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© OLIVIER TAFFORIN

  • What brought you to photography after so many years focusing mainly on painting?

It's more a case of being brought 'back' to photography because I come from a background where photography was omnipresent.  My mum's first husband was a photographer and she worked with him in the studio - she styled, helped with the lighting and also modelled.  My grandfather was a very keen photographer, in 1990 he bought me a Nikon F-301 and taught me the basics.  I did quite a lot of photography up to my early 20s before I turned to painting.  What brought me back to it is the magic of the digital era with its amazing post-editing possibilities coupled with my love for creating beautiful images.

 

  • Some people deplore the extensive use of retouching in contemporary photography, what's your position on the matter?

Like anything, overdoing it is a risk, but my work, which is very much informed by painting and film, often dictates to have an otherworldly atmospheric quality which has little to do with stark realism.  I love beauty, the sublime, the poetic, the painterly and the dreamlike - I retouch my work accordingly.  I like to sublimate my subjects; however I will not change them into something they’re not.  Retouching can be beautifully executed or very badly done - like any other art form.  

  • What do you enjoy shooting the most? People? Scenery?

All of it brings me pleasure although I do have a soft spot for portraiture.  I think it has to do with my early onset passion for film.  I saw my first Hitchcock film age 5 - To Catch a Thief - which left a profound impression on me.  It planted the seed of my obsession for beauty and otherworldly settings.  Actresses faces became an obsession, the way they were made up and lit and dramatised.  I think the collaboration between Marlene Dietrich and Josef Von Sternberg sums up perfectly my idea of idealised photographic poetry; she used to say he was like a painter using light and shadow as brushes - a statement which resonates with what I consider visual brio!  

  • Do you prefer shooting men or women?

Both are equally enjoyable.  Of course it sometimes feel like there are more possibilities with women because of clothes and make up but thankfully men are progressively getting happier to experiment with looks so there is a broad spectrum of visual options.  It’s really more about the personality of the model and whether they are enjoying the creative process.

  • Have you ever had a bad experience with one of your sitters?

Luckily not so far.  Whenever there’s been a problem on a shoot it’s been a lighting issue - I prefer working with natural light which obviously isn’t always reliable so I occasionally have to deal with the unexpected and its resulting frustrations!

  • Alongside cinema, you have mentioned that painting has a certain influence on your work - which are the artists you particularly admire?

Georgia O’Keeffe - to me the ultimate queen of refined minimalism and sophisticated abstraction; John Singer Sargent, for his flowing elegance in execution and incredible technique; Christian Schad - stylish and unnerving with a glacial art deco touch; Philip de Laszlo - very sargent-esque and beautifully atmospheric; Tamara de Lempicka - the ultimate art deco glamour portraitist; Caravaggio - the king of baroque with his overtly theatrical use of light and shadow; Casper Friedrich, Francis Cadell…  Their work is a great source of inspiration which translates very well photographically.

  • How about photographers?  Who are your favourites?

Annie Leibovitz - her work is phenomenal - from reportage to glamorous portraits - she can do anything.  Imogen Cunningham was brilliant - her elegant and fluid compositions are captivating.  Bern Schwartz did the most delightful classical formal portraits - they possess a certain painterly quality which really appeals to me.  Milton Greene and Saul Leiter were masters of their genres.  Peter Lindberg’s work is of exquisite grace, he really knows how to capture women’s beauty.  Early visionaries such as Henri Cartier-Bresson or Alfred Stieglitz were supreme forces - I look at their work with complete awe.

  • Amongst your work, is there a photograph you are particularly fond of?

It’s difficult to choose, I’m attached to all of my work.  Obviously the pictures of my partner and of my mother hold a special place in my heart because of who they depict but I give a hundred percent to all my shoots so I’m fond of them all.  Of course I have done pictures which I ended up being disappointed with but, although never released, I appreciate them for being instrumental in making me grow as an artist.

  • Last but not least, where do you see yourself in your older years?

They're not very far away I'm afraid!  Working as much as I do now and perhaps with a retrospective book released by a great publishing house.  I collect photographers monographs (nothing beats beautifully printed photographs) so having one of my own would be quite lovely.