Interview with City Life photographer Olivier Jean Joseph Leroy

Interview with City Life photographer Olivier Jean Joseph Leroy


How and when did you become interested in photography?

Both my grand fathers were collecting family portraits carefuly in photobooks. I used to enjoy looking at those albums loaded with unknown dead people portraits mostly and it fascinated me. Probably because of the story I was trying to imagine towards those people. Then I discovered an old camera sleeping in a box of my grand father’s attic when I was 8 in 1983. Because it was sleeping there for quite a long time like an old hidden treasure to my eyes or simply maybe because of the beauty of the object, I wanted to undersand how it was working. But the embarassment it was for both my grand father and my 9 years old hands to simply load the film made my grand father offering me a polaroid 600 after a couple of weeks of intensive practicing and failure. This old first camera happened to be a Leica M,2 or 3 I don’t remember. If only I could have known. Then I went to a film school a few years later.

Is there any artist/photographer who inspired your art?

The expression My art sounds a bit histrionic to me. I am using some skills to bring a message that goes beyond a frame. It doesn’t mean the message always worth it. Unlike Henri Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank or Robert Flaherty in his own field.

Those great people had this ability to see the world and their time from a higher perspective, and capture and synthetise it in a frame. I try to follow their step at my umble level.

Why do you work in black and white rather than colour?

For several obvious reasons but the first one would be because I enjoy it, to watch and to work with, on screen or paper. The tonalities, the grain, the nuances are very satisfying and enjoyable to watch. Because it is part of me, of my cultural background, it is simply natural, ilford is like a name among others in my family tree. For its beauty, its apparent (only) simplicity and efficiency in delivering a message. For its unique way to reveal the beauty of a light, its unique way to amplify the reality. When you want to deliver a specific message, away from temporality for instance, sometime the extra informations that bring colour can interfere. It doesn’t mean I never use colour, for many of my work, I have to. But when I am working on a personnal project, I use the tools I am more confortable with and what fit the most to me and my message.

How much preparation do you put into taking a photograph/series of photographs?

Depending on the project, the process can take a week or 20 years for the serie”The Japanese” for instance. I come from a film era, then there is nothing to be proud of in its usage and I refuse to be a hidebound nostalgic. However, to me, the purpose of a photograph remain to be printed. I use both film and digital camera but mainly digital recently, not only for obvious financial reasons, but also for convenience.

I live in Japan and it can be tricky sometime for me to get the result I want from a developper in a laboratory, my ability to express my needs in japanese is limited, moreover, I can be very picky with the paper for printing. I have the chance to get my own studio and laboratory I can truly rely on, for both colours and black and white. I like to control every aspect of the production until the final printing and framing I also do myself most of the time. I like the contact with paper, the handwork associated to photography and the process of experimentation coming with it. It is also true for my light sources inside and outside studio which are often a source of experimentation. According to my attachment for printing, I tend to adapt my technical set up to a vision of what final result on a determined paper I am looking for.

Regarding my usage of post processing which tend to be minimum. I don’t crop, I don’t manipulate on photoshop, I just use adobe camera raw for digital photography. I use filters, reflectors and diffusers rather than layers. Because Honesty, spontaneity and authenticity are essential to my work. The emotions I capture have to be true, then there is no point in perverting it in post process. Adjusting settings during a shooting would be a negative distraction either , moreover I choose a sensor for its format, a lens for its qualities and defaults border to border, then there is no point in cropping a scene. As a consequence the prerequisites to the preparation for a serie are significant.

Where is your photography going? What projects would you like to accomplish?

Because a better understanding is the key to avoid conflicts, rather than exposing what could makes us different , I have always been looking for universality in my work. I have always been trying to show what makes us the same good old human being. Then anything I can do to contribute to a better understanding of mankind worth it.

Website: www.olivierleroyphoto.com

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