Interview by Claudia Bigongiari
All images © Louis De Belle
Photographer based in Milan, Louis De Belle (1988) first studied at the Politecnico and then moved to Germany where he graduated from the Bauhaus – Universität Weimar. In Berlin he begins to collaborate with designers, architects and curators, making himself known both for his personal and commercial photography.
Wherever it is applied Louis’eye is extremely attentive and able to build images suspended between the banal and the unusual, the sacred and the profane, between what is not allowed to see or know and what is always under our gaze. His photographs are a focus on details already there, that no one else has noticed before, more than a build up story.
His passion for photo books and publishing brings his series outside the dimension of images only, to enter “containers” designed and customized ad hoc, with a sort of sartorial approach. His latest project Cartographies came out last year and was curated by Humboldt Books.
In addition to the success that his publications have received, De Belle’s work has been exhibited in galleries, festivals and museums including Triennale di Milano, KINDL Center for Contemporary Art Berlin, The Royal Albert Hall in London, Les Rencontres d’Arles, Offprint at Paris Photo, and more.
Claudia Bigongiari (CB): Hello Louis, first of all welcome to Pellicola Magazine.
Louis De Belle (LDB): Ciao! Thanks for reaching out.
(CB): Tell us about yourself, especially your relationship with photography. Is there someone who transmitted you the passion, or is it something you cultivated on your own?
(LDB): If I think about it, I understand that there might be an influence from my family. However, my practice as a photographer definitely developed while studying at the Bauhaus University in Germany. There it’s where I understood how to use photography both as a technical and conceptual tool.
CB: Milan based photographer working between personal projects and commissions. How do you manage to balance these two realities. Do you select specific times for your personal series?
LDB: I wish I was able to select specific times and be that efficient! But actually it’s more of a mixture. Often I get inspiration for personal projects while working on commissioned ones and viceversa. Commercial jobs have a very precise timeframe and you need to deliver within a deadline, no matter what. With personal works, time broadens (often budget shrinks!) and you’re much more free. This freedom could become a double-edged sword, if you’re not focused. That’s why I usually try to think and plan well, before starting a new personal work.
CB: Regarding now your last book published by Humboldt Books, Cartographies. It is a project born in 2015 during a residency in New York, where you photographed people around from 10 am to 7 pm (as explained in the cover). Every picture is defined by the time you took it. How do you reflect about time? It is something “heavy” in your creative process?
LDB: In the Cartographies book we decided to emphasise the notion of time to give the reader a better understanding of the series and underline the repetitiveness of everyday actions. However, within my practice, I try to produce images that are somehow timeless, meaning that they’re not connected to a specific time of the year or a specific historical moment. The beauty of having an artistic practice is in fact being free from definitions, age, time, fashions, etc. So I enjoy embracing this by dealing with topics that can be universal and easily understandable, independently from time and context.
CB: Cartographies are marks and maps left on everyday people clothes, represented from a very close distance, where you can tell a lot about their type of job, imagine about their life. How did you approach them, if you had to?
LDB: Honestly, I never ask questions like “can I take a picture?” or even try to establish a contact. I like the naturalness of things, especially if I’m dealing with found situations such as the people I casually stumbled upon in Cartographies. Overall, in all of my works, I lean towards working with what’s already out there, without constructing or staging anything.
CB: The shift of perspective you use every time in your projects is quite interesting. If Besides Faith and Disappearing Objects are a way to show what usually has to stay hidden, unknown, in Cartographies the closeness shows until the last detail, dirt or sweat. Do you consider that photography only, has the power to reveal what is hidden or it is more another filter on what is around us?
LDB: Exactly as you say: I am intrigued by the idea of showing what’s usually hidden or simply not seen by ourselves. Cartographies is also a way of showing very normal things (people in the streets, after all) from a slightly different perspective. Photography is a way of telling that something exists out there, it’s about witnessing. So it’s probably one of the best tools to reveal and inform but also an efficient way to propose a personal take on subjects that we all know.
CB: Did you always imagine your projects as photo books? They are all different as if your images become the base to build other perspectives and imaginations. Do you feel that too?
LDB: After some years working with photography, I now definitely tend to imagine any new project as a book. And if not as a book, at least as a print. Photography itself is quite bound to the printed image, as a matter of fact some say it becomes real only then… And I tend to agree. Especially given the amount of digital images that we produce and devour.
Since my first book I’ve always tried to create a strong connection between the content of the book and the way it was produced, through paper, printing and binding techniques. Failed Dioramas was about stuffed animals lying between boxes in an abandoned apartment so the book was printed on cardboard paper. Besides Faith was about Italy’s biggest religious trade fair, so we printed the book on golden paper. Disappearing Objects was about magic tricks, so we hid the photographs between the pages of a fiction story. And Cartographies is somehow about haptics, so we employed Japanese papers with a very nice “façon” to make the book with.
Every time I work closely with a different graphic designer to figure out the best way to create a book that could add value to the photographs instead of being a mere catalogue. Since all of the previous books are sold out, I assume we managed quite well so far!
(CB): Going back to commissions, do you have a different photographic approach when you don’t work for yourself?
(LDB): Hard question. I wish I was always able to be myself but often, due to time or budget issues, I tend to adopt a more time or money efficient approach. However, recently I was able to get commissions that blur the line between personal and commercial and this can turn out as the perfect mixture.
(CB): Finally Louis, tell us which are your favourites sources of inspirations. And do you have any upcoming projects you would like to share with us?
(LDB): Books and exhibitions are always a great source of inspiration. I must confess I’m an avid collector of photography books. I spend ages looking for out of print titles or even simply browsing through titles in small and big bookshops (Germany is great in that concern). In general, seeing the works of other people is always both a good drive and reference for creating your own.
There’s a bunch of commissioned book projects coming up! I don’t want to anticipate too many details but all of these are the results of long-time collaborations with architecture studios, talented graphic designers and art directors.
(CB): Thanks for sharing your time with Pellicola, I hope you enjoyed the conversation 🙂
(LDB): Thank you guys!