Inside Out: Our Interview with François Halard
François Halard is like a looking glass. Endlessly inspired by the spaces that artists occupy, he’s made it his life’s work to take photos as a way of telling stories. Interested in the strong perspectives of interiors and architecture, François has cultivated a career capturing homes, hotels, structures, and studios of iconic creatives. With a roster that includes Yves Saint Laurent, Cy Twombly, and Louise Bourgeois to name a few, François has both an unmatched eye and ambition. As a child, he used his dad’s camera to snap photos of his own spaces. With a mother that worked in magazines, he developed a deep interest in interior spreads and the inspiration they served.
François also happens to be friends with Karl and Olivier of Studio KO, the brilliant design duo we had the privilege of working with on Flamingo Estate. With François slated to shoot Flamingo in the coming months, it felt like the perfect time to talk with him about opportunity, interests, and his never-ending appetite for experience.
Flamingo Estate, which you will be photographing for Studio KO, is an embodiment of Richard and Chandelier’s interest in interior design and lifestyle and travel. I think you have common interests, so I wanted to hear your perspective on your work, the places you’ve lived, your travels. Looking at your photos, I noticed that the interior element is often connected with the exterior, is that correct?
That’s correct. When I was a kid, I took my dad's camera to photograph my bedroom when I was, I don't know, let's say 14 or 15. So I started to photograph things that were close me. My first published work was for Decoration Internationale in 1980 I think, and it was actually the country house of my parents. To combine exterior and interior gives you the ability to put the interior in a relationship of where it is. It gives you sense of place, a sense of time, a sense of the weather, and of the sensibility of what’s around the house.
How do you approach an interior before you photograph it? How do you walk in, what do you think about? Do you have a process?
No, I do not have a process. Absolutely not. I try and see the space with fresh eyes, with no preconceived idea. So I’m totally open, I'm totally free when I enter the room. And I try to photograph the light throughout the day, that’s the only rule I have. It to try and get the best room with best light possible.
Is there a light you prefer? Geographically or time of day?
No, no. I love the light, so when I don't have enough daylight, I try to reproduce daylight as close as possible so they think I do [laughs].
You say you are completely free when you photograph, but is your work biased because of the owner’s presence? Don't you want to try to showcase their interior to depict their personality?
Yes. Photographing a house is the best autobiography of someone because of the intimacy, and I think a good interior picture is when that picture, that interior, reflects the personality of the individual. And it's why, right now, I try to focus more on artist spaces, or spaces where you can see a point of view regarding architecture.
Do very creative people always have the most stunning homes?
Yes, usually. For example, I'm thinking about Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé. I was lucky to photograph their houses when I was very young. I traveled with them all over and photographed every house they had. They were fantastic. They loved collecting and mixing all the objects and periods together. To have a chance to do that in my early 20s, and to be, at the time, the first one to do it, that was really a chance, really a fantastic opportunity.
“It took me almost 20 years to have the opportunity to photograph Cy Twombly’s house.”
Incredible privilege and luck.
I was very lucky to have access to fantastic houses and to fantastic artists as well. Cy Twombly’s house was also a fantastic experience and opportunity to be so close to an artist I really admire. I try to get close to the subject I’d like to photograph. It took me almost 20 years to have the opportunity to photograph Cy Twombly’s house, and I waited many years to photograph Carlo Mollino’s apartment. It’s like I’m always in the search of something more than just an apartment. Something really inspirational. Something that means something. I like to be the translator, to give people a chance to see these extraordinary places through photography. I think that's really a privilege.
Yes. That's fascinating. Is there any favorite place photographed? Do you have any favorites?
No, the list is too long. Because my interest could be early Islamic architecture or Egyptian architecture, I did a book on Versailles… For me, it’s strong architecture and a strong point of view that transcends time. With each opportunity, I try to make something personal - something about architecture with a point of view.
Is your photography a way of exploring architecture?
Yes, of course. It's a way of exploring architecture. It's a way of also a way of exploring time. It’s almost zen. I like photographing gardens because it's almost like a zen experience. I just went to Japan just to photograph zen gardens, especially the one of Katsura, the imperial house and garden built in the 18th century. You just focus on the green. You just focus on the architecture. My friends had a book on that [Katsura] house and garden that I saw when I was 14. Because of that, I always dreamed to one day go there and photograph it. It's like a quest.
It’s a quest that's never satisfied or -
Never ending. I have many places that I would like still to go, things still to photograph, to still enjoy doing. I work so much because I always find things that interest me, things that are new, new perspectives. I work on things that I want to discover. I don’t wait to be given an assignment. Even on vacation, I always try to do something. I'm always trying to see what will make me happy by taking pictures. Even if it's not for a magazine, I’m always shooting, thinking, trying to find new places, new ideas.
You take photos of the real world but you are also creating a form of fantasy in a way. Through your aesthetic, an interior becomes an idea of life.
Yes. Interiors have always kept me dreaming, kept me thinking. So, it's trying to recreate the impression of when I found an inspiring place. I wanted to make people dream the same way I dream looking at magazines.
Right. Have you tried to photograph your home?
Many times. It’s more difficult. I try to make it even more personal, more special. I use my house as a studio, so I try things there. I’ll do 8x10 Polaroids, then I’ll do something else. I try to do something more dramatic with my own things because I'm more free. I'm trying to do a series of out of focus Polaroids that make me think of Cy Twombly. It's always in reference with something I have on my mind.
“The analog film gives a more sensual perspective.”
About references, do you have any favorite movie or director or architect?
Yes. I have two movies that I absolutely adore. Professione: repoter, I think it's called The Passenger in English, by Michelangelo Antonioni with Jack Nicholson and Maria Schneider. I love that movie. I love the fact that it's a search of lost identity. Also, there's a great piece of architecture in that movie because it was partially shot in Barcelona, so you have Gaudí. My other favorite is Jean Luc Godard’s Contempt. Shot in the Malaparte house, which has been more than an inspiration for me, in many ways. I was so obsessed with the movie, I wanted to reproduce the blue sofa. The movie also has a relationship between the modernity and the-
Exactly. I find that with Cy Twombly too, it’s how you mix modernity with that. For me, it's very important.
What about architects?
Well, there’s Gaudi and there’s the Malaparte house, which is one of the most amazing buildings of the 20th century. To add to that list, I'm working on a book on the Eileen Gray house, called E1027, which was built in 1923, something like that. Eileen Gray also had the modernist identity. I'm a big fan of Karl and Olivier [of Studio KO]. For me, they represent a new, very fresh generation. I think what they did the Yves Saint Laurent Museum in Marrakech is absolutely fantastic. I'm a big fan of the new generation of French architect.
You just photographed the Peter and Paul hotel in New Orleans, were you surprised that you were called to photograph a project that's still very green?
Yes, very green. For me it was very interesting, the idea to have specific hotel, a specific feeling in each of the places they’ve developed. It’s quite something to build a luxurious hotel in New Orleans in a church, in an ex-convent. I think it gives the place a special feeling about it. And I admire them because they always pick some tricky location to build something new.
Do you think you add a sense of place by your photography?
I hope so.
So you give identity to places. Your photographs, in a sense are a participation in branding.
Yes. When I'm working on those projects, I always try to work in analog medium format, not in digital. I think the analog film gives a more sensual perspective. It's not as flat. It gives you a certain flavor, especially with interiors. It gives warmth and feeling that you can’t get in digital. I think to make your pictures more personal, you have to use a very personal technique to be able to give that flavor.
Words by François Halard and The Editors.