One of the most beautiful things about photography is that it can be as much of a way to explore the planet as it is a form of catharsis. For French landscape photographer, Alexandre Deschaumes, the art form has taken on a philosophical and almost spiritual role in his life, as he strives to express his vision of the world around him.
Alexandre's style is a unique glimpse into his very soul. His images take on a life of their own, characterised by rugged mountain peaks, ethereal atmospheres and extraordinary light. In this interview, we had the opportunity to delve further into Alexandre's thought processes behind his enchanting photographs, his creative journey and plans for the future.
Alexandre in-field. Photo by: 'Sophie Dunajev'.
Hello Alexandre. Can you tell us a bit about how you got started in photography? Where did your passion for photography begin? Did you begin with film or go straight to digital?
Hello, I started photography at the beginning of the digital era, in the early 2000s with very poor quality digital cameras. It began with playing in the garden using macro mode and trying to find atmosphere in misty autumn forests surrounding my parent’s house in the French Alps.
Alexandre has come a long way from practicing photography in his parent's backyard. Photo by: 'Alexandre Deschaumes'.
What was the best piece of advice you received when getting started?
I don’t really remember any advice that I received at the time. There were not a lot of photographers around me, no Facebook and no workshops. It was a slow process.
Photography was a slow process for Alexandre. Photo by: 'Alexandre Deschaumes'.
What is it about landscape photography that you enjoy?
I enjoy being outside hiking in nature, discovering new mountain shapes and feeling emotions with textures, details, special light and atmospheres.
Alexandre draws his inspiration from his emotions. Photo by: 'Alexandre Deschaumes'.
Where do you get your creative inspiration from?
I guess it comes from different kinds of abstract emotions which were locked up inside me during the first part of my life.
A strange and subtle mix of colour can be very powerful. Photo by: 'Alexandre Deschaumes'.
Some people say that beautiful pictures of landscapes are essentially a form of nostalgia — that there is fundamentally no point to it, other than making pretty pictures. How would you respond?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
It depends what we are made of... the echo will not respond in the same way.
Sometimes, just a strange and subtle mix of colour can bring tears to our eyes, while a very powerful and technical composition can be boring and flat inside… Depending where we are in our evolutionary process, different doors will open within our minds.
For me, I feel that most of the time, “pretty” is not enough. It has to carry an unspeakable feeling within it at the same time, that goes further than the feeling of ‘pretty’.
Alexandre uses his images to connect with a feeling that he holds within. Photo by: 'Alexandre Deschaumes'.
Can you take us through your creative journey and tell us what it is that you look for in an image? What do you value most in a photo?
I am trying to connect with a strong, personal feeling that I can’t really explain. It’s too abstract. It's a bit like being closer to the instinctive core.
The things that I value most in a photo can come to me in many ways: textures, details, lighting and the specific composition of the image.
Nature and photography have shaped Alexandre's will to explore. Photo by: 'Alexandre Deschaumes'.
How has nature and photography shaped the person that you are today?
It shaped my inner energy and the will to explore, share and create.
It also shaped a conception of myself (ego) which had some double-sided effects which I have to be careful with.
Alexandre has found social media useful for his work in some aspects. Photo by: 'Alexandre Deschaumes'.
How has your work changed or grown in the past three years? Has social media helped in that process?
During the past three years, I encountered an extremely difficult and important inner change in my life. It was a long period of weakness during which I had to recover and reach a new step of my evolution.
I had 7 years of beautiful ascent from 2010 to 2017, with a growing network and many opportunities in my photography. Now, I am moving slowly into a new era and I don’t know how it will be.
Social media helped me a lot when Facebook was a good place to be, when the movie “The Quest for Inspiration” (2012) went out and also my book, “Voyage Éthéré” (2016).
Now things have changed a little bit. I didn’t really manage well with the transition to Instagram because I don’t really appreciate the trends and strategies. It is becoming boring and I am just trying to understand how to share my visions in a simple and authentic way. It has become more difficult as I feel there are too many people doing the same kinds of things.
Close-up details of mountain peaks require heavy telephoto lenses. Photo by: 'Alexandre Deschaumes'.
Tell us a little about the cameras and lenses you typically take on a trip and how they affect your photography.
I usually carry a Canon 5DSR or 5D Mk IV with the 24-105mm L II, 100-400mm L II and 50mm f/1.2 lens.
Sometimes, I use the Canon 35mm f/1.4, 85mm f/1.2 and 300mm f/2.8 with extenders.
Lens choices are always frustrating for me, as I am constantly wondering which one I should take. I like to hike quickly and to explore the landscape with a light bag .. however, I need to have good quality gear with me to capture details from a long distance, such as at 400mm. I also need my binoculars (10x42 Zeiss) which are also heavy. This makes things complicated.
Alexandre does some of his post-processing in camera. Photo by: 'Alexandre Deschaumes'.
How do you approach post-processing?
I do the first step of processing in-camera with contrast, white balance and saturation modification in Live View, using a big LCD Viewer. This allows me to be more connected with the inspiration in the energy of the moment.
Then most of time, my images do not need more processing. I do also edit some of my images with Adobe Photoshop for more complex contrast curves and layer masks.
I am always a bit lost between the realist and surrealist vision, so I try to find a good balance between the two. Having said that, I don’t modify what happened in reality... for example, adding animals, people, changing sky, etc.
It is important to learn from your mistakes in photography. Photo by: 'Alexandre Deschaumes'.
What was your biggest failure in photography and how did you learn from it?
Being too technical and pushing the rendering process too far to modify my images. However, in the process of learning, it seems necessary to explore this and to slowly try to reach more simplicity.
What is the message that you hope to convey with your photography?
Being grateful for life and nature’s infinite beauty. Being aware that we need to avoid destroying it.
Being respectful of our inner worlds and our personal emotions. Daring to explore our own sensibility and creativity.
Who or what inspires you to keep creating and exploring?
My close friends, family and love.
Alexandre has some workshops planned in the next two years. Photo by: 'Sylvain Caussin'.
What are your goals with your work for the next year? Do you have any trips or projects planned?
I have some workshops planned with Erin Babnik in the Dolomites and Iceland. I'll probably do another workshop in my area, followed by Patagonia in 2021.
My new website with all new presentations, image collections and the possibility to purchase prints will also be ready at the end of this year.
Finally, I am working on a new book idea and depending on how my strength is evolving, I will probably undertake new journeys as I continue on my quest for inspiration.
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