“what I like in a photo is all that is
outside of the frame, and everything
I imagine outside of the frame”
Interview with Eric Frot
by Marie-Pierre Lambelin
(Editor’s translation from French)
1 / How did you start being interested in photography and become passionate about it? What made you first pick up a camera?
It started unexpectedly, after high school. I was not very interested in classical studies, so my father asked me if photographs interested me. It was the beginning of my interest that has grown ever since. I was not well aware of the artistic dimension of the trade at that time.
2 / You studied photography, what does it mean to you? Is it actually your job?
During two years, between 1984 to 1986, I learned the photographic technique, its theory, optical, physical, chemical and the practice of this technique, both in shooting and laboratory. I learned to develop and shoot black and white and color, to shoot in the field as well as in the studio, from 35mm to large format.
It was an incredible time during which I only photographed, learned, discovered the great photographers. I met incredible photographers, including students from my class. With my friends Laurent Bichaud and Jean-Eric Fabre, we were going to make our arms in the demonstrations and that was the beginning of my interest in photojournalism, the discovery of the great… There were always chemical cups ready in my room and I only had to light the enlarger. I also realized that to be a photographer, is not just about taking pictures, far from it. In addition to talent, it takes determination, a lot of determination. I think I do not have enough of either.
I also did not know how to broadcast my pictures, show them to the right people. Social networks did not exist at the time. I worked in a professional lab and met with great printers and shooters.
It opened my eyes in a different way. We learnt from each other, from each encounter, including one of the last Dye-Transfer printers, from whom I learned to judge images, light and chromium. Then I decided to work as a freelance graphic designer, which I have done for 20 years now.
3 / Where do you get your inspiration? How do you choose your subjects?
I am very instinctive, my inspiration comes, I think, from all the things that feed my mind, especially music and reading. And of course great photographers, known or unknown. Essentially discovered through books.
4 / Do you think it is important to be technically competent?
It all depends on what you want to do. To make an analogy with music, one can play a simple melody with very few instrumental and theoretical skills. If we want to go further in the discourse, we must learn the keys to language. Some do things very well in a very intuitive way, but the danger is to always do the same thing, not to evolve, to tire. For me, it is very important to master the techniques I use so that I can achieve the result I want.
5 / Why do you shoot with film rather than digital?
Haha, the famous analog vs digital question … I stopped making pictures for a few years in the mid 2000s. When I started again, I naturally turned to digital. 6 months later, I started again to shoot with my old Leica and a year later I no longer had a digital camera. This choice is very personal and I do not advise against digital, in any way. I just find that digital images are disembodied, lack reality, brilliance, life, dynamics … I do not like the digital workflow. As a graphic designer, I spend my days on my computer, and that’s good enough. I need to do things with my head and with my hands, I need sensuality, sensation, odors, failures, accidents, irreparable errors to appreciate the successes. For practical reasons I scan the negatives and make my prints in Lightroom.
6 / B&W or colour, what makes you choose one over the other?
It all depends on the subject, the light, what I plan to do with the picture, insert it in a series or not, the atmosphere I want. It also depends on the film that is in the camera that I have in my hands.
7 / What matters more to you? The story ? Details? Mood? Can you tell us more about your series ‘My nights’?
The story is written by the person who looks at the photo. As many stories as spectators for a single photo. The details, if they serve a purpose, matter to me, but it is mainly the atmosphere, the emotion and the poetry that the photograph offers that matters to me. I do not like photos that only emit geometry or graphics, however perfect it is. I think what I like in a photo is all that is outside of the frame, and everything I imagine outside of the frame.
My nights is a very personal series, in which I try to explore my dreams, my unconscious nightmares, my intellectual and emotional barriers. All the photos are made with a 4X5 view camera handheld with flash. I know exactly what I want to have before I look for where I can achieve it. I can not always do what I want, but that’s what’s interesting. I unfortunately lack time to develop it as fast as I would like.
8 / You often use flash, in what circumstances? What do you think it brings to your pictures?
I use the flash very often. It is a valuable tool for me. It allows me to choose the light, to clarify what I want or to alter reality and to make an abstraction of it.
9 / Can you quote me three works that have struck you, or really influenced you and why?
This is the most difficult question of this interview. There are so many great artists who are inspiration, how to avoid drawing up a catch-all catalogue? When I first started, I was fascinated by war photographers, Gilles Caron, Don McCullin. Then, fashion photographers and portraitists, Richard Avedon, Jean-Loup Sieff, Irving Penn, David Bailey and Helmut Newton. Press photographers, the agency Vu, Magnum … And William Klein …
10 / What would you say to a newcomer who asks for your advice on how to start?
Explore without barriers of genre, technique, and learn by looking at the great painters, filmmakers and photographers in books, cinemas, galleries and museums if possible. It’s always better than on the internet.
11 / What projects are you working on? What is your actuality?
Apart from My nights, I develop a series called My Land, on which I work regularly without really working. I started this series when I left Paris to go and live in the country a year and a half ago. It has no other interest other then allow me to appropriate my new universe and to oblige me to take Images out of my comfort zone. It will therefore surely never be shown in a completed version.
I was recently published in Plateform magazine and some other webzines. I had a short exhibition in January and will show some photos from My Land in September.
Print Edition 2019