Photo: Sophie Denux
It is easy to see that Sophie Denux‘s photography is transporting. Hers is a discreet and elegant guidance into the culture and people of the places she travels to. Not just aesthetically pleasing, but a real representation of them, arising a humanistic feeling. She is after a deeper connection, one that is based on an equal exchange and on the respect for a land’s richness of culture. And the people generally respond by being themselves. Her stories are rooted in traditions of craft and artisanship, past and present, which translate into beautiful, enriching conversations with communities, custom and heritage.
The bi-annual independent magazine created by Sophie Denux, Toc Toc Toc Editions (Travel Observe Create), was born from the desire to share a certain vision of creation, of contemporary craftsmanship and its various players, taking the form of an invitation to discover their world, their living spaces, their workshops, their journeys. A continuum of cultural knowledge creativity.
In our interview, Sophie talks about the places she keeps returning to, about preferring films and cookbooks as travel inspiration instead of travel writing and the “stolen” moments she seeks to captures on camera.
Photo: Sophie Denux
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, preparing to shoot, where would you want to be?
I’ve just returned after 3 weeks in North East India. I spent my time photographing the backstage of a textile brand. I visited tribes of weavers and dyers who work in peaceful villages, far from any agitation, surrounded by nature. It was an absolute pleasure to photograph their process, their environment and to share meals with them. To answer your question, I would like to be there again but to discover another part of India, maybe the south which I don’t know at all.
Many of your stories are centered around the craftsmanship of the people in the places you travel to. Which is the most valuable lesson your travels have taught you?
I would say humility. In general, craftsmen are flattered that a French photographer comes to their homes and takes an interest in their work. They don’t always understand my aim because, for them, their work is natural. I feel very small in front of these people because I admire them so much.
”I am more of a documentory photographer,
I do not try to impose my universe or a style.
I’ve never tried to show only the beautiful.”
Photo: Sophie Denux
In your photographs, you capture simple, sincere moments but from a place of respect for your subject. How do you get close while remaining discrete and how do you choose the stories you want to tell?
I am very discreet by nature, so it must show in my photos. I love people deeply, but it’s true that I prefer to photograph them a little without them knowing, I don’t like poses. It is perhaps less respectful, but, in the end, the “stolen” photos are always the most successful because they are the most natural. I don’t photograph with a zoom lens, I approach my subject on tiptoe and by chance my camera doesn’t make any noise when I push the button. As for the choice of my stories, I think I am more of a documentory photographer, I do not try to impose my universe or a style.
You are a photographer as well as an editor. Has your approach to travel changed in time in terms of what you want to transmit to others? And where do you think lies the responsibility of a photographer and editor this day, when whenever one shows a place in all its beauty so many others want to follow?
I’ve never tried to show only the beautiful. My eye is often drawn to things that are pretty but as simple as possible. I’ve had the opportunity to photograph palaces, for example, and I didn’t particularly like doing that. I had to immerse myself in the past of this palace, for example, to find traces of the past, and I wanted to feel a retro atmosphere. As I said, what I like best about travelling is sharing moments with people, the simplest and most sincere ones, even without speaking to each other because we don’t speak the same language.
What I hate the most in travelling is seeing people striking a pose in front of monuments. I noticed that in India, nobody took a building for the building, as a whole or in detail. It’s the person before everything in the foreground, and the building more or less blurred or more or less visible, which is absurd in the end. It’s “Look, I was there”, but in the end, where were you? I don’t see what’s behind you. Social media has changed people’s relationship to travel and it’s sad. For me, travel is above all an inner journey, with oneself.
Appreciating the place for its uniqueness and capturing it in a way which isn’t selfish; complimenting the landscape with a beautiful yet truthful image, that’s the stories I want to discover in photographs. How do you choose your travels? Because I feel you are one of those photographers and travelers who take time to travel, who find the path that takes them to a new place by themselves, who want to truly experience a place and the way people live.
It’s true that I like to go « into detail » in a destination. I like to spend time there and come back. This was my second trip to north-east India, I’ve been to Morocco about ten times if not more, 3 times to California…
Photos: Sophie Denux
What is it that keeps you going back to Morocco?
I think I’m really attracted to the craftsmanship, the simplicity and the hospitality of the people. The simplest moments are always the most joyful. And I also like the energy in the cities. Marrakech is 2400 km from my home and each time it’s a total change of scenery, the gates of the Orient…
”For me, travel is above all an inner journey, with oneself.”
Are there moments when you simply witness a moment without shooting any picture? Do you keep some of the most special moments you experience to themselves?
Yes, of course, and fortunately! I have a very good visual memory.
You tell beautiful stories, both visually and in writing. Do you have a favourite travel book or travel writer?
I prefer films, they inspire me more, as well as cookbooks.
It’s fine with me. I find great inspiration in films and cookbooks as well. Which would be your favourites
Films: Gandhi, Out of Africa, The Darjeeling Limited, The English Patient, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Totoro, The Scent of Green Papaya, The Vertical Ray of the Sun, The Lover, Stealing Beauty, La dolce vita, Plein soleil, and so many more…
My favourites: Near and Far: Recipes Inspired by Home and Travel, by Heidi Swanson, and Wabi-Sabi Welcome, by Julie Pointer.
But also: Kalamata, by Julia Sammut and Bruno Martin, Jerusalem, by Yotam Ottolenghi, La famille Marrakech, by Stephanie Giribone and myself.
And I was going to ask which great adventurer, traveller or travel writer you would hypothetically like to go on a journey with, but I will change my question to a filmmaker.
Wes Anderson or Tran Anh Hung.
Photos: Sophie Denux
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