Paris based photographer Martial Lenoir is a master of painterly images and chiaroscuro. His work is immersive, captivating the viewer at first glance. Versatile and technically well versed, Lenoir’s work boasts pastel tones and flirts with Parisian aesthetics, giving it a timeless quality. Read his thoughts on photography.
Interview by Demetrios Drystellas.
Martial, your project “Les Reflets du Désordre” has attracted lots of interest with its beautiful sensuality, rich shadows and the striking Belle Epoque elements. How did you conceive the idea and what attracted you to the visual style?
ML: It started as always by a place the light of which I liked, and a test I did with one of my models. By putting a mirror behind her as she was covered, I got 2 images, and 2 different personalities. It was striking. So I dug the concept for 6 months to find the right time (Victorian) following a painting exhibition and the right treatment. After I worked on for a year, for about fifty images.
The images appear to be meticulously executed, with the mirrors being placed strategically to reflect specific body parts. Would you like to talk about the production process and how spontaneous is it for you?
ML: In fact, I proceed in three steps; first of all, I place the model until I find a position that is both natural and sensual. Another requirement is to partially conceal the nudity. Then I put the mirrors to reveal the most intimate parts, it must capture the inconsistency of mirrors. Then finally, when everything is in place, we focus on the feeling and the model to move as little as possible. Everything is done shooting, because I am a very bad at retouching. In fact, we make about 2 images in an afternoon.
What is your view towards nudity and its different aspects? How do you approach the subject?
ML: I started working on the nude, according to my knowledge and portrait mode. When I started, I promised not to do. But when I got into it, I was disgusted by the average photo, and especially fashion. So the goal was to make use of all that, in order to create my own world, with models of any kind, just for the pleasure of working with whom I wanted. But the further I went, the more I take pleasure, and it became, unintentionally, a specialty.
How did it all start, which was your first camera an how did you begin in photography? What attracted you to the medium and how did you develop your style?
ML: I started late with photography, when I was 30, without ever having been involved before. I started straight with medium format cameras (Mamiya RZ67). Almost only black and white. I quickly became an assistant to studio Daguerre (Parisian studio). Five years ago, I switched to digital, which is both a release (no need to spend time locked in the dark), and causing frustration too, since it seems to do the same thing all over and vice versa. But I continue to have fun with Polaroid. I think the material is very interesting, you just need to find one with which you feel comfortable, and dig.
Where do you draw inspiration from? Are there particular artists or works of art that have shaped you?
ML: My inspiration, I think (but I never really dug), comes mainly from cinema (which I like), and comics from the library of my parents. After I spend a lot of time in museums. I think I became photographer because I was not good for painting. Even when it comes to repainting my kitchen.
You have the ability to move effortlessly between different photographic genres. Portraits to fashion to nudes to landscapes, even animal photography. Yet your personal signature is evident in all of them. What are your goals when creating images?
ML: Just egoist pleasure… nothing more.
Personally, I found the bovine portraits extremely interesting. When people think of animal photography, they either bring images of cute pets to mind or wildlife in general. Yet, one can really feel in your images the strength of bulls, the reason why this animal was worshiped and praised in ancient times, by the Minoans in Crete, the Celts in Gaul and Britain and many other cultures. One particular image reminded me of the myth of Europa and Zeus. What attracted you to this genre and why cattle?
ML: I was born in the countryside, my grandparents had a farm, and I’ve always loved cows. But I got there a few years ago on Highland cattle (ed. a scottish breed). They are beautiful, both placid and very expressive. They watch us distantly, never taking their eyes off us. What gives them the intensity in the eyes, like most myopic people.
After, I had the chance to meet farmers who let me get close to the cattle with one of my models, which did not shy. This is one of my favorite images, even if it is in any of my work.
Is there something else you would like to try in photography?
I’m not about to have a style, photography is just a pleasure and a constant search. I hope to continue to test as many things as possible until my eyes prevent me….or my fiancee
If you had the chance to photograph 3 persons who would they be and how would the photographic session be?
James Cameron Mitchel, Charlotte Rampling ( at any age ), and Oscar Wild… all nude of course
Do you ever get disappointed with photography?
After each new exhibition….
Difficult question for all artists. If you had to show just one image to introduce Martial Lenoir to somebody, which would it be and why?
The image that I want to show is still not made, and will never be, because it’ s always the next one. This is why I keep searching.
Interview by Demetrios Drystellas