Surrealistic Photos of Jean-Yves Lemoigne
Lemoigne: When I create photographs for advertising, I apply post-production effects like compositing the images digitally. But for my personal work, I like to set up the effects in the camera and photograph what is actually in front of the lens.
Gruenwedel: Who or what influenced your artistic style as you were growing up?
Lemoigne: I was especially interested in comic books and graphic novels that used a mix of photography and drawings. I discovered photography later. Movies were also a big influence. I am very fond of the movies directed by Terry Gilliam, Luis Buñuel, and Jean Cocteau.
Gruenwedel: What motivated you to pick up a camera?
Lemoigne: Photography is an easy way to realize my concepts.
Gruenwedel: How are you using Adobe After Effects?
Lemoigne: I prefer to create loops in-camera, but when post-production is necessary, we use After Effects.
First I do a rough edit to choose the perfect part of the take. After I identify little jumps that occur on some part of a loop, I bring in the After Effects artist to match the first frame and the last frame.
In the “Tokyo Rockabilly Club” loop, there was a slight change in the position of the hands so we had to do some morphing on the hands to make the loop work. For this we use a RE:Vision [Effects] plug-in for After Effects called RE:Flex.
Gruenwedel: How did you do the “Equilibrium” loop?
Lemoigne: We used only a little bit of post-production. The guy was standing on the chair, there was a piece of wood behind the chair, and then there were some people holding the chair [in place] to create the motion because the guy couldn’t hold the position [for long]. During post-production, the motion graphic artists erased the people using After Effects.
Lemoigne: Yes. It’s quite simple. I think the longest part of this project is finding the perfect landscape. Once I have it, I put the digital, medium-format Hasselblad H2 camera on the tripod. I put on my tights, set the camera to take 200 photos, one photo every 15 seconds, and then I do all the positions. I try to find different positions for each part of the landscape. I really don’t want to crop the figures in post. Almost all of them were really where you see them. The editing and post-production takes two to three days. The last series I did had a layer of complexity with smoke at the location, which added more of a war mood.
Gruenwedel: Are your character poses inspired by toy soldiers?
Lemoigne: Not so much toy soldiers as actual soldiers. When I was studying art, I read many books about painting and early war photography. I was living in New York and there was an exhibition about war painting and early war photography in the U.S. I like some of the historical war photography because it’s large-format photography. It was mainly landscapes because the shutter speed was so slow. As a result, all of the soldiers are quite small in these compositions and the photography is very much inspired by paintings. I tried to experiment with this kind of approach: large-scale photography featuring large landscapes and small people.
Life as a pictogram
Gruenwedel: Explain your series about the everyday life of a pictogram.
Lemoigne: That was the first series I did with the [body] suits, about four or five years ago. As a graphic designer, I’ve always been interested in pictograms and graphic signs. When I did this series, my goal was to convey the everyday life of a pictogram: He wakes up in the morning, shaves in the bathroom, and then goes to work. At work, he’s like a classic “work sign.” Then he leaves work, does some shopping, comes home, works again, uses the vacuum cleaner — he assumes almost the same position as at work — and then goes to bed.
Gruenwedel: Explain the production process for the “Urban Legends” series.
Lemoigne: I wanted to make something very strange and surrealistic but create all the effects in-camera as opposed to during post-production. I designed the cones and designed the guys to make them look like they’re homeless — because society doesn’t look at homeless people anymore. I thought it would be a good concept to do in Los Angeles because it’s the city of modern mythology. There are so many homeless people there that you don’t really see them. So perhaps you miss one, this unicorn person. I liked the concept of being unsure of this [reality] because it creates a very strong surrealistic sense of what is real.
I’ve had this idea for a while about shooting a girl along with a very realistic robot. I decided to match these two groups up so we could collaborate on this project. When I first started the series, I made a bunch of sketches to help me define how to capture the shots. I’m quite precise in the beginning. I get very detailed about the composition. The sketches become an easy way to show people what I want to do. But after I make the sketches, sometimes I try to forget everything — to start fresh. I don’t want to reproduce the sketch exactly.
Gruenwedel: So the woman and warehouse setting are real but the robot itself is fake?
Lemoigne: Yes, the CGI artist bought a robot [design] on the TurboSquid website, which was a starting point. I wanted to work with a very classic factory robot. Then we changed it a bit because I wanted to add more articulation. First we worked on updating the shape of it and then we worked on the texture.
The outfits the woman is wearing are real. It’s high fashion: Dior, Saint Laurent, and Gucci. The necklace is a piece of jewelry from Chanel or JOOP. The magazine chooses a theme for every issue, and this [December 2013] issue was about fetishism.
Gruenwedel: What vision were you trying to achieve?
Lemoigne: I envisioned a highly fashionable girl who was interested in fetishes. I imagined that she had a robot and wondered what she would do with it. Will she use it as a tool and play with it? I still find that fascinating — that mix of the very basic and very everyday — rather than characters that you might see in a science fiction movie. I like it that people who view the series think the robot was actually on the set.
Gruenwedel: How did you combine sketches with on-location photographs?
Lemoigne: On the set while we were shooting the photographs, I created a robot [stand-in] using some stands and arms — just to shoot something while we were working with the girl, to know how the robot would fit in the frame. During the photo editing, I made more sketches and drew directly on the photo itself to specify where the robot stands and how it is positioned. Then I worked with a CGI artist [Jeannel] to create the final version of the robot. I spent a lot of time with him to give the robot the perfect position. Working with [French retouch artist] Adrien Bénard, we also added dust to make it look older and added some textures — scratches and peeling paint — in Photoshop.
Explorations into sports
Gruenwedel: What are you focusing on now?
Lemoigne: I like to keep a few different ideas going for my personal work. I’m interested in sports photography. I want to make it more interesting. Much of sports photography looks the same to me.
Gruenwedel: Give me an example.
Lemoigne: Usually photographers position a strong strobe light on the athlete so the athlete appears frozen, while the background is black. I think it would be interesting to do the opposite. Instead of lighting the athlete, light the background so the athlete appears in silhouette. That type of shot makes the experience more about the attitude of a sport — the sport itself — rather than about a particular athlete.
Gruenwedel: Any advice for budding photographers?
Lemoigne: Be creative and forget technique. Techniques change. Be true to yourself and try to do the kind of photographs that you would like to see. Whenever I shoot, I ask myself whether this photo is interesting and whether someone has already done it. There are so many photos everywhere that it is important not to add any meaningless or uninteresting visuals yourself.