Interview of Documentary Photographer Camille Lévêque

Camille Lévêque (b.1985) is a freelance documentary photographer born and raised in Paris, France. She graduated from university in Paris with a degree in Fine Arts and Literature. Besides travelling worldwide and documenting her journeys, she lived in Armenia during 2007 to 2008 to cover a UN sponsored year-long reportage on refugee crisis. In 2010 she worked for some time as an Editorial Assistant for MAGNUM PHOTOS in Paris before moving back to the US. Camille’s also the Co-founder of Orpheus Standing Alone publishing house and Founder of the LIVE WILD collective. I like her work for raising sensibilities as well as for building intimacy in a documentarian approach. She gladly responded to my simple questions and provided an assortment of her images for this post:

Camille Lévêque photography (2)Please tell us about yourself and your relationship with photography:

I have been taking pictures for 12 years now with a gap of four years between 2010 and 2014 in which I was either working for other photographers or working on more plastic works than visual works. I see myself as an artist using photography as her main media more than a photographer. I am self-taught in photography and started to work as a freelance photojournalist when I was 20 years old. I moved to Armenia and put together a year-long photo project on the Karabakh war refugees’s camps around Erevan. My practice evolved a lot since those years and I now focus more on personal and artistic projects.

Camille Lévêque photography (3)Where do you think work fits in terms of genres or categories? Should I safely call it fine-art or documentary-style photography?

When I started photography, I was only working as a photojournalist, then, as I said I stopped taking pictures for a few years. Back then I wanted to focus on plastic work and hastily eradicated photography as a medium. It took me years to figure out a way to use photography in a really fulfilling way. I work on very different type of project and so my practice varies, but I’d say my work is slowly but surely transforming to fine-art photography and most of my projects are documentary based project with an artistic approach. I focus on intimate documentation of my life and my surroundings using personal archive and an artistic angle. But the core of my works is documentary. I believe my work fits in a new generation of photographer, and a new way to approach the medium of photography. I think of a work build the statement and then create the images and make them work together.

Camille Lévêque photography (4)There’s a discreet degree of intimacy visible in your images. What is your intent of portraying something in an intimate manner?

I have always been very sensible to introspective works in all forms of Art. I am essentially interested in photographing my loved ones and my environment. I see my work as an intimate visual narration of my life, a sort of visual diary.

What are your creative methods or critical approaches of shooting? Do you shoot with a lot of preparation/forethought or you just click anyway? How do you see your evolution as a photographer?

I don’t stick to one method in particular, I always have a camera on me and do both very instinctive work to document my daily life and long-term fine-art project that ask for preparation. Half my work is a visual diary of my life, the other half is made of tangible projects with a specific angle and preparation. My practice evolves a lot and I see myself becoming more efficient, more relevant whether is it in my approach or my editing.

Camille Lévêque photography (5)Tell us about your various/current project(s). Do you think about (self)publishing your photo-book, like many photographers do nowadays?

I am working on a new photo project that I hope to complete before the end of the winter. I am the founder of an art collective (The Live Wild Collective) and managing it is asking me an almost full-time investment.

Self-publishing is a new obvious step for photographers nowadays, and it is a movement that I am part of and that I support. I co-founded with my sister a publishing house and so far we publish two books with both our works. In the future, we have projects to publish more and more photo-books. I am more interested in self-publishing my book than having it published as I can be in charge of the full project from the beginning to the end. To me, the completion of a photo-book is much more fulfilling than an exhibition. One has the opportunity to build a wonderful object with many layers of subtlety, and the book stays forever when an exhibit is ephemeral.

Camille Lévêque photography (6)Tell us about the equipment (camera and lenses) you mostly use and why. What is your workflow and editing preferences?

I have various cameras and shoot with both analog and digital equipment. I have several small 35 mm point and shoot from the brands Olympus, Contax and Canon, a Fujifilm Instax Wide, Canon 5d MarkII and a Fujifilm X100T. I now mostly use pancakes fixed focal lenses as they are easier to carry around. I always try to carry a camera with me everywhere I go, so I use mainly the lightest, smallest one and keep the big guns for studio works.

My workflow is rather random, I can work on several project at the same time and then take a little break for a few weeks. I always try to edit as fast as I can especially when I shoot in digital. It is a pretty hard exercise for me, and I need to get better at selecting images without spending weeks on the selection. In my work, editing is a very big -if not the biggest- part of my process. Part of my series is made by shooting a lot of random things I encounter on daily life and try and narrates stories through my editing. I wouldn’t say my pictures are weak alone, but they are definitely meant to work in unison and are much stronger together.

Camille Lévêque photography (20)Do you have a favorite photo or a project having a great story behind?

It is kind of hard to answer. I have tons of favorite photos and most of them have nice stories behind them because as they narrate my daily life I have lots of memories around these pictures. Lately, my favorite photo has been the one (see above) I took in my bathroom in Los Angeles. You can see a palm tree through the window. I don’t think it is a wonderful picture but for some reason I really love it. I had a lot of fun editing “I Want to Watch you Watch”, I had been taking pictures for weeks and suddenly realized I kept taking pictures of my close ones and the things they were watching without even noticing it. It was pretty easy to edit, all the content was there ready to tell the stories.

Camille Lévêque photography (7)What do you think about contemporary photography (current trends, social media, photography as a career, etc.)?

I am very inspired and excited by contemporary photography. I feel like photographers have been stuck for a while in their practice and that this field was having a sort of teenage rebellion’s phase. Now photography has blossomed into a wider field and I see many photographers that have great inspiration and talent. Appearing online is very important I think, and it requires a lot of work and commitment. After taking pictures and editing them, you have to be your own agent and show your work. Internet is great for that and I am really happy to have access to an almost infinite panel of portfolios online. Besides that we can witness the fact that new platforms for photography have incredibly increased online : exhibitions, magazines, websites, it is really great to have new opportunities to feature body of works and be surrounded by an active community. Photography as a career is very challenging, and it is going to demand incredible perseverance and will power. It has to be a true passion and you have to be ready to work hard and walk the extra mile if you want to make a carrier in that field.

Camille Lévêque photography (8)Tell us about your achievements, awards, clients, etc.:

I don’t have many clients yet, and am not sure I want any. It would be nice to make some money out of photography but I see many photographers sully what they love for commissions that end up killing their inspiration and freedom. Achievement wise I haven’t got any awards yet, prizes or funds but do not feel that my work is any less worthy. I’ll try in the future to apply to grants and competitions to gain more exposure on my work and more feedbacks on my projects so I can evolve and progress. I published two books with my baby sister and that was for us both great achievements.

Camille Lévêque photography (9)What are your future plans/projects, ambitions, inspirations etc.?

My sister and I are going to publish our next book very soon. After that I have great plans for my collective and would like to publish yearly a group catalogue. I am spending my time between France and California and am working on a long-term project on racial issues in America, project that will hopefully lead to a book. Ideally I would like to spend some time in Mongolia and Japan before 2018 and complete at least two projects there. Winning some grant from a cultural organization would be nice, it’s hard to fund ambitious project and I’d love to have the chance to be supported by an organization. A couple of residencies would be nice too.

Camille Lévêque photography (10)Please share your favorite stuff: photographers, quotes, films, books, music etc.

I particularly like the photographic works of Sophie Calle, Martin Parr, Philip-Lorca diCorcia and Andreï Tarkovsky. Pier Paolo Pasolini and Sergueï Paradjanov are the two marble pillars holding the temple to my cultural education and taste scale. They’ve composed the most inspirational and brilliant work I’ve ever had the chance to discover. I really live American movies from the 50’s-60’s and Italian cinema. Music is also a great source of inspiration, especially composers like Erik Satie, Max Richter or Philip Glass. I am very fond of American Literature and have always loved Styron and Irving among others. A few of my favorite writers count Antonin Artaud, José Saramago, Marina Tsvetaïeva, Maurice Blanchot, Jean Cocteau, Rainer Maria Rilke, Jacques Prévert or Paul Eluart.

Say something to say to our readers or aspiring photographers:

Hang in there!

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