Interview | Alionic Magazine New York - Emmanuel Gimeno
Updated: Apr 5, 2020
Meet fashion photographer Emmanuel Gimeno
1. So where are you from? and where do you reside?
I am of Italian and Spanish origin. Born and raised in the North-East of France, a sector quite unknown, far from the glamorous image that we usually get about France. It was a disaster-stricken industrial area with a high rate of immigration, mostly made up of mines and disused factories. Dreadful weather, chaotic urban landscapes; between social crisis and attempts at regeneration... A true symbol of industrial bankruptcy. Everything was just plain ugly and ramshackle to me. I was just a street kid, kind of left to himself, in an environment of stupidity, punches in the mouth and nasty jokes.
I remember thinking that the only accessible beauty in that shit-hole could only be found in girls' faces and inside of churches.
After very rocky teenage years, I managed to graduate from Art School and I finally escaped to Paris where I lived for a good while before moving to New York City. I stayed in the U.S for about 7 years until I decided with my young wife to return to France. We moved to the Bordeaux region; diametrically opposite of where I was born, in every sense of the word. We settled there.
Your artistic statement (if you could describe your photography style in 1-2 phrases)
My work is all about shifted contemplation, wrapped with melancholy and Freudian slips. I often try to create a shortfall which in turn creates a story.
2. There are so many possible narratives for each of your photographs how important is it to you that your models share the same narrative for the moment that you do? what type of instructions do you give to let them get lost in the mood?
Well. it is true that in the beginning I really wanted the models to connect with me and really understand the things I was trying to do, thus my need to meet them in person during castings, not for their looks but to make sure they could be receptive to my approach. I used to explain my ideas the same way I would talk about movie scripts, with plenty of details and references to books, movies, songs, philosophical reflections, even drawings... Sometimes I could see that some girls were feeling a little overwhelmed by my directions, which created discomfort and would push them to tune out. The worst result I could get. So I calmed down about trying to be understood. [Laughter]
Now, it really depends on the girl I have in front of me. If we do connect, if she reacts positively, if she outbids me with ideas then I share more. Otherwise I just gently guide her as we go. All I really want is her trust after all. I even noticed I can grab magical stuff when the model doesn’t really get where I’m going… Sometimes it's even better. That’s why I tend to prefer models without too much experience because they quickly get influenced and deformed by silly trends, attitudes and tricks they learn to produce for usual fashion shoots. All that build up is hard to break through when a girl knows exactly what she needs to do for what SHE thinks is good for her. Unless she sees beyond her own modelesque image.
I mainly book “models” because we need them to fit in the clothes. Fashion business has created a diktat which I don't necessarily agree with. Honestly, I would book any girl with something special, it could be anything. she doesn't have to be skinny or have a perfect face. In some cases, too much perfection even hurts the deep meaning of my pictures. Real beauty is so intangible, it really rides on well placed imperfections. When a girl is not scared to look strange or less pretty, it actually makes her so much more attractive.
3. How do you come up with the concepts?
I'm quite obsessive, so it feels to me like I'm always expressing in substance the same thing over and over. I guess the shape of my work varies a little even if it feeds on my usual observations and introspections. Most of my inspiration comes from literature and music, things that happened in front of me or just association of ideas which most of the time, land inside my head with no explanation. Most of my concepts come by extracting visions from my everyday dualities, such as anxiety and joy, fear of abandonment and desire, sexual drive and spirituality, irreverence and belief…
4. When did you start photography? and what got you started in photography?
Photography has always been in me, I feel like I am a camera myself. I just wish I could print some of the things I’ve seen… In a more rational way, I could say I really started photography in Art School. At first I had conditioned myself to be a painter but as time went by, I started moving away from paint - the actual medium - to use rather inks and very fluid medium such as walnut stain or coffee. As an experiment, I even started using ink to color and modify black and white negative films. I would scratch negative films' emulsion, drawing shapes with needles and then using ink to create clouds of colors. It was pretty bad. [Laughter]
I finally gave up all my brushes and carried out my entire last year thesis exclusively in photography. What really got me, in a way, is the fact that there are so many rules in photography in order to get a proper result. So many rules to learn and respect therefore so many rules to break and twist. Until you get too arrogant and mess it all up you may get rewarded with something totally magical. Photography naturally makes you a legitimate observer. You get the power to project yourself on anything.
But to be frank, the real drive is that I always been fascinated by feminine beauty. Nothing exceptional for a simple straight guy, however my attraction for images of girls was almost as strong as my attraction for girls themselves.
When I was a kid, around 6 or 7 years old, I would often walk around down town, on my own. Not far from where my mother used to work, there was a carpentry shop in a dead end street, specialized in coffin making. It was a rather impressive place. A long porch with coffins all lined up for display had to be crossed to get to the workshop. I was walking there sometimes to say hello to the workers. I liked them, they were nice to me. They were really cool tough guys, smoking and laughing with their chopped off fingers... But the deep reason I loved going there, was because there were pictures stuck on all the big wood machines, showing beautiful women, carefully undressed, in super revealing poses. I was hypnotized by them. although I was trying to stay discreet, the guys had really good times giggling about me checking them out. [Laughter]
I have to say that I cherish this weird memory. There was a surreal atmosphere between these huge scary machines, imposing shellac coffins, and all these sexy girls openly displayed all over the place. I remember thinking we were all quite lucky to be able to see these ladies in such intimate situations... But above all, there was somewhere, some guy with a camera, who had had the incredible privilege to have seen them all in person! For real. I was blown away by the thought. That was probably one of my first conscient sexual sensation. I thought right then that I too will take pictures of a super beautiful girl one day; and she would do daring things for me...[Laughter] It still makes me laugh. it still moves me…
Funnily enough, I've never been a womanizer and I can't stand that kind of assholes. Forgive me the comparison but women to me are like cathedrals not like fast food restaurants. Sex is a very precious thing to me and I never took it lightly. I've always scorned promiscuous people, swingers, fuck buddies, one-night stands and all this shit. So unworthy. I think they are the absolute opposite of what I believe and what I am desperately trying to express through my photography work : The iconic Sex.
5. What are some of your favorite concepts to shoot? What drives you? How do they support your passion for capturing photos?
I love catching fugitive moves, enigmatic facial expressions. the undressing moves are so gorgeous to me. I love shooting long hair, skin, intimate body details. All the little unique things you usually discover in someone you're falling in love with. These moments are my "mind photographies". I always try to recreate these moments of adoration and contemplation. When feelings are genuine and reciprocal, I believe they’re the most beautiful moments in life. I think most of my work is essentially based on contemplating true love and pure sexual desire. When they're merging, nothing else matters and time stops.
What are the things you will never shoot?
This is a recurring topic of conversation I have with my few photographer friends. Cases of conscience, how far would we go professionally. What would we refuse to shoot for moral reasons, personal belief even if we were offered really good money? I’d rather not get too deep into this. it angers and depresses me at the same time. I mean we all know how the world works. I don’t find it pretty. There are many things I’d refuse to shoot. I do love our planet and I can't work for people or companies that I believe hurt other people or ruin the environment.
In much smaller scale, for simple personal reasons, there are many things I’d refuse to shoot. For example, I will never do underwater photography. It goes along with boating, scuba diving, fishing, anything about fish stuff, corals and seabed… I can't even stand hearing about it.
Next is what I could shoot but would hate it, I’ll tell you just for fun. [Laughter]
I don’t like shooting men, unless they are toreador or matador. Can’t stand photos of people jumping in the air like dingbats, unless they’re ballerinas. I hate shooting group of people, it’s always a goddamn circus. [Laughter] I don't like shooting couples. I don't like shooting more than one girl at a time; Series with two or three girls together always seem so contrived… Unless they're really together. In that case, they fall into the couple thing [Laughter]. I usually don't like shooting stupid celebs… but I understand it's all relative.
6. What do you do with the photos you take? How are they used?
Most of the time, they get published in magazines, sometimes exhibited in galleries, rarely in advertising. Some stay in my drawers for years, the To-Do drawer, the secret drawer, the rejected drawer, the recycling drawer…
7. To date, what has been your favorite photo shoot you have done and why?
First and above all, my absolute favorite photo shoots have always been when I take pictures of the woman I love. Nothing can beat the pleasure I get out of it.
That being said, there are three kind of favorite : The one I really enjoyed shooting. The one from which I really enjoyed the result. The one from which I really enjoyed the repercussions.
With that in mind, I recently shot a series that gave me the three kind of pleasure all at once; titled "Crush it and disappear" shot in Paris for Spoon magazine. I had prepared my shoot to get a moody dystopian fashion story, and enough material to create a short animation movie exclusively made with stills. First, I absolutely loved working with Hea Deville, beautiful amazing model, super smart and generous, she gave me so much. She totally made it happen. Then, I was so pleased with the result, everything worked out the way I wanted, it was technically risky, as I usually do, mixing strobe with daylight and obscurity with slow shutter speed…
To top it off, the series received an Honorable Mention award at the PX3, Paris Photography Prize 2016, and the short movie was part of the 2016 Selection of The Kuandu International Animation Festival in Taiwan. Cherry on the cake : my 16 year old son Theodore was the film and sound editor for the short movie. I received nice international coverage. I was walking on clouds.
8. What's next for you?
I’m about to shoot a new story for Spoon and I’m preparing a new series of 20 images with my wife for a personal body of work.
9. What’s your secret selfish photography dream?
My absolute secret selfish photography dream would be to be able to take pictures with my eyes when I'm making love.
10. Where can our readers follow your great work?
Beside my website that I try to update regularly with new work, news, exhibitions and events, most of the best and new work is definitively available on Ello Social network. Spoon magazine has been a loyal partner for more than 20 years now and some time to time I appear on cool art and fashion publications. I've worked for pretty much everybody all along my humble career however I feel the best is yet to come. So, stay tuned Alionic. :)