Interview: Olivier Valsecchi, Photographer
As an alum of Toulouse's EPTA Photography School in 2007 (after being a self-taught photographer for 10 years), Olivier gained public attention in 2009 as a result of his series "Dust" which was inspired by the themes of death and rebirth.
After achieving more international exposure, he received the prestigious Hasselblad Masters Award in 2012. Suggested by Alexandre Alves, we had the pleasure to met with Olivier Valsecchi for an exclusive interview. He took the time to answer our questions below.
You started photography at a very young age. What drove this initial interest? Any particular source of inspiration?
My father had a great interest in photography. I remember him taking pictures with slide film, then we would project them on a curtain. I was around five years old at the time. He had a Polaroïd camera and a Chinon. He had an eye for it, although he never pushed it to an advanced artistic level...but he sure had an artistic eye for it. Somehow, life made it so that he stopped using his cameras. I regret that. He was probably too busy taking care of me and my siblings.
And then there was my mother who had this encyclopedia about classical painting that I used to read, and I think by the age of nine I did my first exposé on Jacques-Louis David - The Death of Marat. So, reflecting back on that I guess it was meant to be: I took photography from my father and an inspiration around paintings from my mother. They both shared a passion for music as well, and they sure transmitted that to me too! So as a young teenager I would compose music and write songs and even record them on tapes, which would annoy my little sister because I had a terrible voice. And once the "album" was finished I would think about the record sleeve and take pictures, which were mostly self-portraits.
Until one day I realized that my pictures were better than my songs. I think that's how it really started.
It was at the age of 27 that you decided to attend the EPTA Photography of School in Toulouse, France. What motivated this decision? What was the most important thing you learned there?
By the age of 25, my interest for photography became a passion. I was harassing people, including friends, every weekend to take pictures of them. I even started to get paid for portraits. But I soon felt limited on some technical aspects. I wanted to control what I was doing instead of hoping to get lucky and randomly take a good picture. Every passion makes you want more and you become greedy.
I also started to expand on my creativity. I had these ideas and projects in my mind but didn't know how to achieve them. Looking at professional photographers' works, their sophisticated lights, I had so many questions about reaching that level of quality. Sure I was learning some stuff on the internet, but some questions remained unanswered so that's when I decided to attend a photography school. I needed real teachers in front of me who were capable of answering my questions.
And they were, and they did. So I acquired the technical skills. But what they taught me most importantly was discipline. Be demanding, challenge yourself, don't copy your favourite photographers' work, like most of amateur photographers do, but expand on your own vision.
It's not always easy to be an artist, so for all those self-taught photographers who are struggling to turn it into a career, what would be your main piece of advice?
Unless you have very close friends in the photography industry or a family member in the art business, people who can give you a little push, it is never easy to be an artist. My goodness it's not. You know... you may have liked a photographer several years ago, and wonder why he stopped his career, because he was so promising. Why would he stop doing what he was so good at?
Well I'll tell you why he stopped: because it was so hard making a living. So let's be honest here. Don't be fooled by the success stories, because they don't happen to everyone. It is a lot of work, or luck, and most of the time both, to get there. And just because you earned some money this year won't make you a professional photographer in the long-term. Hard work will. Patience and perseverance will. So the smartest thing for you to do, if you're new at this, is to keep it real.
Keeping it real means if you're at the bottom of the pile, you won't get on top because you deserve to. Taking pictures is like 5% of the job. You have to be able to talk to clients, communicate about your work, etc. On the other hand, nothing's impossible. Focus on what you believe in. But again, keep it real.
Your work centers around the themes of death, birth, rebirth and maternity. What inspires you in these topics?
Maternity as in the "process of creation" or "gestation period" I would say. Like in "Self-portrait with Bubble". Everything is in that picture. The painting on the left is turned backwards in order to say "that was my inspiration, but in order to create my own piece of work I have to stop looking at it and leave it behind." Also there's an obvious play with the spherical form. The globes behind me show how you can get influenced by the environment, echoing the bathing cap on my head and the bubble. The bathing cap refers to water, waters of life and creation, whereas the bubble is filling with my oxygen.
You know, all these themes are connected to the cycle of life. I guess what I do is tell the story of mine, which is made of changes, inner changes. I've reinvented myself many times in order to become the perfect version of who I am. I like to believe that all of these "myselves" that I've been are pieces of the puzzle of the "Complete Me". That being said, even though there is a story behind a picture, it's less important than the visual impact. What I look for is a strong visual impact. Let's say it's a subtle combination of both story and aesthetics. My style is rather dark and made of eerie atmospheres because in my opinion, the best masterpieces have to resonate with our darkest side. And what can I say, I've always been fascinated with death and the afterlife.
What are your recent artistic experimentations? Can you tell us a little more about one of your upcoming projects?
I'm working on a series of portraits, which is funny because even though I started photography with portraiture it will be my first portrait series. I'm afraid that it's again related to birth, or at least, beginnings. I feel this is the perfect way to reinvent my work after the "Drifting" series which was kind of the end of a cycle. It should be ready in March.
As always, we love to ask which artist should be interviewed next. Any suggestions?
You can ask my friend Alain Delorme or my idol Jeff Bark.
And of course, any parting words ?
Stay true to your vision.