After a long hiatus, our Hero of the Week section resumes with an interview with Los Angeles-based Berangere Altier. A multi-faceted photographer, she’s a perfectionist obsessed with flawless prints, a traveller inspired by everyday things, and one of Hayao Miyazaki’s biggest fans — to name a few of her interests.
In this chat, she also tells us about her editorial work, rationale behind working with women, what makes her trip to Japan special, and her ardent preference for film photography.
Would you describe yourself as a film lover or an occasional film shooter? What in particular draws you to analogue photography?
I would describe myself as a complete film lover. I took my first ever photography class in college a few years ago, it was a basic black and white class. I noticed my love for film when I started staying back when all my other classmates had gone, and stood in the little red room until my feet started hurting, or when I started being very late for my next class because I was working in the darkroom and didn’t see time pass. I remember late at night when I couldn’t sleep I would just show up in the middle of the night to print to the point of exhaustion. The pleasure of getting that perfect print was much more than I could have ever imagined. What draws me to analog photography is the hard decision that goes into clicking that button, and the hard work that goes into creating that perfect print. I like working hard and seeing that work physically in front of my eyes.
You would never cut your hair but would you ever shoot only digital?
My dream is that if I ever get to 60 years old, I’ll have long silver-blond locks with a film camera around my neck. So no, I Could not give up either of these dreams!
As a food photographer you pay great attention to details. In “Project II/Chocolate Milk” you have a beautiful series based on intimate and close-up shots in black and white. Can you tell us more about this project?
I dabble a little bit in the world of food photography, usually using my digital camera, but I love to incorporate food with black and white photography. Food is very important to me, the reason why I think that is is because I grew up and lived in a few continents, like Europe, Asia, and America, and food has been the primary key for me to understand and relate to all the different cultures I was exposed to. I took a food photography class once for a whole semester, and it was my favorite class that I ever took. It pushed me to not only think about food in a commercial way, but as an art form. The chocolate and milk series was all shot in a studio with one light source, my light meter, and my 35mm film camera. I poured chocolate and cream over my models. It was a beautiful mess.
You shoot editorials as 1breeze; what are your views of shooting film when working with clients? Do they ever ask for film shots over digital? Do you think film photography has a place among professional photographers of today?
One Breeze is something close to my heart, mainly because it’s a collaboration of love for film. I started meeting photographers that had the same drive as me and who understood film photography the way I did. I created this with my very talented photographer, Diane Nguyen.
We actually have a few clients who call us and say, “Whatever you are doing we want that! That specific look that you are getting,” which is great. I don’t even have to defend using film, they want us to use film, without even knowing what it is in the first place. So, I do think it has a place among professional photographers today. A lot of editorial photographers still use film photography.
Where does your inspiration comes from? What influences you the most?
That’s a hard question to answer. I think it comes from anything. I used to think it was my background, where I’ve lived what I’ve seen. My past, really. But I now realize more and more that my inspiration comes from small, day-to-day things. Like a conversation I have with a great group of friends, or a hike, or a dinner with my husband. I always like to try new things, in food, life, travels. And that’s where I get my inspiration, whether it’s the greatest bowl of ramen in little Tokyo, or a spontaneous camping trip to the north of California, or a really great home cooked meal with my friends.
Your photography consists largely with females, why do you think this is? Do you like to
work with women especially or is it just a coincidence?
I’ve noticed that recently, when I looked over my portfolio! I was shocked. That’s when I decided to go out of my comfort zone, and started working with male models. I am more comfortable shooting women in general, because I believe that when we take pictures it somehow is a reflection of our own image. In this way, that is way I primarily choose women to shoot.
Why was the trip to Japan so special for you and why does it have you wanting to go back? Do you have a favorite film shot from your time there? Please share and tell us the story behind it.
Japan is really special for me and my husband. We fell in love with it before we ever went there. The food, the animations, the wonderful world of Hayao Miyazaki (who is my favorite artist), the language. Everything about it drew us there. When we finally went, we barely made any plans. We just bought plane tickets and wandered with a very tangible itinerary in mind. We wouldn’t go where the tourists wen and mainly wondered around.
It’s hard to pick a favorite shot. But I will pick what I called “The Mossy Men”. I found this temple online on a random website, and got an approximate address. I didn’t even know if it still existed or if I would ever find it, but I had to try. My husband and I walked more than two hours in the rain. About to give up on several accounts. But, my husband is the kind of guy who won’t give up until he has fulfilled my dreams for me. So we kept going, and finally at the end of the road, we found this big highway with a huge tunnel. We thought we had reached a dead end but there it was, on the side of a big highway. It was so satisfying to find it. We were the only ones there except for these hundreds of mossy men. It felt a little surreal and a little magical, as if they were talking to us. I felt like I was in a Hayao Miyazaki anime.
Can you tell us something about your incoming projects?
I have lists everywhere — in books, in random diaries, in my notes on my laptop, on tissue paper from restaurants. Every time I get an idea, I jot it down. So technically, I should have some 100 projects going on at once. But of course I don’t. I have several ones in mind as of now. I would like to shoot a series of commercial of 80’s looking commercial shots with a film camera. Another project I would like to work on is a series of black and white film underwater shots. I work alongside Karrena Amado, another very talented photographer, and we shoot swimmers out of the water a lot, so we want go get our feet wet. I also want to explore black and white and food photography again.