Today is the hundredth of Carole Schmitz’ Questionnaire that we are publishing. And to celebrate this anniversary, we have a special guest.
Gilles Decamps: yes, the editor-in-chief of the Eye of Photography who was also one of the Paris Match photographers.
Look, his choice of images is eloquent!
As for Carole, she would like to find a publisher for her amazing collection of Photography enthusiasts questionnaires.
THE QUESTIONNAIRE N°100 :
This hundredth Questionnaire is the occasion for me to thank all the photographers (and particularly Mathieu Bitton who was the first who accepted to answer my Questionary), collectors, gallery owners and all other lovers of beautiful images for having trusted me.
I confess that even if the idea of this column (inspired by Proust) is mine and that I am proud of it, I did not think that it would have such a longevity and such a success. I know that for some of you it is an expected appointment every Monday and I thank you for that. For me, it is a different way of meeting these women and men of images and of sharing with you their sincerity, their vision of the world and their humor too. Some of their answers amused me, others surprised me, but each new questionnaire is a pure joy for me… Obviously, this adventure continues because I still have many other personalities to make you discover… and who knows maybe I will even write a book about them this year! So a word to the wise… or as the French would say : “A bon entendeur salut !”
Gilles Decamps : Photography in Heritage
For the time being, I am delighted that for my 100th Questionnaire Gilles Decamps, our editor-in-chief, has “finally” agreed to play the game of this Q&A. Because Gilles, I must tell you, is not just a simple editor for me, he is also the photographer with whom I practically started my career as a journalist, but above all, he is my accomplice, my friend, one of my daughter’s godfathers, the brother I dreamed of having as a child (even if I love my sister!)… In short, he is part of my family.
I remember like it was yesterday (…and yet!) our first subject together. Was with Arielle Dombasle and Omar Sharif, a photo shoot at the Hôtel de Crillon for Paris Match. It marked the beginning of a long collaboration and above all an unwavering friendship with laughter, shouting matches, silences and always a lot of kindness.
But enough nostalgia, let’s talk about him…
Photography has always been part of Gilles’ life. On the other hand, one of his first real memories dates back to the 1970s, when he was only 6 years old and already immortalized Veruschka, the 6ft icon model.
From then on, he never ceased to have a weakness for pretty women.
But it was only 12 years later that he decided to take up photography with a predilection for fashion and portraiture.
Back from his military service, he was hired by the magazine Paris-Match while collaborating with other titles of the Filipacchi group such as Première, Elle, Femme, Photo, Lui… Notwithstanding, his images were also published in Vogue, Dépèche Mode, The Face, Time Magazine, Empire, Grazia, Amica, Stern… to name but a few.
His portraits and his very own way of photographing people are unanimously appreciated. From Jeanne Moreau (of whom he was the almost exclusive photographer for more than a decade to Sharon Stone, via Faye Dunaway, Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Jones, Leelee Sobieski, Julie Delpy, Clint Eastwood, John Malkovich, Morgan Freeman, Christopher Walken , Sir Ben Kingsley, Mark Wahlberg, James Cameron, Oliver Stone, Francis Ford Coppola, Steven Tyler, Karl Lagerfeld, Jean-Paul Gaultier, John Galliano, Valentino, Claude Montana, Daniel Humm, Marc Haeberlin, Pierre Gagnaire and many more , all were the willing victims of his talent.
In 1997, however, he signed an exclusive contract with the SYGMA photo agency which took him to Los Angeles… “An exhilarating offer on paper but a luxury funeral in reality”, he recalls. He quickly got rid of this commitment and escaped from this golden prison to move to New York where he has lived since.
If he occasionally pursues a few collaborations with magazines, his work is now more focused on art photography, as they say…
Moreover, many of his photographs are part of major collections around the world, and recently that of “Grace Jones for Patrick Kelly, Paris 1989” was exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art of which it is part of the permanent collection.
Website : gillesdecamps.com
Instagram : gillesdecamps
The Questionnaire N°100 :
Your first photographic trigger ?
Well, I was born “in Photography”, a father, an uncle but above all my Godfather Georges Dambier, celebrated fashion photographer from the Fifties . I grew up in his shadow, or more like in the shadows of his studio that my mother Micheline ran, though she was more like the director of a small orchestra of assistants, stylists, printers and an ever changing cast of models, actors and personalities from le “Tout-Paris.” There, barely walking, I saw my first model, touched my first Hasselblad, took my first photograph while his dog Woodstock was laying nearby totally unfazed by the lighting bolts of the Balcar flashes. Years later I became his last assistant.
The man or the woman of image who inspired you?
Georges of course, but also Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin, David Bailey and Richard Avedon, all of them I was lucky to spend time with and of course Mr. Penn, him I never met, but I bribed the janitor of the studio he used in Paris to clean after hours in his place, just to have a glance at his lighting set up which was so deceptively “simple”. To them, I have to add Roger Thérond and Daniel Filipacchi, without these two I would not be who I am today. And the list goes on…
The image that you have not yet realized and that you would like to realize ?
A portrait of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Meeting him for a few minutes decades ago thanks to Benjamin Auger changed my vision of everything in life. I try everyday not to forget it.
The one that moved you the most?
After the previous answer this will sound a tad shallow, but the Avedon’s portrait of Marilyn Monroe in 1957 always moves me. As he said : “For hours she danced and sang and flirted and did this thing that’s—she did Marilyn Monroe. And then there was the inevitable drop. And when the night was over and the white wine was over and the dancing was over, she sat in the corner like a child, with everything gone. I saw her sitting quietly without expression on her face, and I walked towards her but I wouldn’t photograph her without her knowledge of it. And as I came with the camera, I saw that she agreed to it.”
The one that made you angry?
The list is endless from Nick Ut shot of Kim Phuc in Vietnam, W.Eugene Smith’ Tomoko and Mother in the Bath, Jeff Widener’s Tank Man in Tiananmen, the “jumpers” from the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001, lately the horrifying images of the assault on the Capitol on January 6th, 2021, the Ukraine today, the Iran protests… I try not to give up to anger and rage. These images are essentials and the photographers who risks their lives to witness for the world deserve more respect than most of us enjoying ourselves behind a camera.
A key image in your personal pantheon?
Probably my first portrait of Jeanne Moreau, followed by over 10 years of collaboration and also Azzedine Alaïa under the glass ceiling of his space rue de la Verrerie. Both were game changers in my career.
A photographic memory from your childhood?
The first time I saw Antonioni’s Blow Up before I was 10, and my first owned photo book received from my 13th birthday : White Women by Helmut Newton. If you think it was quite young, well, I was a subscriber of American Playboy since my 9th or 10th birthday, practicing my English of course. The bliss of growing up in the Sixties…
The image that obsesses you?
The one I haven’t made yet.
With no budget limit, what would be the work you would dream of acquiring?
Richard Avedon’s ‘Dovima with elephants, Evening dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, August 1955’. Helmut Newton’s ‘Saddle I, Paris, 1976’ and ‘Sie Kommen, Paris (Dressed and Naked), 1981’.
According to you, what is the necessary quality to be a good photographer?
When I first arrived at Paris Match. Daniel Filipacchi had one question : “Is he lucky?” I guess I must be.
The secret of the perfect image, if it exists?
To have at least one eye open.
The person you would like to photograph if you had the opportunity?
Again the list is long, but unfortunately, as of today they are all gone. But there is always tomorrow. A new Orson… Marilyn… Marlon… Ava… Yul… I don’t think so but one can always hope.
A must-have photo book?
Just one? Really?
Your childhood camera?
At 5 or 6 a Kodak Instamatic, then a Yashica Mat-124G ( the “poor man’s Rolleiflex”), followed quickly by the real thing.
The one you use today?
Canon 5D Mark III by necessity and an Hasselblad 500 C/M for pleasure, which is even more a necessity.
Your favorite drug?
I work better when “lubricated”. As Sinatra said “I feel sorry for people that don’t drink because when they wake up in the morning, that is the best they’re going to feel all day.” Thankfully, not for lack of trying I experienced only one hangover in my life, it was worth it. Thank you Keith.
The best way to disconnect for you?
Movies, movies and more movies. Many photographers are frustrated painters, I am a frustrated director, so far…
What is your personal relationship with the image?
I live and breath it since childhood.
What do you see when you see your reflection in a mirror?
A friend to the ones I love unconditionally, to the others better not to answer.
Your greatest quality?
I’d like to say kindness, but I think it is resilience.
Your latest folly?
To volunteer for your Questionnaire.
An image to illustrate a new banknote?
In Sweden, a portrait of Ingmar Bergman shot by my friend Frederick Edwin Bertin graces one of their banknotes, not a bad idea. I am quite wary though who would get votes in the Unites States…
The job you would not have liked to do?
Critic. I am talking of the mean, bitter ones. At the Eye of Photography we only publish works we like from people we respect (and often like).
Your greatest professional extravagance?
Working for free. It drove some of my agents quite mad.
What are the differences between photography and art photography?
Oh God! So many arguments over this. I don’t see Photography as art but as a form of artistic expression, too many technical aspects are involved, too many people. The day I will be able to create a photograph just by blinking an eye, then we can reconvene. This goes as well for the Seventh Art.
The city, country or culture you dream of discovering?
Slowly sailing down the Nile Valley, and Japan.
The place you never get tired of?
Your biggest regret?
Missed opportunities, most of them out of my own fault, hiding a natural shyness behind what was often mistaken for arrogance.
In terms of social networks, are you rather Instagram, Facebook, Tik Tok or Snapchat and why?
I am quite ambivalent on the topic. While I realize the ubiquity of social media today, I dread them. I think I post very two years, mostly when someone crosses the Rubicon, feeling like an undertaker… One of the stupidest thing I said (and there is a lot), when a friend told me years ago that someone was “famous” on Instagram, I replied that being famous on Instagram was like being rich at Monopoly. Today, I could not be more wrong, when brands, magazines and movie studios cast talents on their followings. Not sure it is a good thing…
Color or B&W?
Everything looks better in Black & White, but why segregate ?
Daylight or artificial light?
Definitely artificial light, while I trust a Higher Being for many things but when it comes to light, he or her, is far too inconsistent for my taste.
What do you think is the most photogenic city?
For me New York, but Paris!!! I guess I never got its photographic beauty because I was born and raised there, maybe took the Lady for granted. Huge mistake always.
If God existed, would you ask him to pose for you, or would you opt for a selfie with him?
Neither. I look forward to have a drink or two and discuss how to make things better down here, from high up it is quite easy to loose perspective.
If I could organize your ideal dinner, who would be at the table?
Well then, table of 13 even though it is quite poor taste in “good society”. Ladies first : Elizabeth Taylor, Frida Kahlo, Lee Miller, Simone de Beauvoir, Marilyn Monroe and Cleopatra (if not available Nefertiti will do) as for the gents : Orson Welles, Sacha Guitry, Ernest Hemingway, Jim Morrison, Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde and Jean Yanne (who would “moderate” this dinner in his own inimitable way). Let’s add Serge Gainsbourg, this will make it 14 and the superstitious will be ok with that
The image that represents for you the current state of the world?
I wish I could think of an hopeful one, since I can’t : no comment.
What is missing in today’s world?
We all know, don’t we?
If you had to start all over again?
Every day is a chance to start all over again.
The final word?
Keep calm and carry on.