Interview with French Fine Art Photographer Alain Laboile

Alain Laboile is a French fine art photographer whose current series, “La Famille” is showing at the dnj gallery in Santa Monica, CA from November 2 – January 4, 2014.  Originally a sculptor, Alain photographs his six children at his home in France, the results of which have generated quite a buzz — including a recent review in the New York Times.  I had a chance to speak with Alain with the help of his wife, who translates for him.

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You originally started as a sculptor and then moved into photography. How did this transformation come about?

I first came in contact with photography through my passion for entomology. I was working as a sculptor and needed to photograph my sculptures for creating a book.  I discovered the macro mode on my little camera and I learned the basics on my own by practicing macrophotography. The first prominent events were  winning two big Canon contests in 2007 and 2008. In 2007, I pointed my lens toward my growing family and this was, though I did not realize it at first, the starting point of my family album.

What are you doing now with your sculpture work, and what are you thinking of doing next with your fine art photography?

I’m still working as a sculptor, essentially to feed the family, but photography now takes a big place in my art.

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Are you finding the fine art photography as satisfying as sculpture work, and if so why?

I consider the two disciplines to be parallel instead of linked. On the one hand, sculpture in metal requires a full physical involvement, while photography calls for the eye and instinct. It is not comparable, even if both involve creativity.

With the your series “La Famille”, what are your trying to express artistically?

Everyday I share these photos on the internet. I realize the universal and timeless dimension of my photographic work by reading testimonies from other people living all over the world. It is fantastic to be able to share daily pieces of our family life, and find a positive response to this simple life close to nature.

Immersing someone in their own childhood through photography is very rewarding. I cannot count the number of people remembering themselves in the countryside with their grandparents, or recalling the smell of summer vacation..I like the idea that someone could delve back into his own life by looking at pictures of a random stranger on the web. What is sure is that this photographic vein based on family is not a calculation nor a conscious decision on my part. However, these stories certainly influence my photography.

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What camera are you using for most of your work, and are you making your prints yourself or sending them out? If you are shooting film, what film are you using?

I usually work with a digital Canon 5D MarkIII camera. Jock Sturges makes my prints in Seattle. I’m a lucky guy!.

Your previous series were color, so what does the black and white medium bring to your work? How do you decide whether to go black and white or in color? 

I think that the use of black and white probably reinforces the feeling of intemporality and universality.

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Your black and white looks very rich and contrasty. Is this achieved in the file processing or printmaking?

I use camera raw to convert color in B/W and a very light use of Photoshop. The printmaking adjustments play a role as well, of course.

What paper and printer are you using? Have you experimented much with different papers and print machines?

Epson Hot press natural paper and Epson 4900 for the printer. I like baryté paper printed with durst lambda as well. It looks like analogic prints.

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You give lectures. What do you like talk about with your audience?

People are very interested in our life style, in a wild environment with many children, cats, and deer. Beyond the photography, the human dimension fascinates them. I’m a self taught photographer, not very interested in equipment or technical aspects. I like sharing my experience of living as a photographer. People often ask me if my photographs are staged or spontaneous.

You currently live near Bordeaux? How do you enjoy living in France and the Bordeaux region?  What do you like most?

I was born in Bordeaux. It’s the South of France, close to the ocean We have hot summers. It’s enough to make us happy!

Describe the property where you are shooting? It looks like a wild forest area. Is this your property, and how large is it?

We choose to live in the countryside, in a really old house, without unnecessary comforts such as television. Our vast yard, bordered by a stream, with its bamboo forest and a family dug natural pool, is our universe.

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The pool your family plays in has a wonderful look to it. It looks like it was just dug out of the ground and is surrounded by green grass. Did you build the pool yourself, and does it have a concrete foundation — or just earth below?

It’s a family dug pool in clay with concrete on it and surrounded by grass. While we were digging it, during summer 2011, the kids enjoyed a lot playing in the mud!

The fine art galleries you work with: how do your relationships with them come about ? Do you find them, or do they find you?

The galleries contact me.

How do you decide how many images to show at an exhibition, which images to show, what sizes to make, what frames to get, and what to charge? Are these difficult decisions for you to make?

There are negotiations with the gallery. The selection of images, sizes, frames and layout are decided in common with the gallerist.  It’s sometimes a torture for the brain.

Did you enjoy you trip to Los Angeles, and if so, what did you like or not like about California the most?

It was a very nice journey. I was traveling with Olyana, my eldest daughter. She saw Brad Pitt in his car, so he made her day! People were very friendly. We went to a party in Laurel Canyon, a very lovely place. For us, little Frenchies, everything seemed to be over-sized: The airport, city, traffic jams….

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What are your ambitions for the future? What do you want to achieve?

A major book is scheduled with Steidl Verlag. It will be a big step for me.I want to continue my family album, and work on other series such as “reflections around the pool.” I will try to plan an exhibition in NYC.

You went to Cambodia. How was that experience, and what happened?

My family album was featured there but I didn’t go to Cambodia. I was in Japan last August, with my eldest son, Eliott . Each time I travel, one of my six children comes with me.

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Did you always know your would have a large family?

Absolutely not, but my wife did, so that’s how they arrived!

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