Talking Costumes in Wim Wenders’ “Paris, Texas”

Harry Dean Stanton in “Paris, Texas”, 1984. Road Movies Filmproduktion

 

“Once I was driving to a screening for Paris, Texas,” Wim Wenders recalls in his book Einmal, “with Harry Dean Stanton in an incredibly long limousine. Even in the middle of New York, Harry was still Travis, sitting in the back of his brother’s car and driving silently through the desert.”

It was the role that Harry Dean Stanton, fifty-seven at the time, had been waiting for all his acting career, “something of some beauty and sensitivity,” as he told Sam Shepard who wrote the script. Shepard chose him for the role after he turned down playing the part himself in Wenders’ film. A one of a kind road movie, a modern fairy tale about a desert wanderer who wants to rediscover his past and a lost woman, a story of a man who doesn’t arrive anywhere definite but rather at a crossroads. His journey remains a mystery, but leaves the most beautiful mark on Earth, by reuniting a son with his mother.

Emerging from the desolate Texan desert and its blazing light to the haunting strains of Ry Cooder’s slide guitar, “on foot and wholly alone save for a watchful eagle, wearing a red cap and an inexplicable double-breasted suit, Travis looks like a former cowboy or maybe a businessman who took a wrong turn”, Manohla Dargis wrote as cited in the book Harry Dean Stanton, Hollywood’s Zen Rebel, by Joseph B. Atkins. “He looks like someone Dorothea Lange might have photographed during the Great Depression. He looks like the American West, all sinew, dust and resolve.” In his book Einmal, Wenders notes: “Old cowboys are the saddest, and most touching figures.”

It was Sam Shepard who convinced Wenders to set the main part of the story in Texas. “You can find all of America in Texas,” the writer told the filmmaker, who had initially considered shooting a road movie in California and all the way up to Alaska – “I didn’t know Texas that well at that point, but I trusted Sam. Everything I wanted to show was in Texas – America in miniature. Many of my films are based on travel routes instead of a script.” Wenders found in Shepard the perfect writer to render this image of Texas, America and the Wild West. It was his first screenplay, based on his Motel Chronicles, a collection of poems and fragmented stories from little towns and racetracks and diners in the West. Sam Shepard’s unique sense of the west, described by Atkins as “a boundless, iconic fixture in the American imagination that embodied both guilt and innocence as well as endless possibility and ruined opportunity, a rapidly-changing-and—not-for-the-better region that had haunted him since Shepard’s early days as a stable hand and sheep shearer on the family farm in California,” meshed perfectly with the European sensitivity of Wim Wenders. Paris, Texas is Wenders’ own take on the western, a western that is less about a setting and time period and more about man and the vicissitudes of life wherever and whenever he may be. Travis is “a Shepardian character, to be sure, adrift in a strange, surreal West, an in-between world where he can’t figure out how to reconcile the past with the present but searches vaguely for roots, the place where he began, where his parents first made love: Paris, Texas,” continues Atkins.

 

Harry Dean Stanton and Hunter Carson in “Paris, Texas”, 1984. Road Movies Filmproduktion

 

Travis’ pinstriped brown suit is probably a hand-me-over, which explains the ill fit but which, in turn, brilliantly places him in the story, seemingly coming from nowhere and going nowhere. His battered red cap however serves another purpose than that of protecting him from the sun while roaming the desert. Bright colours are present throughout the entire film, like cinematic reference points, and actually the colours and light in the film remind me of another favourite Wim Wenders film of mine, Until the End of the World, shot by the same cinematographer, Robby Müller. The vastness of the landscape, the blue of the sky seem different in Wenders’ films seen through the eye of Robby Müller (who also shot one of the best films set in Los Angeles, To Live and Die in L.A.. The landscape, the road have always exerted a huge influence on the German director’s films. Claire Denis, who was his assistant director to Paris, Texas, told Jason Wood in an interview that “working on Paris, Texas was especially important, if only because of the work with landscapes which has affected how I have worked with landscapes in my own work. I never use the landscape separately from the characters.”

Wenders, always with a photographer’s eye and a musician’s heart, went for location scouting by himself at the wheel of his car, as if in perfect synch with the cinematographer’s own approach: “So, I brought myself back to looking, really looking and thinking over what it’s all about,” Müller told Barbara Scharres in 1985.

But the landscape never overpowers the characters. The story is not the location. Everything must be a whole, bright sign posts, props of clothing items, too. Travis’ red cap. His wife Jane’s pink wool sweater with the low-cut back worn like a short dress, a costume that is credited to costume designer Birgitta Bjerke and that has made film history. Nastassja Kinski’s character’s presence is felt long before she finally appears, and when she does, she is dressed in that fuzzy pink mohair dress that instantly makes her so desirable and physically present on screen yet so unattainable and mysteriously withdrawn. Travis’ shirt in the flashback when they were a happy family. Their son Hunter behind the wheel of a bright red VW Beetle while in the care of his uncle after his father left and his mother also fled shortly after, connecting father and son and the road, the grown-up sadness of a child and the childlike-innocence of a father often making us wonder who is the father and who is the child in their relationship.

But maybe the most charmingly childlike rapport forms between Travis and Hunter when they take the short road trip through the South West together, looking for Hunter’s mother. We see Travis in a red shirt and Hunter wearing a checked red shirt and red shoes, grabbing a bite on the hood of the car. Or Travis and Hunter wearing red shirts, Travis at the wheel and Hunter sleeping under his father’s arm, the future far in the distance, as if they are both children at the beginning of their path in life, or at least of their relationship. We do wonder what the colour red means. Is it a warning? Is it love? Is it both? Is it the perpetual bond that is meant to bring them together even if they are apart?

 

Harry Dean Stanton and Nastassja Kinski in “Paris, Texas”, 1984. Road Movies Filmproduktion

 

I remember how photographer Laura Wilson described in our interview the story behind a photo of Harry Dean Stanton on the set of The Wendell Baker Story: “In this moment, Harry Dean Stanton, oblivious to the heat, waited near a beautiful aluminum Beech 18 for the next scene in The Wendell Baker Story. He sang one of his favorite tunes, Canción Mixteca, the story of a man filled with sadness and longing for his home in Oaxaca, Mexico. With almost 200 films over 50 Hollywood years, Harry Dean is known on movie sets to regularly serenade actors and crews with Mexican Ranchera music. He has the same strong, haunting voice he had nearly a quarter-century ago when he sang Canción Mixteca for Wim Wenders in Paris Texas and, before that, the gospel song A Closer Walk with Thee for the soundtrack of Cool Hand Luke“.

I would watch Paris, Texas over and over again just to watch and hear Harry Dean Stanton, this incredible character actor who simply fills the screen. He doesn’t just act, he exists in his films. He doesn’t just exist, his story is carved in his life-hardened face. He doesn’t just talk, he makes you listen. Paris, Texas was a film meant to be his. And although his scenes with Nastassja Kinski are a defining point in the story, a reuniting with his wife after four years, it’s the moments with the little boy that carry more weight I believe. Those, and that finale embrace between mother and son. But Travis’ presence is still felt, moving on on the road again.

 

Nastassja Kinski in “Paris, Texas”, 1984. Road Movies Filmproduktion

 

MORE STORIES

Solveig Dommartin is wearing Yohji Yamamoto in Wim Wenders’ “Until the End of the World”

Renaissance woman and dance hall days in the alienated city: “To Live and Die in L.A.”

The Armani aesthetic and film costume appropriation: Sam Shepard in “The Voyager”

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“I’m curious about allowing myself to follow my intuition”: Interview with designer and artist Linney Warren

”Nude beach” acrylic on canvas in custom maple frame. Linney Warren

 

As a designer, she creates storyboards and colour stories which become fashion stories revealing a youthful sensation of ease. Linney Warren is head of design at California brand Rails, but her fashion sensibility eschews the formulaic latest trends and taps into an effortless yet thoughtful disposition. As an artist, she leans into colour in a way that is viscerally familiar and fun – her creativity is nourished by proximity to nature and guided by the inspiration of travel, human encounters and trusting her own intuition.

It is in the intimacy of one’s own personality that the quintessence of one’s art is revealed. The designer and artist are kindred storytellers. In unapologetically refusing to define her style, she has discovered herself as an artist, too, one who is firmly rooted in her upbringing, which opened her creative path for her, but ready and eager to explore and dive into an exciting new narrative, one entirely her own.

In our interview, Linney and I talk about what makes her curious as an artist, why there is always room for the unexpected to happen in her works, how Los Angeles inspires her art and design, and the setbacks of technology on our lives.

 

Photo courtesy of Linney Warren

 

Linney, would you describe yourself as a painter who also designs? Which came first, art or design?

In my current stage, I would describe myself as a designer who also paints. As a kid, I was always so into art and could keep myself occupied all day with creative projects. When I was 14, I decided I was going to be a fashion designer. My other creative passions fell by the wayside as I spent the next 20 years pouring my entire focus into pursuing and developing that dream. I am now very established in my designer career and during Covid I found myself craving another outlet for my creativity. It felt second nature as I picked up my paintbrushes again; an old familiar joy like catching up with a friend that you haven’t seen in a decade.

 

What makes you curious as an artist?

I am most curious about allowing myself to explore my inspirations and follow my intuition. I never want to feel like I need to define my style or get stuck in a box where all my paintings are telling the same story. If an exciting idea develops that feels different from my other works, I always want to make space to discover that.

 

”Solstice” acrylic on canvas. Linney Warren

 
 

“It felt second nature as I picked up my paintbrushes again;
an old familiar joy like catching up with a friend
that you haven’t seen in a decade.”

 
 

Design by Linney Warren

 

There’s a playfulness in your paintings, a quality that I associate with childish enthusiasm, in the best possible way (without forgoing for one moment the perseverance and hard work that inevitably go into one’s art). Is it essential for you, as an artist, to find joy in your work?

If I’m not finding joy in it, then I’m not painting. When I am truly locked in, I jump out of bed at sunrise because I can’t wait to keep going. The transformation process is the most exciting thing to witness. Even when I have a solid plan for a painting, I will always encounter surprises, change my mind, experiment, and learn new things along the way.

 
 

”Working with my hands feels nostalgic, raw, and honest.”

 
 

What is the best thing about working with your hands?

I love this question. Working with my hands feels nostalgic, raw, and honest. There are so many options to use technology and computers in design, but I have always been very old-school. In the tech driven world that so many of us live in, I find drawing and painting by hand to be a grounding and meditative escape.

 

What sparked your imagination more than anything else when you were a child?

My mom taught me how to sew when I was 9 years old, which opened up a world of possibilities for me. I used to ask her to take me to the thrift store so I could buy used clothing to upcycle. I got very into fabric painting and would turn a vintage pair of jeans or an old t-shirt into an intricate canvas. Eventually I was making clothes for my friends and everything I wore had been altered in some way or made from scratch! I was always very interested in colour, fabrics, and had an innate attention to detail.

 

”We were chillin’” acrylic on canvas in neon acrylic frame. Linney Warren

 

Given your interest in colour and fabrics, it’s only natural that you are merging art and design and using your own prints on clothes. Do you like to have fun with fashion? What does fashion mean to you?

For me, fashion is such a fun and versatile form of communication. In my career as a designer, my job is to stay at the forefront of new trends, but I think trends can sometimes make people feel limited. I love to see individuals with distinct personal style that is a reflection of their own experiences, interests, and personality. We all have our own unique story to tell.

 
 

”If I’m not finding joy in it,
then I’m not painting.”

 
 

What defines your own personal style? What is the story you would like your clothes to tell about you when you meet someone for the very first time?

I am a creative pragmatist when it comes to fashion. I live in the city so I always want to be comfortable and practical, but with a twist of something interesting; an unexpected colour combination, a sculptural cut to a jean, a strange shoe, and I love mixing vintage pieces with new for more depth and texture.

 

”Girls in June” acrylic on canvas. Linney Warren

 

Who and what inspires you in your designs?

My inspiration comes in countless forms. From street style to sculpture and ceramics, antique flea markets and overseas travel, my eyes are always wide open searching for something that sparks a new idea.

 

You are living in Los Angeles. How does that inform you creatively?

The laid back, optimistic, colourful and culturally diverse spirit of LA comes through in my work. I’ve spent most of my life in California near the beach and have an insatiable love for travel which inspires a lot of the vibrant colours and leisure themes that I paint.

 

Art and design by Linney Warren

 

 
 

”I love to see individuals with distinct personal style
that is a reflection of their own experiences,
interests, and personality.”

 
 

Each of one’s travels has its own story and your travels inspire you both personally and professionally. What do you always bring home from your travels?

If I’m in South America, I am always coming home with a suitcase full of textiles and ceramics. On a recent trip to Guatemala, I visited several women-owned artisan workspaces where they were hand dying yarns and weaving textiles on antique looms. It was so inspiring for me to see those old cultural traditions being preserved and was fortunate to bring home some beautiful souvenirs that support the craft and livelihoods of local artisans.

 

In this time and age, what do you wish people appreciated more?

In our current day and age, it can be so easy to get swept away by our devices and constant entertainment options at our fingertips. It’s becoming less common to hear the sounds of kids playing in the streets. I hope that we, as a collective, don’t lose sight of the importance of being outside in nature and disconnecting as a means of recharging.

 

”Guava girl” acrylic on canvas in custom aluminum frame. Linney Warren

 

Website: linneywarren.com | Instagram: @linney.warren

 

MORE STORIES

”This is who I am”: In conversation with artist Heather Chontos

The Lost Daughter: In conversation with costume designer Edward K. Gibbon

“Art will set you free”: In conversation with photographer Bill Phelps

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May newsletter: Freediving, makers who maintain culture, and Jacques Tati begins where Buster Keaton left off

A new collection of postcards in the shop

 
 

Photos: Classiq Journal

 
 

”The only real thing is right now. Now. Now.
And every now becomes a then and you have to train hard
to be present. I have learnt that when I am only here,
only now, I can do anything, overcome anything.”

Hanli Prinsloo

 
 

 

Viewing

Pickup on South Street, 1953
Samuel Fuller

One of Samuel Fuller’s best. I also like to refer to it as one of the films with the great Thelma Ritter in one of the best character roles in cinema. Fuller was going to call the film Pick-Pocket, as he writes in his book, A Third Face, and this was years before Robert Bresson would make his film with that title in 1959. When the executives disapproved – “it was too European, whatever the hell that meant” – Fuller came up with Pickup on South Street, because of the New York street that reminded the director of his newsboy days. A realistic portrayal and a gritty visual story of petty thieves, criminal and informers that were interested in just getting by (Fuller’s brilliant way to “take a poke at the idiocy of the Cold War climate of the fifties”) and their dilapidated, predatory world, with the murky bars, the flop houses, the out-of-the-way streets, the tattoo parlors, the subway stations. “I needed the noise, the traffic, the towering buildings, the elevators, the alleys, the things that make a big city feel like a big city.” The dingiest and edgiest side of the big city. And he got it.

 

Donnie Darko, 2001
Richard Kelly

Mind-blowing yet strangely personal, that’s what Donnie Darko feels to me. Defying easy categorisation, the film exists in its own space. And what it does with the music, it’s simply transportive.

 

Playtime, 1967
Jacques Tati

A never-ending visual play. It’s like a celluloid puzzle and its pieces keep moving. What’s happening on screen is more dynamic than in a 3D film – Jacques Tati was uncompromising in his artistic freedom. It’s play time, with no concern for realism, creating a unique universe, always calling on the viewer’s imagination and presence. “Tati began where we finished.” – Buster Keaton

 

Sherlock Jr., 1924
Buster Keaton

My 9-year old is discovering the films of Buster Keaton and he’s loving them. And I love going on this ride with him.

 

Right: New surprises soon in the shop. Photo: Catherine Deneuve, 1960s, Reporters Associes

 

Reading

Only someone who loves the mountain and understands human life could write about the mountain the way Paolo Cognetti does in Le Otto Montagne (The Eight Mountains). Only those know that the mountain is knowledge, a way to breathe, a way of life.

 

“This collection of stories shows the close connection between what I write, what I film and what I live.” El último sueño (the English edition, The Last Dream, will be released in September) is Pedro Almodóvar’s somewhat of an autobiography, but not quite so, bringing together for the first time twelve unpublished stories from the filmmaker’s personal archive, written between the late sixties and the present day. They are wildly fictional or profoundly intimate or both. “I have learned something fundamental from my mother,” writes Almodóvar, who confesses he has always refused to write his autobiography or let someone else write an entire book about him as an individual, “the difference between fiction and reality, and that reality must be completed by fiction to make life more pleasant, easier to live. For a narrator, this is an essential lesson. I have learned it in time.”

 

The official poster of this year’s Cannes festival, which began this week, evokes once again cinematic history, this time paying homage to Akira Kurosawa’s penultimate film, Rhapsody in August, which premiered at Cannes in 1991, out of competition. The festival will also celebrate Japanese cinema with awarding Studio Ghibli an honorary Palme d’Or. That said, I am avoiding the celebrity news and the glamour inevitably associated with the festival, and am travelling to its origins, with the book Cannes 1939 (Cannes 1939: le festival qui n’a pas eu lieu at its second edition, released this April), by Olivier Loubes. It’s a view on what should have been the first edition of the festival, in 1939, and which never happened from obvious reasons. It’s Cannes in a wider context, both geo-political and cultural. Olivier Loubes brings the history of a lost event, but also the history of what would become a road opener for world cinema.

 

My latest interviews are with artist Heather Chontos – we discuss her journey in life and in art, Peter Lindbergh and a different vision on visual storytelling, light as an essential, departing element in her creative process, the gift of giving, and building a house, a studio and a garden in rural Portugal – and with photographer Clément Vayssieres – we talk about the thing that led him to photography, the filmmaker he would like to go on a journey with pretty much anywhere in the world, why a photographer needs to remain humble, and the story behind the New York City Chinatown photo that inspired our conversation.

 

Listening

The podcast: The Adventure Podcast, the episode with Hanli Prinsloo, freediver, writer and ocean conservationist. Host Matt Pycroft talks to Hanli about her early life growing up on a farm in South Africa, how she got into free diving and what drives her to the ocean. They discuss why she left the competition circuit, motherhood, why children today can’t have the same childhood we had and why she’s ok with it. It’s one of those conversations that does you good and should be listened to regularly.

 

The soundtrack: Donnie Darko

 

The album: Green River, Creedence Clearwater Revival

 

Making

For more than 35 years, L’Affices Françaises have been restoring old posters and engravings. A know-how passed down from Father to Son. The idea is to preserve an image, bring back to life the images that are dear to us, beautify and highlight posters, and preserve our heritage. Their collection is impressive: from official Roland Garros posters (Valerio Adami, Günther Förg, Gérard Titus Carmel, Gilles Aillaud, all the great ones) to film posters (Playtime official poster among them, created by René Féracci’s, and Steve McQueen’s Le Mans, too, by the same Férracci).

Makers who maintain culture.

 

On an end note:

In the latest newsletter of Racquet magazine, that reflects on the career of Dominic Thiem, after he announced earlier this month that he would retire at the end of this year, his coach Günter Bresnik, who has been training him since he was 9, comes with the most blunt and honest explanation for the huge gap that there is between the Nadal-Federer generation and this younger generation of players. I believe Mats Wilander has made similar comments on several occasions.

This is what Racquet says, quoting Bresnik:

“If you have one goal, and you put all the other goals and wishes aside, I’m very convinced that you’re going to reach it, no matter what it is. But most of the people, they downgrade the word ‘goal’ to a wish. Dominic, for me, is the kind of person who is prepared to do whatever it takes. The other guys as well: Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Murray — who are much better tennis players than Dominic — they also have this mentality. They’re thinking 24 hours a day, for many, many years, only about tennis.”

The four players named by Bresnik belong to a generation or two ahead of Thiem’s, and no one younger has been able to mount a significant breakthrough to join them. Bresnik thinks the distractions of technology may have played a role in holding back this younger cohort.

“To be nonstop on the phone even in a changeover at a practice?” Bresnik said, incredulously. “This is, for me, unbelievably disturbing for them to always have to consider if the girlfriend sent a photo from holidays or whatever. It’s nonstop. And at breakfast, they don’t talk with each other anymore.”

 

 
 

”Jacques Tati began where we finished.”

Buster Keaton

 
 

The regulars: The interviews, newsletters and podcasts I turn to every week and/or every month because they are that good. Craig Mod’s newsletters: Roden and Ridgeline. Soundtracking, with Edith Bowman. Alicia Kennedy’s newsletter. Racquet’s Rennae Stubbs tennis podcast. Gone to Timbuktu, Sophy Robert’s podcast on the art of travel. Wachstumsversuche, with Sarah Schill. Sirene and Racquet, in print.

 


 

Posted by classiq in Books, Culture, Film, Newsletter | | Comments Off on May newsletter: Freediving, makers who maintain culture, and Jacques Tati begins where Buster Keaton left off

“It’s About Having an Emotional Reaction”: In Conversation with Photographer Clément Vayssieres

Chinatown, NYC, 2014. Clément Vayssieres

 

A cityscape viewed from an unusual angle that emphasises the realness yet enigmatic interactions that make up the everyday fabric of daily urban life. So many colours and street details, perfectly imperfect and misshapen, captured with spontaneity amid the flow of miscellaneous presences. The click of the camera shutter opens the window into the unruly rhythm that is the street life of Chinatown, New York City.

I have lingered over this photograph taken by Clément Vayssieres (shown above) in repeated times. It’s more than a frozen moment in time, as it seems to allow life to follow its course and it does that by avoiding the conventions of the picturesque. I want to frame it – a manifesto of sorts against the overly polished uniformity of the present day imaginary that we surround ourselves with. It’s a very fresh approach, filtered through an atmospheric introspection.

Whether he shoots in his home-base city, Paris, or around the globe, in broad day light or twilight, there is often a certain undertone in Clément Vayssieres’ photography. It’s a quality that may be fueled by his great passion for cinema, but it also certainly stems from his own genuine curiosity in the story he wants to tell. It’s the “why” he is interested in. He is a subtle witness who, with the snap of the camera, comes close to his subject and responds to what he sees. It’s the precise moment that becomes the making of an image.

In our interview, Clément and I talk about the thing that led him to photography, the filmmaker he would like to go on a journey with pretty much anywhere in the world, why a photographer needs to remain humble, and the story behind that Chinatown photo that inspired our conversation.

 

Kasbah des Caids, Tamnougalt, Morocco, 2022.
“This is a XVIth century Kasbah, in the Draa Valley.” Clément Vayssieres

 

Is it take or make a photo?

I think it’s both.

Obviously, when you’re in the studio, playing with lights, set design, poses and everything, you’re « making » a photograph. And even in street photography, craft is about making the good conditions happen for you to be able to get the perfect photo.

But photographers also need to be humble and state that sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time and you’re gifted a photograph that you just « take ».

 

Do you always carry a camera with you?

I don’t, because I tend to be « hunting » for pictures and it would be insufferable for the people around me. But it makes me « miss » pictures that I often see just happening in front of me. I then note down the time and place and come back another day.

 

Does the opposite happen? Are there moments when you simply want to witness a moment without shooting any picture even if you have your camera with you?

For sure, I tend not to take photographs during « life events », birthdays, family reunions etc. Everybody else is already documenting it with their phone, and my phone is pretty bad, so I can just sit back and be in the moment. It’s nice.

 

Left: SAINT LUCIA, BWI, 2016 | Right: Ischia, Italy, 2020. Clément Vayssieres

 
 

“Photographers also need to be humble and
state that sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time.”

 
 

Details from artist Heather Chontos’ house in Dordogne, 2021. Clément Vayssieres

 

What led you to photography?

Definitely films. I’m obsessed with cinema.

 

Can you tell me a little more about your passion for cinema? How did it start? Do you have certain films and filmmakers that are a constant inspiration in your work?

It’s always been there. I’ve always wanted to make movies. Perhaps it will happen at some point. It would take forever to make a comprehensive list of all the people and films that influence me, and it’s an ever-evolving list. But one thing for sure is that I tend to be happy with my pictures when they have some kind of cinematic quality and storytelling.

 

Then I will ask you this: Which filmmaker would you hypothetically like to take on a journey with you?

It really depends on the destination. I guess I would also pick filmmakers with a good sense of conversation which is essential when travelling. If I had to imagine some, I’d go to Italy with Martin Scorsese, to South Korea with Bong Joon-ho, to California with PT Anderson and pretty much anywhere in the world with Werner Herzog. Also, how about going to space with Kubrick?

Aley, Lebanon a city overlooking Beirut at sunset, 2011. Clément Vayssieres.

 
 

“I’m obsessed with cinema.
I tend to be happy with my picture when
they have some kind of cinematic quality and storytelling.”

 
 

Left: Scotland | Right: Paris, 2018, for Mr. Porter Live. Clément Vayssieres.

 

Your work includes architecture, interiors, artists’ work and portraits, travel. Do you approach differently the various mediums you photograph?

I used to, but less and less.

Clearly, you don’t shoot a building and a face the same way, and there is a technicality associated with each genre. But the more I go forward into my practice, the more it’s about: « What’s the story / subject ? » and « How does it make me feel ? » and then you’re just guided by instinct.

 

How much does “liking” a subject matter in your photography? Do you have the freedom to choose the stories you want to tell through your photographs, that present a certain interest from a personal point of view as well, not just professionally?

I don’t think it matters that much. To me, it’s about having an emotional reaction. You can make a good picture of something you dislike, because you’re reacting to it. It’s much harder getting a good photograph of something that leaves you lukewarm. When I don’t care for something, the results often ends up being bad or at least not interesting.

 

Artist Heather Chontos photographed by Clément Vayssieres.

 

What makes a good photograph?

That’s a tough one. Obviously, a good framing and a good lighting will help. But in the end, there are no rules. I think the subject, the story you’re telling is always the main attraction, but that can take so many forms… And also, what about abstract photography? They don’t have a « clear » subject and still they can be so good…

 
 

”I had found this spot where I could hide behind a door
and it took me a couple of days to find the right moment to shoot.
This was it.”

 
 

One of my favourite photos of yours is the one that opens this interview. The unique urban view, the framing, the light and tone, the colours that are reflective of the cinematic quality of black and white – it reminds me of Saul Leiter’s photography. Could you tell me more about the context of this photo and if you’ve considered taking on street photography more often?

Thank you for the Saul Leiter comparison, it’s very flattering. This photo was taken in 2014 in Chinatown, NYC. At the time, I was regularly spending time in New York as a photo assistant and I used to stay in cheap rooms in Chinatown. I had found this spot where I could hide behind a door and it took me a couple of days to find the right moment to shoot. This was it. I love how the guy rests on the bike.

When I travel to cities, it’s street photography, and when I travel to more natural areas. I guess it’s more travel photography. But, to me, the two disciplines are very alike. You use the same muscles.

 

San Pietro, Vatican, 2015. Clément Vayssieres.

 

Tennis clay court at Foro Italico, Rome, during the Ides of March. Clément Vayssieres.

 

And given that it’s clay season and the Rome tournament is currently underway, my next question has to do with my passion for tennis. Was it a one-time photo of the clay court of Rome or does tennis or other sport also present an interest to you as a photographer?

I’m not so much into sports to be honest. But if there is one I often watch, it’s definitely tennis. This shot was part of a series where I shot rationalist fascist architecture in Rome. Mussolini was obviously one of the worst leaders ever, but the buildings that he commissioned have something that I find very interesting and quite beautiful. This tennis court is part of the Foro Italico (used to be called Foro Mussolini…) a sports complex that was designed similarly to an ancient Roman forum in the 30s in order to have Rome organising the Summer Olympics in 1940 (which didn’t happen for obvious reasons). The tennis court has fascist statues all around it and behind, you see the Stadio Olimpico. It was the second time I came to Rome to shoot that series and it was a stormy day during the Ides of March.

 

Your selection of limited edition photographs that you are making available to purchase for a limited period of time at the moment is centered around Morocco. What is your most memorable experience from Morocco? What keeps you going back to Morocco?

In 2022, I went to the Sahara desert. We arrived at the end of the day in Erg Chegaga, the dune area close to the Algerian border, during a sandstorm. The feeling was very eerie, almost post-apocalyptic. And the colours were completely off, but you could still see the animals going on with their day. It felt pretty surreal. That night, in the camp, looking at the stars, we learnt that the Queen of England had just died.

Morocco is such a beautiful country, and so diverse, there’s always something new to explore. I’ve been going almost every year since 2011 and it always fascinates me.

 

Erg Chegaga, Morocco, 2022.
“This one was taken during the sandstorm I talk about in the interview.” Clément Vayssieres

 
 

You’re more focused travelling by yourself but,
in general, I’d rather travel with people.
I find that’s when you have the best conversations.

 
 

Morocco. Clément Vayssieres

 

If you could be anywhere in the world right now, preparing to take/make a photo, where would you want to be?

There are so many places I’d love to go to. It keeps changing. These days I’m planning a trip to South Korea, so I could picture myself in Seoul. I also really want to go to Svalbard, Peru and Sudan.

 

Do you prefer to travel alone as a photographer?

As a photographer, yes. It takes patience getting the right picture. You have to spend a long time in a place to figure out the angles, the light, and that time spent is often boring or redundant for other people. But in general, I’d rather travel with people. Sharing a trip is really one of the perks of travelling. I find that’s when you have the best conversations. So I guess you’re more focused travelling by yourself, but the travel is way more fun with other people.

 

New Orleans, USA, 2018, after a rainstorm in the area that was impacted by Hurricane Katrina. Clément Vayssieres.

 
 

“It’s about having an emotional reaction.
It’s much harder getting a good photograph of something
that leaves you lukewarm.”

 
 

Left: Bokor, Hill, Cambodi, 2017 | Right: Kampot, Cambodia, 2017. Clément Vayssieres

 

Has your approach to travel changed in time in terms of what you want to transmit to others? Do you think a travel photographer should feel responsible to a certain extent for what stories he chooses to tell, to inspire people to travel in a different way, not just so that they can share a photogenic place on their Instagram?

Social media is definitely not helping with mass tourism. But it’s also something that started way before and is involved with a lot of today’s issues that are quite intricate. It would take much more than an interview to solve them.

I think a photographer of any kind should feel responsible for the story they’re telling and the way they’re telling it. But in the end, I am responsible for myself. I’ve changed my way of travelling and always try to improve, to make it more carbon neutral. On the other hand, who am I to tell people how they should travel?

 

It’s true that one can’t be responsible for the way other people travel. But the power of example can go a long way, I believe. What is the most important lesson that your travels have taught you?

Not to take your own referential as the « right » one.

 

Paris at night through the lens of Clément Vayssieres.

 

You live in Paris. What is the best part about living in Paris and which you would miss if you lived anywhere else in the world?

The food and the accessibility to culture are definitely two main highlights. I’ve always lived in Paris so, like most Parisians, I have a love-hate relationship with it. Paris has a lot of drawbacks, but I can’t picture myself living anywhere else. Paris also has a lot of great movie theaters, along with the food I think that is what I’d miss the most.

 

Do you have a favourite movie theater? And as a true cinephile myself, I would like to ask: With so many movie theaters closing down around the world and with the impact that streaming has had on cinemas, do you feel hopeful about the future of the movie theater?

There are so many that I love. I’m very faithful to a place when I like it, I tend to come back to it often. If I had to make a list, I’d say Max Linder, Studio 28 and Le Champo in Paris. In London, I love the Everyman Screen on the Green, the Electric and the Everyman Baker Street. And in New-York, I love the Nitehawk cinemas, the IFC and the Film Forum.

Hopeful would be a strong word, but I’m not worried. It definitely won’t ever be again like the 70s where you’d find a movie theater at every corner. But I see « niche » auteur theaters that are still open because people can’t find these kind of movies anywhere on the platforms. It’s true that it’s mostly in big cities though.

And I think a movie like Dune 2 this year showed that spectators will come in masses to the theater to see a « big » movie if it’s good and thoughtful, which isn’t often the case with today’s blockbusters.

 

Left: London, 2021 | Right: Portugal, 2022. Clément Vayssieres

 

So tell me, in this time and age, what do you wish people appreciated more?

Durable well-crafted objects, kindness and dedication.

 

Thank you, Clément for this introspective and inspiring conversation.

 

Website: clement-vayssieres.com | Instagram: @clement.vayssieres

 

Morocco. Clément Vayssieres

 

 

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Read Instead…in Print

 
 

“An actor’s shirt has to be made out of the same material as his face.”

Andrei Tarkovsky

 
 

Read instead…in print #32

 

Andrei Tarkovsky always insisted that everything needed to look real. Clothes worn in his films could not be new. “The costumes which you see in the films of Solaris, The Mirror and Stalker, are the fruit of discussions I had with Tarkovsky,” costume designer Nelli Fomina remarks in the book Nelli Fomina. Costumes for the Films of Andrei Tarkovsky, compiled by Anastasija Nikitina and Fedor Ermoshin. “He attached great importance to costume design and to their details in establishing the image of each character: for him, costumes told the audience a good deal about the character and his or her emotional state.”

It is a treasure of a book, and I hadn’t even been aware of its existence until recently. Published for the first time in a single volume are the words, sketches and photographs from the archive of Nelli Fomina – Tarkovsky rarely permitted anyone to take photographs on set, but Fomina was allowed to, as attested by the photos she took on the set of Stalker – who contributed to more than the costumes to the creation of films that were to become classics of world cinema: Solaris, The Mirror and Stalker. She was also the director’s friend and right-hand for many years. From Tarkovsky’s enthusiasm that permeated the whole crew and set, to the collaborative creative work that is filmmaking and the notion of costume as the expression of the nature of a character, the book sheds a little more light on the films of one of cinema’s most brilliant, creative and uncompromising minds.

 

 
 

“My clothes were just as important to him as my dialogue.”

Nikolai Grinko about his character in Solaris

 
 

Read instead… in print is about a good book about cinema or filmmakers. No discursive, pretentious analyses, no verbose scrutiny. Because the idea is to invite you to read the book, not read about it here. But instead of using social media, I use my journal. Back to basics. Take it as a wish to break free of over-reliance on social media (even if it’s just for posting a photo of a good book) for presenting my work, cultural finds and interests. These are things to be enjoyed as stand-alone pieces in a more substantial and meaningful way than showing them in the black hole of Instagram thronged with an audience with a short attention span. This is also a look through my voluminous collection of books about film that I use as research in my adamant decision to rely less and less on the online and more on more on print materials.
 

 

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Posted by classiq in Books, Film, Film costume, Read instead...in print | | Comments Off on Read Instead…in Print