The circle jerk is unbroken, or may be just now finding its flying wings but it seems that my earlier vow of not mentioning my innumerable achievements, is fast fading. To complete the gnashing of teeth and anguished wringing of omniscient hands, I am pleased to announce the next entry, seamlessly jointed to our recent series of interviews dedicated to revealing the inner machinations of all top producing bloggees(in this case, that would be me). Eyemazing, from what I gather is a well know and respected photography magazine out of the Netherlands, founded and edited by Susan Zadeh, who it so happens will be jurying the upcoming AP24 along with many other such photo luminaries. This interview and text, courtesy of Eyemazing and the lovely and talented Anna Holtzman took place, on a sunny day, sometimes in October 2007, in San Francisco. Please run out and get your copy of Eyemazing. For world wide availabilty, please check the Eyemazing website.
Olivier Laude is speaking on his cell phone from the rooftop of a Costco warehouse in San Francisco, elevated above the terrestrial streets where he finds his subjects and transplants them into his constructed fantasy tableaux. The photographer – whose varied life has lifted him from the rural Corsica of his childhood, to a career’s worth of world travel as a photojournalist, to the Bay Area metropolis he now calls home – talks to Eyemazing about his work. The images seen here are part of a long-term project that “expresses ideas I have about myself and who I am in the world,” says Laude. “Some people say they’re portraits, but they’re not – These people [the models] are tools to express who I am and what I’m thinking.” Each image is carefully staged and orchestrated. Laude brings meticulous attention to casting his subjects and styling their wardrobes, and particularly to scouting his locations. Laude finds that the best way to describe his photography is “photojournalism of the mind” – a term he frets is perhaps cheesy, but nonetheless expresses what the work is about. “I’ve led a fun and exciting life,” he states. “I turn my experiences into this highly vivid, absurd vision.”
Every morning, Laude has a ritual of waking up and going to his regular coffee shop in San Francisco, where he runs into the same people over and over again. This is where he comes across many of the models that wind up in his photographs. One of these, an older man named Charlie, is perhaps Laude’s favourite subject to work with. “I use him to express certain things,” the photographer says. “He’s very malleable, and he enjoys it. We decided that I’d even photograph him when he’s dead.” Charlie is 60 years old, and Laude, who is 20 years his junior, hopes that the post-mortem photographs will not happen any time soon. Laude describes his muse as an eccentric older gay man who is also a log cabin Republican – and manages a recycling centre where the homeless bring in bottles for cash. “He embodies a lot of contrarianism. He grew up in a cult in Vermont. He’s intelligent and well spoken, and he’s a great model.”
Laude has had his own eclectic personal history. Having grown up in France and Corsica, he came to the United States when he was 14, which, he says, gave him an early sense of independence. A self-taught photographer, he says that he did not flourish in the educational system during his youth, which he attributes to having both dyslexia and ADD. “But I turned it to my advantage later on,” he says.
For years, Laude worked exclusively as a photo-journalist and travelled the world: “I’ve seen everything from war zones to Amazon tribes to Mormons. I don’t like to travel without working. If I see gang members in Cambodia, I want to hang with them and see how they’re living. And the camera is a great way to do that.” However, he ultimately found himself wanting to tell stories with a greater breadth than was possible in his constant travels and fleeting observations. His personal photography is a project that has developed only in the past six years. “I needed to express myself,” he says. “It’s almost like a second stage of my life. It’s the most thrilling and exciting [experience].”
Laude’s productions are very much a DIY affair, with the photographer doing everything from casting and location scouting to styling and lighting. He shoots with and an 8x10 camera and negative film, taking between five and ten sheets per situation. He then has a high resolution scan made and adjusts his colours with only the simplest Photoshop tools. “I don’t like 35mm digital cameras,” he asserts. “A lot of people’s work gets worse with the digital camera, because you can second-guess yourself.”
For Laude, scouting the locations may be the most important aspect of planning a shoot. “Being a little boy and growing up in Corsica – the Mediterranean is very sunny,” he recalls. The photographer remembers spending idyllic summers on the mountainous island, while dreary winters were spent at school in France. During the vacation months, he says, “I was almost hypnotised by the light, the sun – I could almost see the photons in the air. There’s an intensity to the blueness of the sky there.” Laude brings this vision with him when searching for environments to photograph in. “I look for the radiant happiness that nature can bring us,” he relates. “I always feel a high endorphin level in a natural environment, whether it’s the Amazon or the North Pole.” He continues, “This whole idea of having very vibrant, radiant light is important to me, so I tend to shoot at the same time of day – in white light. I’ve almost become like a light shaman – I’m always looking at the position of the sun and the angle of light, the time of year, how oblique the sun is, how it’s going to hit things. It puts me into a trance. California is a great environment for that because it’s very responsive. There’s something immediate about it.” Laude compares the act of creating to an out of body experience, saying that when he looks at the images he’s made, he doesn’t entirely know where they’ve come from. He maintains that the joy he gets from realising these visions outweighs any need for accolades, and that he hasn’t yet approached the gallery world with his work. He does hope that someday the work will support itself, giving him the time and flexibility to concentrate on his creative pursuits alone. “But if I won the lottery tomorrow,” he concludes, “I’d just do my work… I don’t need an audience.”
Text by Anna Holtzman
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