A Conversation with Erwan Frotin

06 February, 2017

Erwan is one of the first photographers we ever worked with at Chandelier. We’ve loved seeing his strangely poetic, nature-inspired still lifes over the years. We chatted with him as he’s ramping up for new projects.

Tell us about your love for still lifes. When did it start, and how do you manage to constantly renew your compositions?

For me, a good still life isn’t only a composition of objects lit and photographed beautifully. The final image needs to open the viewer’s mind to a poetic allegory, philosophical preoccupation, or glimpse into another world. Photography became my occupation on top of many other passions I’ve always had. I nurture a great interest for various knowledge systems: sciences, literature, mythologies, spiritualties, etc. I spend a lot of my time learning about these topics by reading, travelling, and meeting people. Photographs are means to visually express my discoveries, and share them in a personal way.

Do you prefer still lifes to human portraits? Are they a better way to materialize your inner vision?

That’s quite right. I see matter around us as an infinite wealth of significance, not only symbolically, but spiritually: every thing conveys a proper vibration. When you look at certain things, immersed in the emotions they convey, you can experience a kind of meditation. It’s a fun game to play with objects, colors, emotions, and concepts to create a new composition, very similar to child’s play.

Still life is a good account of my relationship to the world. Curiously enough, it demands a passionate knowledge of both the natural world and man-made objects, as well as a detached approach. So far, I haven‘t produced significant projects with human figures., which demands another (more mature, somehow) kind of knowledge and sensibility. As I’m growing as an adult, the time will eventually come when I’ll be able to accomplish a satisfying story with human models. But it takes a lot of time. I’m such a perfectionist. I can’t rush.

“Photographs are means to visually express my discoveries, and share them in a personal way.”

Your palette is very colorful. Between gradient and vivid colors, it feels futuristic, almost an illustration for a sci-fi novel. Do you agree?

I do. I’ve always been interested in science fiction. The sophisticated fantasy worlds that exist in literature and movies always inspired me by their wealth of imaginary forms and incongruous but implacable rules. I would actually love to go further and do this as a second career some day: conceptualizing science-fiction movies.

I can feel that sense of fantasy from your photos. How you see nature must have something to do with that…

I know the vegetal kingdom very well, as I’ve been interested in it since I was a child. I’ve always grown many plants at home. I even started studying to become a botanist when I was a teenager, but I got bored by pure scientific approaches and realized I needed to make both sides of my brain work equally. I have a very concrete approach to the world, but also a strong need to create unseen perspectives. If one feels a sense of fantasy in my images, it’s probably a translation of my relation to the whole natural world. For me, the diversity of life forms is a gate to another dimension, the wide space where all our dreams can exist. The closest example I can find of my sensibility is the perceptiveness of a shaman, a medium. I take it as a responsibility to stay open to intimate, spontaneous feelings I get when I relate to a natural subject.

“The diversity of life forms is a gate to another dimension, the wide space where all our dreams can exist.”

What are you working on these days?

These days, rather than pure studio still life, I do practice in two slightly different directions: one is a kind of documentary exploration, a long-term project about nature. It will soon be published as a book. The other is slowly exercising at translating my ideas with human figures.

How do you work? What’s your routine?

I’m not very mundane. As much as possible, I study books and spend time in nature. Building images before shooting them is a very long and complex process for me. Usually ideas slowly aggregate in my mind, until I can draw them.I then spend a lot of time thinking about these ideas: deconstructing and reconstructing them, again and again, in my mind and on paper, while researching at the same time the appropriate things that exist and could translate my vision. At some point, each concept reaches a kind of healthy balance between imagination and reality. Then it becomes a question of getting the things I need to make this vision real. If all this preparation process has matured thoroughly, the proper photographic shoot is then a very pragmatic, often exhilarating, final point.

All images (c) Erwan Frotin

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