements with 'archaeological' resonances taken in 'studio' with images of landscapes collected during my travels in mineral spaces. I will probably have the opportunity to show them on 1X in the coming months.
Another project for the future about traveling through spaces marked by volcanic activity.  I already had the opportunity to walk among (extinct!) volcanoes on an island in Cape Verde and I felt at home! After this 3-year immobility due to covid, I plan to leave again soon, probably to the Canary Islands, to deepen this subject in pictures.


'Terra Incognito'

Is there anything else you wish to add and what do you think about 1X as a home base for your work?

I have been published and awarded on 1X which I find interesting and enriching, stimulating and inspiring.. Through the 1x curation system, the content is very qualitative. To me, 1x  helps me to sort and choose the images I will propose in exhibitions for instance and even to eliminate certain images which obviously do not offer any echo.  One is not always the best judge of our own work. Therefore I would like to continue to share my images on 1x in the future and hope that they will be appreciated.




Many thanks to you, Yvette and to the 1X team for publishing my images in your selections, for highlighting my exhibition (Vent de Sable) and for this interview. This interest reinforces me in the paths of photographic creation that I have chosen. It's a real encouragement to fulfill the level of quality. Cheers to you and see you soon on 1X.


January 2023

Jean-Luc Billet 




Simply great artistic work. I am overwhelmed to see your mystic and mesmerizing landscape. The silence of the beauty is purely captured in your photographs. Truly we can see your lone soul in the pictures. I also love your beautiful narrative writing with pictures as bonus.
Great work of art.
Great. A wonderful interview and very inspiring photos. My congratulations.
Thank you for the look behind your photography and this great interview! Your photos are beautiful and high level! Congratulations!
If you are still thinking if photography is an art form, you must see this.
In her introduction, Yvette describes me as an Artist Photographer, your comment goes in the same direction, I am really honoured that my work is perceived in this way; indeed, photography is still sometimes perceived as a minor art...
Many Thanks.
Beautiful, natural and artistic! Excellent interview with the inspiration and the collection of the artworks. Thank you so much for your words and your works, Jean-Luc! Appreciate very much to have it done, Yvette!
Thanks for your neverlasting appreciation, dear friend !
Thank you Wangham Li, I'm glad you found my work interesting.
Beautiful work, interview and choise of the photo's
Many thanks Ingrid.
Many thanks Anita.
Perfect! Thank you for this interview Yvette, it is very gratifying for me. Have a nice day!
My pleasure, Jean-Luc!
Beautiful and mesmerising work , congratulations Jean . Thanks Yvette for sharing the work of amazing photographers and enriching us every day
Thank you so much for your heartwarming reaction, dear Anita !!! That's exactly why I love doing what I do here ;-)