Frédéric Dargelas: Natural Emotion and Passion

It has always seemed necessary to us to interview lesser known, yet passionate, photographers who feel certain obligations in their lives. Sometimes it is difficult to choose which photographer to speak with, since they so numerous today (maybe even more and more numerous?). In the case of Frédéric Dargelas, it was an accidental meeting, during a trip, but also the quality of his work that led to these questions, and led beyond that to a collaboration where he offers photography workshops with us in Finland. In order to chose, all you need to do is follow your instinct….

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How would you define yourself as a photographer?
I would say I am a mix of an intuitive and curious photographer. I like to experiment and be surprised. The technique of photography is somewhat important. Knowing and paying attention to this boring bit is a strong support to focus on the moment you take the picture, this very moment you cannot recreate. It takes time and mistakes to have the good reflexes in every situation but the good thing is we can learn and pass it on to others.
Analog film photography does not forgive small mistakes, which gives you less chance to be an average photographer: it teaches you how to be a good photographer.

What is your profession besides photography?
I’m a doctor research scientist. I love this job, I am working in a Finnish pharmaceutical company where I can plainly express my scientific imagination and promote innovation. I have seen many parallels between my work as a photographer and as a research scientist. Both are based on imagination as a tool to progress and experiment. In order to progress, you need to know the rules but also to be intuitive.

What is you background? What brought you to photography?
I guess it always has been around as a constant companion in my life. As a child I was amazed to see a picture of my grandfather as a young, handsome, sporty guy posing with his bike. That’s the magic of photography: being able to connect with a moment that has happened and still get the emotions. My first camera was a second hand 35mm Nikon FG film camera. It was great especially because I had also bought a macro lens with it. And of course… I still have it. I started with portraits and also macro was fun following bugs running in the tree trunks or ants in grass. But I have to say that for me, photography arrived after a long time of drawing and painting. In our family we had different painters and my mother was a very skilled artist. I learnt a lot from her. I also studied the arts at the same time as the sciences. Photography came to replace drawing and painting as the “immediate” alternative. Starting with self-taught learning I continued with some classes but the key was meeting people who helped me to form my experience… and daily practice.

 

Do you want your career to evolve as a professional photographer?
I have thought about this. I have already been in different ways on the professional side, being a freelance photographer, giving photo workshops, working for a photo academy. Now I see that there is a real advantage of having another job besides photography. It gives the freedom to photograph things I like and want. I am not forced to take some pictures that would not be me. What I do is really what I like: photography, but also meeting new people, sharing my experiences and giving courses and workshops. Even if it implies long days of work, almost all my spare time locked in my studio. I can not complain if I have chosen to do things I believe in.

What is your special recipe for photography?
The ideal recipe for me involves a good preparation of the photograph. Photography is not just taking a picture. Your personal theme and also the preparation (looking for the right place, the right time, etc…) are two of the very first steps that come before taking the picture. So preparation of the shoot is really important, sometimes I even bring with me my small Yashica MAT (twin lens reflex) which is the lighter of my medium format cameras, to take fake pictures without film in it. I look in the viewfinder move around, imagine the light and the shadows at different time. I press the shutter. Click. An imaginary picture has been taken. But because I took the time to do this, then when it will be the right time I will go faster and avoid mistakes. Doing so gives you an incredible advantage: you do not have to think too much when you will take your pictures. Again, here the rule is to forget the rules when photographing and really concentrate on your subject and let your imagination flow. When using old analog cameras I do not have autofocus, so I pay special attention on the focus of my pictures. The pattern I follow before taking the picture is usually: Focus/ Composition/ Right moment.

When you feel everything is good, you just know there will be a good photograph. It’s like golf, when you feel that everything is perfect before hitting the ball you know it will describe the almost perfect trajectory.
The material itself is not necessarily the most important thing. Of course there is a difference between taking pictures with an iPhone and using a real camera. But very quickly the material is less important than the correct way to use it. I work digitally with a Canon 5D Mark II which I use mainly as “blueprints” for my pictures. After trying a lot of film cameras I now work with two medium-format TLR (Yashica MAT light to carry around, Mamiya C220 soft and perfect colors) and SLR (mainly Kiev 60 for its ease of use and the choices of lenses). There are always quite fun debates about the best cameras for a type of photography. The truth is that the camera is just a tool. There is no “best” device, just the one with which you feel comfortable photographing.

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What is your criteria for the selection of your pictures and the post-production?
I am seeking the emotion when you discover the picture. The “wooow”. Focus and composition are a key factor to enter inside the picture and to be connected with the subject. Often when the focus is not there you miss the connection. I have this exact connection when I look through my old cameras, with these large viewfinders, you see all the details, you are inside the picture. That’s what I am looking for: falling in the picture again, finding the connection, finding the emotion.
How the blurry lies and how it progresses in the photograph is necessary to emphasize your subject and guide the eye. In my photographs sharpness is less important that the management of the blur or bokeh and contrast to highlight the most important elements and give an impression of depth. I sometimes use tilt and shift in objectives or a large format, or use also special bokeh lenses to highlight the effects of blur.

 

What is it that you are seeking in photographing models? How can you re-invent something each time?
Emotions. People are a really a good “medium” to pass on emotions. I do not think we can re-invent something new every time, but it is always a different story that is in front of the camera. Different story, different people, different emotions. My portraits are often quite neutral and for the same picture some will see melancholy and some a feeling of contentment. Emotions are not faked I just follow the person with my camera, waiting for the right time.

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How to chose the right poses? Do you choose your model according to their experience?
I usually direct my camera, not the person. I explain what I want in my pictures beforehand. Portrait photography is a two way relation between photographer and the person. You have to let them be true and express them for “being inside the moment”. The most important is when I see the people; can or can’t I imagine them in a picture? You do not decide this, it is more something you feel is going to be right or not. Sometimes you just know that it is not going to work, no matter how long it will take. Basically there is a minimum of exchange and understanding between the photographer and the model. Experience helps this but can be misleading sometimes, since I am working with film camera. Lots of people are not used to being in front of an “old” camera that requires sometimes long poses and the model to be still. Once a model asked me if it was possible to see the picture right away on the back of my camera like digital cameras.

 

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How would you define your style? Or do you think you have already defined your style?
I see my style as something bound to evolve with time, new experiences and encounters. Using film camera, and especially medium and large format gives a note of “old fashion” to my style. I am not after this style but I am not denying it either. I try to do simple pictures, with subtle emotions and film photography is the medium that fits me best to express this. In that sense I could fit to a certain “Finnishness” of photography where emotions are not too strong or too obvious but they are here.

Your recently moved to Finland, what do you think about Finnish photography? Is there a model of “Finnishness” in photography? Any particular inspiration?
It is difficult to answer this question. I do not know if there is a typical Finnish model for photography, but I do see a link between some Finnish photographers. I am thinking here of Elina Brotherus, Arno Rafael Minkkinen but also Susanna Majuri and a new photographer to me: Aino Kannisto. The pictures feel very natural, simple and very close to the principal human subject and the nature. It seems that this is typically Finnish, and here we could speak about “Finnishness” of the photograph. The pictures are not pretending and neither does the subject pretend to be someone else other than who they are… or the photographer themselves, as it often turns out to be self-portraits. Except for Marjuri’s work… but I keep seeing Majuri’s work as self-portrait of her soul. Though not physically present in front of the camera you have the strange sensation of seeing her feelings, her soul in front of you. In Kannisto’s pictures you have a similar sensation of understanding her. It is like something just happened, almost nothing really, but you have the sensation of witnessing something sincere, touching, real. Something extremely valuable and subtle. I guess the link is here, with Finland, something simple, real and natural, nothing striking, but you do connect strongly with the feeling, with the moment that is somehow familiar and that is striking.

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Interview by RD

Link to Frédéric Dargelas Flickr page