Chain of Light, Link #1: Lida Chaulet
Lida Chaulet is a photographer of many genres, but to me she excels at bringing out the best in her portrait models. In fact, it was a portrait of hers that first caught my eye and made me bookmark her (see Sometimes below). If you ask me what was special about the portrait, I might talk about shadows, tones, expression and other such photographic nonsense, but the truth is simple: I just don’t know. Yet somehow, two strangers, one in front and one behind the camera, captivated me, and they did so with a photograph I would never have been able to take. It’s not a technically difficult shot, I just would never have thought of framing the face that way, nor would I have dared with those deep shadows. And I am a lesser photographer because of it.
I always say that I like photographers from whom I can learn something; not by listening to them, but through their images. Nonetheless, I do enjoy listening (or reading, as the case may be), so I contacted Lida for an interview and she graciously accepted.
Lida, I’m very pleased that you accepted to be the first link in our Chain of Light. Welcome! Why don’t you start off by telling us a bit about yourself and how you landed in the world of photography.
Well, I guess it started when I was 10. I had won the first prize in a puzzle in a local newspaper, which was a cheap 35mm Kodak camera. From that moment on I photographed often. Snapshots… trips, vacations, friends… things like that. I have shoeboxes and albums full of them.
Years later I took a part-time job that included photography and when a friend who owned a dance studio asked me to take pictures of him, his students and of a perfume bottle he had designed, I realized I wanted to know more and do better. So that is when I decided to take photography classes. 3 years in total… with specialization Portrait and Fashion. But it was a pretty individual approach, which enabled me to specialize more in portrait.
I now have my own “studio” space, and love that.
To look at your academic curriculum one would say you’re a geek. How do you juggle that with the artistry in photography? As a geek myself I have a vested interest in hearing what you have to say 🙂
Yes, I have always loved math and related subjects. At school, but also at home. Was always asking for books to be able to do more 🙂 Also chemistry, have worked as a chemical analyst for many years… And later on I studied computer science, programming languages and so on…
About the relation with photography? Well, I think it is not that complicated. Math, Programming… is all about finding the best solutions to a problem, creativity in a way. The feeling of satisfaction when you solve something, or get a program to work. And with photography… I am sure you know the feeling of capturing just the right moment. Of seeing that shot on your computer after scanning or uploading. The need for creating. Something good, something new, something beautiful…
You studied photography for 3 years. Did you find it helped you in any way? And I believe you did this at a later stage in your life; how come?
Although I am sure that it is not necessary to study photography to become a great photographer… Yes, it helped me… First of all there was the technical stuff. Learning to operate several other cameras, like Hasselblads, large format cameras (and self made pinholes), you learn to set up lighting in a studio, and how to use available light inside and outside, but also the developing yourself, bw, and even colour, how retouching is (was) done… and so on. And having to do these projects every week or few weeks, you learn a lot too, especially since you were forced to expand your horizon… to come up with new ideas, organize things…
And of course, I really learned a lot from discussing each others photos, also photos from famous photographers. It is very interesting to hear other people’s opinions, as we were very honest at school (which was difficult at first). How everyone interpret things differently, how everyone likes different things and how everyone develops their own style… It makes you very alert, and if your photos (or projects) were not good enough, you had to do it all over again… I liked that approach, as the beautifuls and wonderfuls do not really help your photography. Also, beautifuls mean more when there are also awfuls.
A later stage in life… yes… I agree 🙂 You cannot plan everything, sometimes things “happen”. I have worked as a chemical analyst, software support engineer, managed a pc-helpdesk and so on, and always enjoyed that tremendously. So there was not really a reason for a career change. And photography was something you could also do “at home”. Although there has always been the attraction to do something “artistic”. While studying chemistry and computer science, I also took drawing classes, portrait and figure mostly… and general art courses from a book… painting with several techniques… also, I used to make clothes, and often I adjusted designs to my own liking 🙂
You dabble in landscape, portraiture, street, and even abstract photography. There is a school of thought that says that a photographer should pick one genre and stick with it, that there is no other way to become a great photographer. What do you think of this?
I think genre does not solely have to do with the subject… take restaurants for example… an exquisite French restaurant, serving haute cuisine… is definitely of another genre than a fast food restaurant, while they also serve meat and potatoes. It has more to do with the way it is presented, served… Same with photography I think.
What I like to photograph most is portrait, nudes and landscapes… and although different subject, they have common elements, I try to work with light and shadow, but most of all with emotion.
That’s an interesting idea, that genre is not defined by the subject, but rather by the approach or the photographer’s vision and intentions.
I often wonder whether men and women experience photography in different ways. For example, I find that women are (in general) capable of creating sensual female photography of a much higher quality, with stronger emotions, than men can. I find this ironic seeing as men are the more likely consumers of these images, and one would imagine they/we would know better what we like. As you are one of these female photographers (Anna Koudella also comes to mind), I’d like to know your opinion. How do you plan these types of shoots? What is your objective with the poses?
I think perhaps female models relax more with a woman photographer because there is no sexual tension. They sense that and are more at ease… while with a male photographer… they might be uncomfortable with sensual poses. And of course, as a woman, I can be more objective perhaps when photographing them.
Apart from this… of course there is a difference between men and women. Women approach things differently, also more subtle I think… (in other fields that can be called sneaky perhaps). And last but not least, I think women are more conscious towards their own body, spending more time on their appearance… clothes, makeup, even expressions, poses… they study magazines, ads, well, you know.
Planning shoots… of course I have certain things in mind before starting… a plan. But I mostly start with some simple portraits. To get the light right, to get the model more relaxed… and in the meantime to look at the model… features, clothes, hair, poses and mostly while talking and working you see other things you like to do. I more or less let circumstances guide me.
Changing genres: How do you go about your street photography? Do you purposely take your camera out for walks in search of subjects, or do you simply always have a camera with you and just happen upon your scenes by accident?
I do not do a lot of street photography, but when I am going somewhere, I always take a camera with me. Although best moments arise when you left it at home for some reason 🙂 And when on vacations, trips… there is more time and I look out for things more, take more time for that.
I have to ask about your portraits. In my opinion it is what you excel at. I wish I could just ask “what’s your secret?”, but I imagine it’s a lot more complicated than that. But at least tell me how the opening portrait for this article took place: is it precisely posed and lit, or was it just a lucky coincidence of light and model being in exactly the right place?
About “Somewhere”… I got a mail from a girl who wanted to do a shoot with a girlfriend in my studio and also with a make-up artist present. It had to be special theme, and she had Cinderella on her mind. Beautiful and rich versus plain and poor…
So yes, this picture was planned, posed and lit… well, sort of anyway. I always walk a little around the model or move the light, a softbox in this case around, till i see some nice light on her face.
How did you get to meet Aaron Eckhart!?
That was kind of a coincidence… I was at the gallery of a photographer in London, Andreas Heumann, who had a solo-exhibition in Cork Street. And while there Aaron Eckhart walked in, asking Andreas if he could take portraits of him as he was shooting for Batman in London at the time. As there was little time Andreas took a couple of photos right there at his show and a few outside and Aaron kindly posed for a couple of minutes for me too 🙂
I need more friends like Andreas! And Aaron put on a fantastic performance as Harvey Dent in The Dark Night.
I believe all the photos in this interview were shot on digital, but you did use film in the past, right? Has digital changed the way you shoot? Has it affected your photography in any way? And what’s with the large view camera in your bio pic, do you still use it?
Yes, these photos were all shot digital. Of course I used film in the past. As I said earlier in this interview, my little Kodak at age 10, and around age 20 or so I bought my first SLR and some lenses. And I also had a Lubitell II, a cheap 6×6 camera. Yes, digital changed the way I shoot… I am more careful clicking when using film. And of course the postprocessing on the computer. And the printing yourself. A different workflow for sure.
The large format camera in the picture was taken at school. I do not have one myself, and for my genre photography I do not really need it… but I am glad I have worked with it, and know what it feels like.
You clearly love B&W. Can you tell me why in no more than 12 words?
Colours show more of the outside, B&W more of what is inside.
Photoshop: A creative tool or a necessary evil of the digital world?
Photoshop is digital darkroom… a lot of the things you do in Photoshop are the same as you would do in a darkroom. Just different tools.
Having said that… of course, nowadays there are endless possibilities to enhance a photo… of course an equal amount of possibilities to ruin the photo as well 🙂
So yes, a necessary but also creative tool. To be used with care…
My thoughts precisely!
At the moment you are having an exhibition in Amsterdam. Please tell us a bit about it…
Well, a friend of mine had a friend who exhibited there and called me to consider contacting that gallery for showing my work. And I thought, why not? So I did… that was about a year ago I think.
What I am showing there is primarily portraits, nudes and landscapes. About 50 in total. The opening was last week. And it was really wonderful. I enjoyed it tremendously. More information can be found on my website (under news).
Which are your main sources of inspiration? Do you have any favourite photographers or artists that you get ideas from?
Photographers that come to mind are Robert Farber, Horst P Horst, Ruth Bernard, Jean Loup Sieff, Imogen Cunningham… to name a few. But there are many other photographers that inspire me as well.
Finally…which photographer would you like to nominate as the next link in our Chain of Light, and what do you want the first question to be?
Another favourite photographer I should have mentioned in the previous question is Andreas Heumann, a good friend of mine, whose work I greatly admire. So I would like to nominate him.
The first question could be… “Browsing your website, seeing all the photos, the diversity, the commercial work, the awards… you have done a lot in many different fields. Is there any particular project or shoot still on your “want-to-do” list?”
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions, Lida. It was a pleasure having you on EtL, and we wish you the very best for the future.
For all of those who would like to see more of Lida’s work (and I encourage everyone to), please visit her website, or enjoy other photos here. And if anyone was lucky enough to be in Amsterdam during her exhibition and visited it, please leave a comment letting us know how you liked it. You can also purchase two of Lida’s photo books (including a copy of Framed, from the exhibition) through her online store on Blurb.com.
All photos: © Lida Chaulet.