Thibaut de Saint Chamas is a Paris, France-based photographer. He discovered photography just before graduation at Sciences Po Paris and decided thereupon to change course and quit a safe and predictable career for a precarious but creative life.
Immediately after he joined the Ecole Nationale des Arts Décoratifs. Where he acquired a visual and artistic culture and learned the importance of cross-disciplinary inspiration.
He started his career shooting portraits, both of anonymous and famous people. For magazines (Telerama, Madame Figaro, Lire) or personal projects, he aimed at bringing out the more impactful angle and attitude of his models. This experience proved invaluable when he started to shoot beauty and fashion in the 2000’s for French ELLE and Vogue Paris. He also shot some travel diaries on Burma, Syria, Baltic States, Norvegian North Cape, and Nicaragua.
As comfortable with sophisticated studio shoots as with spontaneous on-the-go photography he was asked by ELLE USA to shoot backstage pictures during the fashion shows in a super precise and yet spontaneous way. This gave him the opportunity to meet numerous creative and talented artists and perfected his sense of beauty, style and fashion.
Convinced that beauty is a subtle mix of light mastering, attitude and composition, Thibaut opened his own studio in an historic building in the Montorgueil district.
Thibaut works for various fashion brands such as Christian Dior, Giorgio Armani, YSL… for campaigns, editorial content, and trends decoding.
Always seeking to expand and enrich his vision into new territories, he keeps on dedicating time to personal works around the notions of the intimate, the road, the mystery, and the ‘unspectacular’.
His latest works deal with the Night, the Deserts, and a book project about French Landscapes.
His pictures appear in Giorgio Armani (Rizzoli) Life under my skin (Diesel) Azzaro 50 ans d’éclat et Lolita, Lempicka 20 ans de création, éditions Lamartinière, Mouna Ayoub parcours d’une collectionneuse, American Style (Assouline)
The Images presented here are from his series of French towns titled, (Un?)Spectacular.
Patricia Lanza: Discuss your career in fashion and beauty and how it influences and affects your personal work?
Thibaut de Saint Chamas: Before embracing photography I considered being a writer, until I realize there was a narrative dimension in photography not just a visual one.
I worked on personal projects like road books and diaries where I focused on the small and indecisive moments of life. When I shot at the Opera de Paris my focus was not on the front stage and the lead opera singers, but on the anonymous and the life behind the scenes. This work and my portraits of anonymous actresses and actors gained attention in magazines. So when ELLE asked me to shoot the Haute Couture shows, I did not shoot the official but the intimate, small, and apparently indecisive moments. Working for fashion gave me the opportunity to meet challenging and inspiring people whose universe was expanding well beyond fashion. We were looking for inspiration in movies, design, forgotten artists, the history of art, architecture… Being curious and challenging our vision, being at the the core was part of our creative routine. As much as I enjoyed the beauty and precision involved in fashion I felt the need to work on personal projects where the stress would be put on unconventional beauty with less glamour and show, more mystery and intimacy. Less sun. More moon. And the dark side of it if possible.
Besides expensive and state-of-the-art cameras I worked extensively with ‘unprofessional’ techniques like the homemade camera obscura or very cheap and unsophisticated cameras and explored territories where simplicity and authenticity were the main focus. For some, it seemed a contradiction but in my eye, these were the two sides of the same coin: the beauty one.
Lanza: How did you come to discover the towns in France that became the focus of this series?
Thibaut de Saint Chamas: I have always loved to travel and meet new cultures, light, people, landscapes… It is a very inspiring experience where getting lost is at stake. Yet, over the years I realized that the world was shrinking into a global village where everything looked alike. A lukewarm mix of Wifi, yoga, and eco-conscience has become the new norm.
I shot a series of pictures of the French savoir-faire and job related craftsmanship learned by experience, involved in the fashion process, I had to travel to remote parts of France. In places that at first glance looked the least exotic and attractive. And still, I was profoundly impressed by the atmosphere of those places, and their authenticity. You could feel the lives and stories that generation after generation made these places the way they are. Gradually I felt the urge to work on these territories. I knew it would be a long-haul process that required a lot of rigor. Since what I was attracted to was not at all ‘beautiful’ nor ‘interesting’. As I explained I meant working on these territories I was told these places had no high point and were depressing. To me, they were on the contrary inspiring and emotional. I knew the road would be long in every sense of the word before I could express my vision. And that I would need time, concentration and perspective. I knew my subject would be very elusive since it is not dealing with the beautiful and spectacular but the mundane and the invisible…
Lanza: What is your process both technically and creatively, and your decisions about the series presentation?
Thibaut de Saint Chamas: The road and the trip are recurrent themes in my photos. I traveled along the old routes, especially the famous ‘nationale 20’ starting in Paris and ending in Spain. It used to be the road to the sunshine and the holidays for modest people. I stopped in every little village. This very slow process made it possible to see and feel aspects that the hasty visitor would ignore. At first sight, these places would seem uninteresting and not worth any picture. But gradually I came to realize that their impact was not in what they show but in their atmosphere. In the stories and lives that played out there, generation after generation. In this process, the off-camera, this sense of something just happening or that was going to happen, small or odd details and suggestive style. I set myself in a subjective point of view: that of a traveler. I worked at different moments of the day to convey a broad scope of moods. Starting early in the morning and finishing at dusk in empty villages with closed shutters. I gave a lot of attention to the light, composition, and subtle color rendition, I wanted my pictures to look as simple as possible: without photoshop, drama, or special effects. In this process, as the images unfold, what looked familiar and simple becomes gradually more complex and sometimes surreal, and raises this question: are these stories and places that might seem trivial really so? Hence the title of the series (Un?)Spectacular.
Lanza: As well as French towns, discuss your latest works on the Night, the Deserts and the French Landscapes and what you are looking to do with these bodies of work as well as publishing?
Thibaut de Saint Chamas: I am fascinated by the night. This moment when the familiar becomes suddenly special, as never seen before. It appeals to our fantasies, dreams and emotions. It does not only show but tells stories. It has a cinematic dimension. I am interested in showing how familiar things become new, vivid. My nightscapes deal with places that during daytime are lively and joyful and suddenly tip into something more mysterious when the night comes. I like these off-season atmospheres. This silence.
Although the themes seem very different my work on the desert and French landscapes have some similarities. In both instances, I am dealing with spaces that are almost empty. As for the deserts, It is unsure if human traces are the last remains of the past or the first signs of a new start. There is also this silence, this crisp light, these huge horizons, and a special palette of colors. Time seems to be stretching into infinity. Nothing happens. And probably nothing will until it will. There is something mystical about these places. In this work I am obsessed with the light, the time, and when the monotonous swings into a form of contemplation and the boredom into elation.
As I shot the French landscapes I paid a lot of attention to light and colors. Lights are subtle and years have gradually faded the colors into unsaturated and subdued hues. This is part of what I would call a visual French vocabulary. And I love the Leica for its ability to deliver subtle undramatic colors.
The best format to feel the French landscapes is the book. It enables to unfold a story, a sense of trip and image after image to be pervaded by the atmospheres. Every picture has its own strength but it has to be related to the others to deliver its full message.