Inspired by Man Ray, special effects lover and experimenter Marc-Antoine Léveillé, our Hero of the Week, tells us about his work, philosophy, and the poetry in his colorful 35mm photos.
Your work with 35mm color film has resulted in you producing a beautiful collection of saturated and tonally rich photographs. What would you say is the secret to achieving such vibrant colors in your shots? Are you using any special developing techniques or exposure techniques?
I like colors, and film photography can allow very colorful images. One of the reasons is that I like to photograph colorful saturated subjects like neon signs, sunsets, and nature. I like it when an image is rich and has dominant colors or contrast. The other reason is that I like to damage my film by experimenting with it; mixing different solutions to add unique colors or exposing the negative during development (solarization).
How did your experiments with film start? What lead you to shoot film and what makes you continue?
I tried film photography for the first time when I was in college. I had a photography course and one of the assignments was to shoot with a 35mm camera to learn all the basics of photography. Shooting film is probably, for me, the most creative way to express myself and the most satisfying. Each time I develop my film, I still feel like it’s Christmas and I get to unwrap my gifts. The element of surprise and the possibility of creating something awesome pushes me to continue.
Is there an underlying message within your work? If so, what are you trying to communicate through your images?
The only message I convey is a visual one. When I take a shot, it’s always because I see something worth sharing, for its beauty, funkiness, originality, etc. I want people to see what I see, to realize that we can always see something special in our environment; we just have to look carefully and choose the best way to represent it…even by adding some wine before development, haha!
On July 9th everyone had the chance to see your photographs at the Aux 4 Jeudis café/bar in Ottawa, Canada. Please tell us more about this exhibition and the body of work you had on display.
Aux 4 jeudis café/bar displays works of local artists for a month. I am really happy to show my photos during summer because there will be a lot of people. I selected 13 photos that I thought were best for general public, so, no portraits or street photography. I wanted to show the funky ones, more colorful and pleasant to the eye, so the selection is mainly my nature shots.
Your collaboration with Alex Mercier was a success and resulted in great collection of work which can be seen HERE (click). What initially drew you towards him and his work and how did the partnership begin?
Alex, who is an artist and a friend of mine, offered me to shoot a show that he and his band put on last October. They created a soundtrack for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis and played the music while the movie was projected behind them. Alex wanted a different style for the photographs, something that stood out. That’s when our partnership began. After that, he started a series of beautiful collages with pictures from different artists, including some of my photos. His work will be exhibited at Le foubrac café/Bistro this summer. I really like Alex’s work and I am looking forward to continue my partnership with him!
We noticed you shoot with a variety of different films and experiment frequently with various film soups to great effect; can you tell us why you choose to “damage” your negatives in this way and what you think this adds to the final image as a result?
I think what I like the most about film photography is that I can touch it, manipulate it, destroy it, and do whatever I want with it. Film soups and damaging the film give me the impression that I’m physically painting the images and not using a computer to achieve the desirable effect. I think this is a way to personalize my work; it gives the photo a unique look that cannot be reproduced. Doing so gives unpredictable results, and most of the time I am happy with how it turns out. I have a roll of film that is currently swimming in lemon juice and I can’t wait to see the results!
Choosing to damage and distort your film negatives in such a way is a one-way street and we can never guarantee satisfying results; how did you feel when you first tried, knowing you could potentially destroy some treasured memories? Has this feeling changed, how do you feel about the process now?
Sometimes it’s a tough choice to make and hard knowing that you took a couple of great pictures. I destroyed pictures that I liked before and it made me kind of sad, but I am trying to get past these feelings because most of the time results are better than I expected. And that’s more than rewarding for me. Many times, I will be driven by curiosity and will consequently damage the film even if I know I might lose some shots. What’s funny is that I never get rid of the stress I have when I am experimenting; I am never confident about it but I think I’m addicted to this feeling. It’s always a surprise!
We live in a time where perfection seemingly dominates with crisp quality pictures. What drives you into making images that are a little less sharp, often damaged and distorted? Why does your style lean this way?
When I wanted to get serious into digital photography, I was driven by top quality cameras and lenses. Sharpness was a big concern for me so I bought myself a Fuji X-E2 and three beautiful lenses. I had fun with it and still have. The picture quality, sharpness and color rendering are amazing! Can’t complain. At that time I was a darkroom technician at university, so I was still doing some film photography on the side. One day, for a project, I stumbled upon the beautiful solarized photographs of Man Ray, and it inspired me a lot. I tried it myself and immediately fell in love with experimenting with film. I think that’s where it began, after that I was always trying to find a way to add some special effects to my pictures. Damaging the negative is my artistic process, that’s where I can be the most creative. Sure, I lose details, sharpness and a lot of information on the pictures sometimes, but I prefer the retro feel of dust and scratches.
How do you see you work evolving? Are there any experiments you’re still itching to try?
Since June 2015, I’ve been developing about 2 to 3 rolls a month and I’m trying to keep up that pace. If there is an evolution in my work, it is due to my will of exploring the medium. I’m always experimenting different techniques, so in a way it’s like I’m starting all over again for each roll of film. But, now I am more aware of what kind of results I can expect from certain techniques and that could be the evolution for my photography.
There is s certain natural look to the photos you capture. What is your process when it comes to shooting film? Do you plan your work in detail or is it much more spontaneous?
I try to shoot whenever I can. I always have with me my small Minox 35 GT camera or my Olympus XA. They are small and easy to use for almost every situation. Most of the time, it will be spontaneous, but I have my favorite places and I try to shoot them under different conditions. For example, if it’s raining outside I might take a chance and go downtown to take some reflections of the neon signs in the water. Same thing with sunsets, I try to go in a place where I know the light will be interesting. There isn’t much planning, it mainly depends on the lighting conditions. If I like them, I pull out my camera and think of the perfect place or subject to shoot.
Film photography has seen resurgence in popularity and many people, like yourself, choose to develop their own films; what would you say to someone who’s tired or experienced this before and how would you convince them to try?
I once had a photography teacher who said to me that development was the boring part of film photography. I did not know back then that processing my own films would be one of my favorite hobbies. If you like photography and if you are curious about alternative techniques and like working with your hands, you should definitely process your own films. That’s where you can experiment. You will learn the limitations of the film and the chemicals and get unique results. Your creativity should have no boundaries, so try everything; you never know what is going to be your next masterpiece!
Can you share with us and our reader any plans you have for the future? Are there any people/artists you would still like to work with? Are there other aspects or styles of photography you have yet to try?
I would really want to make more portraits. I like taking landscapes, but I see too much beautiful portraits with great ideas that I would like to try. For that purpose, I just bought a Pentax 6×7, ideal for the portrait work. It shoots on 120 film and has a really good resolution. I’m presently in process of looking for models.