A Melancholic Photographic Journey — In Conversation with Charlotte Lapalus
Charlotte Lapalus is a Marseille-based photographer mainly shooting fashion editorials, portraits, landscape, interiors, and objects. Her captivating photographic style invites the viewer into a world of saturated colors and deep tones filled with mystery, beautiful scenery, poetic style, and serene portraits. Somehow lost in another world, her unique style and distinctive use of colors creates a certain melancholy and calmness throughout her work. Her strict use of muted colors adds a warm minimal aesthetic, that somehow erases or fades the perspectives within the photos, giving it a quaint expression. There exists a certain lightness to every look, as well as the models that often have these serene, dewy look, which catches light, even from the shadows.
MH : You have stated, “French photographer until I find a real job” as the bio on your Instagram account. Distanced irony or the actual truth? What is the story behind it?
CL : I can say that my bio had a hint of irony, in the fact that I was a notary public after years of law studies, but that somehow deep inside I knew that this was not fulfilling my desire for creativity. I have always had this urge to create whether it was drawing, photography or painting and I knew that this was really what I wanted to do. I just didn’t know I could do it for a living and actually make a career out of it.
And in 2015 it all came together, I left my job, enrolled a photography school in Marseille and booked my first professional shoot 4 months after.
So really that is the story behind my bio, and for what is yet to come, people tend to say that you never know what I am going to pull out my hat next !
MH : Could you please take us back in time and tell us how and when you first become fascinated with photography?
CL : As far as I can remember, I have always been taking photos. At first it was mainly landscapes. It has been a work in progress for many years and it’s my love of photography and the different people I have met along the way that played a decisive role in my choice to change my professional path radically.
I found the work of Massimo Vitali and Raymond Depardon very inspiring when it came to landscapes. I thought that Raymond Depardon and Martin Paar work have a human dimension to them. Mainly the fact that their models play a real role in their pictures more so than Massimo Vitali in my opinion. These kind of artists inspired me to move from landscapes to models.
The work of David Hamilton and Sally Mann for example, have also inspired me in my approach to photograph models. For me their work give you a sense of fragility and sensitivity when it comes to his choice of shooting women models.
So all in all my transition from shooting mainly landscapes to shooting women models has been a natural progression. I find that as I evolved and grew as a photographer, I wanted to get closer to the women I was shooting, closer to their femininity and fragility.
MH : Does growing up in Marseille, and France in general, play any role or has it had an impact on how you create and tell stories?
CL : Probably but as I have never lived anywhere else I cannot really say. However the light and the melting pot of all the different cultures in Marseille is surely a great source of inspiration for my work.
MH : What are the basic requirements for you to create a good photo?
CL : I don’t have special requirements as such, but I think that in order to create a good photo, the prep for the shooting is key: the story telling, the location, the cast…
The most important for me is the lighting and the work around it, I spend a lot of time fine tuning it on a shoot. The team plays a huge role in creating a good photo too, working all together with the same purpose is my moto.
MH : Your use of saturated colors, deep tones and shadow seem to play an important role throughout your work. Can you tell us more about your creative approach to image making?
CL : I can say that I do have a real predilection for a certain color palet for my pictures, but I do not feel that saturated colors are that important in my work. I tend to work with warm colors.
I do feel that my approach to image making is considering the shoot as a whole. I think that it comes with good prep to the shoot, from finding the perfect location, to casting the best model for the job and the choice of the stylist. So in that sense, I really see the making of a good photo as a team effort too.
I do find my inspiration for a shoot from a lot of different creative sources such as poetry, paintings and movies. The idea of the story I want to tell on the shoot mainly comes from a feeling or something subtle that I have seen or felt when thinking about it.
“I do find my inspiration for a shoot from a lot of different creative sources such as poetry, paintings and movies. The idea of the story I want to tell on the shoot mainly comes from a feeling or something subtle that I have seen or felt when thinking about it.”
— Charlotte Lapalus
MH : When it comes to fashion photography, the choice of style, but also the overall scenery and location seems to play an important role throughout your projects. What are your focus points when arranging a picture?
CL : Again, for me the crucial thing is the light. I would position the model and try and find the best angle or place to shoot her with regards to the light.
The other thing that I like to focus on is my communication with the model. I always try and talk to them and direct them as best as possible in order for them to understand and transpose the vision I have for the shoot the best they can. I like for them to understand my approach to the shoot and for that I like to communicate the overall vision I have of the character they are portraying. In other words I ask them to be the character. I like what I call « accidents », when they are not necessarily posing but just being, these photos are usually the ones I select during my edit.
MH : How do you choose your projects? And what project are your personal favourite?
CL : I choose my projects depending on how much I can get involved in the creative process. I like to be inspired but also add something to a campaign. These projects are the ones that I tend to go for as I feel free to express my vision for the shoot.
As for personal favourite the one that comes to my mind is the one I made for a French Charity called « Autour de l’enfant ». This charity is active in Africa and they look after women and children, their wellbeing and their education. This project is really close to my heart as it involves creativity but also humanity. I am going back to Africa soon for another shoot with regards to women rights when it comes to excision.
MH : When I look at your captivating imagery, I often get a reminiscent to David Lynch’s iconic television series, Twin Peaks. Part of your work is like delving into a contemporary fashion editorial taken from the ever-mysterious world of Dale Coopers investigation in what happened to Laura Palmer. What are you inspired by, and where do you get your inspiration from?
CL : Thank you for comparing my work to David Lynch’s series! I am very flattered with your comparison, even if Twin Peaks was not my main source of inspiration. Although I do admit that the atmosphere in Lynch’s series is really close to the one I try to realize in my shoots. It’s the obscure ambiance that you can find in Lynch’s work that I like, the fact that it makes you ask yourself questions about the over all ambiance.
I do find a lot of my inspiration in different movies. The one director that I do particularly like is Xavier Dolan, I love his esthetic approach to the image. The light in his movies is soft and subtle. I like the fact that his direction of actors transpose in his movies, their acting is powerful but also brittle in a way.
I am also inspired by American series such as Mad Men or Fargo. The scenes are like a succession of photographies.
As for the scene setting of my photos I am inspired by the resourcefulness of the French cinema, in the sense that with a strong intention and not necessarily a big budget you can still tell a good story.
MH : Working with photography, I assume you have to be comfortable and good with people in terms of interacting and collaborating closely on set with tight deadlines, high expectations on delivery and so forth. When working intensively with all these different people on various projects, both in front and behind the lense, do you follow any guidelines? Or how do you manage and direct in such a situation?
CL : I don’t have guidelines as such. The mere fact that it is a creative process means that there is no organisation as such. I feel like a conductor of well put together « bordel » or organized chaos.
But indeed you do need a minimum of organization. I do believe that as long as you communicate efficiently and in a respectful manner you can ask for anything you need on a shoot.
My experience as a notary public as given me this structure in a way. I did have to manage a panel of different people and skills and it still does serves me in my life now.
It can be very stressful to be the main focal person to whom every one is depending in terms of which direction the shoot is suppose to take, but I feel that focusing on the shoot and what I want to achieve keeps me grounded.
“I feel that focusing on the shoot and what I want to achieve keeps me grounded.”
— Charlotte Lapalus
MH : Visual content takes more and more place in our digital lifes. Living in a digital age the tendency towards an insatiable desire for visual consumption is rapidly growing — a so-called exhibitionism trend highly promoted through social medias and especially Instagram. What are your opinions on the way people are exposed to, and not least digest visual content today?
CL : « Ou la la « I can honestly say that for me it’s a very broad debate! But I do feel that due to the fact that we live more than ever in a virtual world, the amount of visual information that we see on a daily basis can be overpowering. We see a lot but we don’t retain much.
However it allows us to discover new artists, opinions and different vision of things. In a way it allowed me to do this interview today… The fact that we are served this enormous amount of visual content can lead us to laziness when it comes to explore new arts. I do feel that it is very important to keep our curiosity by going to the cinema, theatre and exhibitions.
When it comes to exhibitionism I do think that it is not the apps such as Instagram that promote that but mainly the users. For me some things are private and it is common sense. The users choose to expose their lives, but Instagram for example is just a way of doing so. Personally I made the choice not to expose myself but just my work. I do not feel the need to exhibit my personal life to the public.
MH : Tea or Coffee?
CL : Neither, mainly water.
MH : Sunrise or sunset?
CL : Sunset.
MH : Summer or Winter?
CL : Summer, having grown in the South of France…
All images courtesy of Charlotte Lapalus