Adrien Blondel was born and raised in Normandy, France. He graduated with cinematographer degree and now works in the film industry as a grip, director of photography and cameraman. His photography focuses on architecture and landscape, and explores the relationship between people and their environment, the idea of the functionality of our surroundings, and a sense of secret and mystery. Moving to USA resulted in an increased interest for the notions of language, relationships to others and the idea of home in his photography. We asked him a few questions and he was generous to share his world with us through his answers:
Besides being a photographer, you also work within the film industry as a director of photography and a cameraman. Was it your love of cinema that initially drew you towards becoming a photographer or vice versa? What came first?
I picked up my first camera as a teenager, somewhere in middle school. I never got deeply involved with my photography practice at this age, but would always snap photos. I then made the choice to study filmmaking but I was still interested in photography, and even did some side jobs as a photographer. I am working almost entirely in the film industry now, as a technician.
My more intensive practice of fine art photography is recent, about two years old. I would say I have always been interested in visual forms of expression, but I think a factor that pushed me to develop photography is the ability to work alone. Film projects always necessitate building a team, and creating collaborations. This makes photography an easier and more accessible form of expression for me.
Has these two branches of your work affected each other in your opinion? If so, how has one influenced the other?
I’m sure it has. My knowledge of cinema is greater than my knowledge of photography as I spent years studying it, so the influence probably goes this way. I think it influenced my photography to an interest for “hors champ,” a French expression with an emphasis on what is out of the frame; to the things that are not shown or said. I also mostly photograph horizontally; this framing preference was probably influenced by my love of cinema.
Since your move to the USA, your interest has grown in the notions of language, relationships with others and definition of “home”. What would you say is the main difference between living in France and your new environment? How has these new experiences shaped your photography style, if at all?
Living abroad introduced notions of isolation and loneliness to my life, and therefore pushed me to think more about language and human interaction. The American and French cultures do not seem that far apart from each other at first glance, but a deeper exposition reveals more fundamental disparities. I find the biggest differences at a behavioural and conceptual level, and such differences are invisible to the eye.
Being abroad also increased my curiosity, for I have a lot to learn about what is around me. I feel like my images have an aspect of mystery, where the subject is not always obvious and where the narrative is never complete but eluded, as I look around me with no sense of familiarity and understanding.
Your portfolio is filled with a beautiful selection of photographs, shot mostly on medium format film; what aspects of working with this format attracts you and why?
I don’t consider any medium as better than any other; each one is just a tool in the hands of the artist, allowing different ways of expression. This said, I appreciate the level of detail obtained with medium format and the tones film offers.
My photography practice is fairly recent as I‘ve said, and I started with digital, so switching to film is making me learn a new process. I enjoy the craft aspect it adds to photography, and it is forcing me to pay more attention to colors.
Kodak films seem to be your go to choice; what makes this film so attractive to you?
I love the low contrast, natural colors, and soft tones that the Portra series offers.
With your project “I Can’t Hear The Sound Of French,” you’re searching for meaning and an understanding of your surroundings. Was the influence of this project the philosophy of language by Ludwig Wittgenstein or was it of your own philosophical exploration?
This series started with my own philosophical exploration. I was trying to apply principles of language to our surroundings, and architecture. I was questioning the relationship between a shape and the identity or utility of a structure, in the same way a shape and sound are used to reference a concept or an object in language. In language, the shape and the sound of a word rarely correlate to what they stand for, our understanding is based on a code that we learn, and maybe such a code exists for our surroundings.
Wittgenstein describes the notion of private language as nonsensical, because a word that describes a sensation is based on a set of common criteria, and disregards the subjectivity of sensations. I believe art forms are a way to create a more precise language, which takes into consideration private and personal nuances to concepts.
Why do you still shoot film? Your work is a mix of digital and analogue but looking at them, it shows a preference to shooting film.
As a young artist, I am still searching for my tool of predilection. Different mediums express different things, and I would switch back to digital if I felt like it expressed what I want to say better. It is important to me to be able to master different tools. It is again like learning a new language, where every new tool learned is a new word or rule.
Right now, I am enjoying learning the subtleties of film, and I am happy with the results I get.
With recent big blockbusters like Star Wars and Interstellar being shot on traditional film, do you think this new trend will stand the test of time?
I have nothing against digital filmmaking, and I am only interested in the choice of medium if it is artistically motivated, but I am happy that film is still being used, despite of the financial constraint it represents. Allowing both mediums to exist at the same time increases the possibilities for expression for artists.
As for film standing the test of time, I am not sure. I don’t think it will disappear, but it will remain an occasional thing, and because films are considered a product, it will come with financial obligations.