Roland Garros | photo: Amélie Laurin
Wimbledon will start in just a few days, and, with it, the feeling that it will not be long before summer is at its pick. The thought that summer will not last forever slowly starts to creep in, making you aware that you must live your summer, not just dream it. A reality check of sorts. And it is not a bad thing. Quite the opposite. But before June ends, I want to take a moment and celebrate, once again, the event that, for me, year after year heralds the arrival of summer. Roland Garros. I revel in those two weeks of tournament leading up to the final, wishing for each day to last as long as possible, as a promise of an endless summer. I sometimes think of the slow red dirt surface that produces those long and absorbing rallies, testing the players’ skill, patience and endurance, under the sun at golden hour casting dramatic shadows on the clay, as a long hot summer day that tests one’s physical and mental strengths.
It is an image that has been, to a great extent, shaped by the photographers who capture this sport’s magnificence on clay and the unique atmosphere at Roland Garros. Amélie Laurin is one of the photographers of the French Open and what I appreciate the most about her Roland Garros portfolio is exactly this overview of the championship that it offers, capturing not just the game and the players’ actions (with the kind of pictures that make you sit straighter in your seat when you see them in motion, or rejoyce in their moments of triumph, or frown when you observe the physical and mental demands of the game on their face and their body), but also the crowds, the mood, the smallest of details, or a fleeting moment of solitude.
Last year, Amélie won the Roland Garros photo prize, but she doesn’t consider herself a sports photographer. Indeed, her work range is very wide, and her travel photography has the ability to make you stop and reflect on what you see. It communicates, with no artifice, the genuine beauty of the people and the reality and uniqueness of the place. It tells a story. It makes you curious and wanderous.
In my interview with Amélie, we have talked about Roland Garros, about Rafael Nadal, about taking, not making, a photograph, about the discoveries and self-discoveries during her two-year long trip throughout the Americas, and about the understated appreciation of the little things.
Cori Gauff, Roland Garros, 2018 | photo: Amélie Laurin
The photograph won the Roland Garros photo prize in 2018.
Last year you won the Roland Garros photo prize. Can you tell us a little about the awarded photograph?
It was a picture taken during the girls final of Roland Garros 2018. The tennis player is Cori Gauff, an American. She won that match and the title for juniors. She was then only 14 years old, hard to believe when you see her shape. The posture of her body is beautiful and I love her blue suit contrasting with the clay. Her movement really shows the beauty of tennis.
I would like to stay a little on the subject of Roland Garros (I am a big tennis fan). Does the French Open hold a special interest for you that goes beyond your work as a photographer?
Of course Roland Garros is special. It is a very important tournament known all over the world, where the best tennis players in the world fight for the title. Besides, the atmosphere is unique and as good to photograph as tennis actions. Moreover, the French Federation of Tennis staff and the team of free lance photographers are truly great and I have a real pleasure to work with them. It is part of why I enjoy so much to photograph this tournament.
Rafael Nadal winning La Décima, Roland Garros, 2017 | photo: Amélie Laurin
”To me, a good sport photography
has to show a sport action under an unseen
angle or light, or to catch a perfect instant.”
Which was the highlight of this year’s French Open for you?
Rafael Nadal’s 12th victory was great. And his match against Roger Federer also.
Do you have an all time favourite photo of Rafael Nadal that you took at Roland Garros?
Rafael Nadal is highly photogenic while playing tennis. I have many pictures of him that I like, not only one.
For many, tennis doesn’t seem like a sport that could be the subject of great photographs. Yet, there’s something about the emotion, loneliness and athleticism of tennis that contradicts that conception. What is it about tennis for you, as a photographer, that fascinates you?
I can’t believe many people think tennis isn’t photogenic. The movements are wide, powerful and beautiful. Sometimes the player is sliding on the clay, sometimes almost flying for an instant, and when the sun shines it creates fabulous shadows. Besides, there are so many details you can catch with your eye and the camera, like the tennis player interacting with the ball kids, and many other situations.
What makes a good sports photography?
To be honest, I’m not a sports photographer, even though I won the Roland Garros photo prize in the sport category. Of course I take shots of tennis actions, but I mostly catch the atmosphere of the tournament. To me, a good sport photography has to show a sport action under an unseen angle or light, or to catch a perfect instant.
A rare moment of solitude in the stands, Roland Garros | photo: Amélie Laurin
How did you get into photography? What is your background?
I started working as a freelance photographer right after completing my studies in a photography school in Paris. I got my diploma, after a two-year course, in 2002, and since then I have done my best to create a network and get clients. I left all that to go traveling for 2 years, and I started it all over again when I came back. At that time, I had the idea of changing work, as I had to recreate everything from scratch, but my interest in photography was too strong and I followed it.
Do you always carry a camera with you?
No. A camera is heavy and big. I work a lot, so I enjoy also not carrying a camera sometimes. One exception, when I travel, I always carry my camera with me, because it inspires me and if I don’t have my camera I see all the pictures I am missing out on.
Egypt | photo: Amélie Laurin
”Any place is fine if the people are good.”
Is it make or take a photograph? Do you wait for a good photo? In this sense, is, for example, sports photography (where speed of reaction is paramount) different than travel photography or other kind of photography?
For me, it is take a photograph because I mostly do reports. I capture moments. Sometimes I make a photo when I ask models to pose and I create the picture that wouldn’t exist otherwise. I like both, but I mainly take photographs rather than make.
I often wait for a good photo, even though I’m not very patient. It happens that the frame is good with nice elements or people and a good light, but it is not complete, so I can wait for something to happen, some people to appear, the right light to show up… This can happen in travel photography as well as sport photography.
What is the most important lesson your travels have taught you?
I’ve learned so much while travelling. It’s hard to choose one. I’d say that the main lesson I’ve learned is that people are good. Of course not all of them, but I have experienced that everywhere you can find good people if you are a good person yourself. You need to trust and also have a good sense of intuition to feel the situation.
Egypt | photo: Amélie Laurin
Do people make the place?
Absolutely. Any place is fine if the people are good.
If you could choose, do you have a favourite moment of the day for shooting? Do you swear by the golden hour?
Yes, that particular time of the day when the sun gives warm colours and long shadows is particularly beautiful. Any time is good, but, if I can, I avoid shooting when the sun is too high in the sky. I also like sometimes when it’s cloudy and the light is soft.
The Grand Canyon, USA | photo: Amélie Laurin
In this time and age, what do you wish people appreciated more?
I wish people would slow down more and enjoy the simple things.
How do you yourself unwind? Where would we find you when not working?
I enjoy meeting friends. If it can be in the nature, even better. When living in a big city such as Paris, there’s not much choice other than a city park if the weather’s ok, but if I can go away from the city for a bit, I’m even happier.
If you could be anywhere in the world right now (old or new location), preparing to take a photo, where would you want to be?
Difficult question. There are so many places I like. I think I would go to India again. I have gone there 3 times and I loved it. A fourth time would be awesome.
India | photo: Amélie Laurin
How would you describe India in one word?
A travel writer once told me that the most fulfilling thing about her work is being able to change the false impression that somebody has on a country and people. What is the most rewarding thing about your being a travel photographer?
I agree with that writer. I also wrote a travel book with my sister (Jusqu’au bout de la terre – “To the End of the Land”), and changing the idea that we have about a country was one of the main reasons to write it. It happens also with the pictures. In travel photography, I like too show the beauty of the people. If it can give somebody the will to go and meet people, I’d be happy.
The book is, unfortunately, not available in English, so could you tell us a little about it?
The book I wrote with my sister is about our trip hitch-hiking from the very south to the very north of the American continent, during 2 years. It is a travel diary illustrated with pictures. We talk about travelling as backpackers, as women, as sisters, about how good the people we meet are, about the way we change ourselves while travelling, the feeling of a nomad life, about how we manage to travel with a very small amount of money finding solutions for our needs such as eating, sleeping, moving…
India | photo: Amélie Laurin