Alexandre d’Audiffret was born in 1986 and raised on the western coast of France, in Vendée, in a family of six children. He studied engineering and philosophy, but couldn’t think of anything else but photography. He works as a cinematographer with brands such as Opera de Paris and Swarovski. His dream is to shoot a long feature film as director of photography. Below, he describes shooting China on assignment.
Q: How would you describe your photography?
A: My photography could be described as a contemplative photography. I like my photos to be sincere and spontaneous, and I focus on beauty wherever I find it.
Q: What approach do you take with your photography or what does photography mean to you?
A: My attitude when I take photos is simple: respect, smile, be close to the subject in every way.
Photography for me is the expression of my emotions and a way to push my boundaries. Photography is a way to show beauty, to choose that specific moment that can tell a lot.
Q: Your eloquent statement, “Photography for me is the expression of my emotions, a way to push my boundaries, to show beauty, and to choose that specific moment that can tell a lot” could serve as a motto for all photographers dedicated to taking photography to the level of fine art. The essence of all art is about expressing and generating emotions, and in particular conveying and preserving the emotions experienced by the artist in the process or artistic creation. Do you agree, and do you see yourself as an artist?
A: I totally agree with that vision of the art in general, and I seek the bond between the painter and the subject in every painting I’m looking at. Indeed, the bond is the most important, but if I can consider myself as an artist, the tools are also very important in the process. A good tool for me is the one I can rely on!
When I have a client, I usually see myself as an artisan (that’s mostly in the film industry) but when I’m on my own, maybe I am more an artist, with nothing to do but contemplate.
Q: Can you provide some background information on these images?
A: When Eric Valli, a National Geographic photographer, asked me to be the director of photography for his upcoming assignment in China, I jumped in immediately. I had put aside my photographic work for a while, so I decided that while I would be filming in China, I would also shoot some pictures for me.
The trip lasted three months, some conditions were harsh at times, but overall it was a great human experience. We travelled from the Yangtze spring all the way down to Shanghai, and therefore saw China in details.
Q: How would you characterize the images in this portfolio?
A: These images are like freeze-frames in the ever-changing China. In a few years, tourists from the big cities will rush into these locations. Some images could have been shot 50 years ago, but I have a feeling it will change soon.
Q: Do you therefore see this project as kind of preserving a lost world for posterity, and if so, how do you think this perception influenced your approach to the land and its people?
A: China is very rich, but not only in the industry, also in its big variety of cultures. Sadly this is changing. First, the pollution is dramatic and tends to destroy these amazing Chinese landscapes, and then consumption has increased a lot in China. In one-hour drive time, you go from Chengdu with all the luxury brands to one if this small tea village. The change is fast, and in the process it would be sad to see the core of China disappear, with its ancient values. So I see this work as a humble testimony of what China is off the beaten tracks. My approach is always mostly influenced by the people themselves, their humanity.
Q: You mentioned that your dream is to direct a full-length feature film, and that you see yourself as a cinematographer. Do you think the images in this China portfolio have a cinematic quality, and if so how would you define it? Can you see yourself returning to China to shoot a feature film related to this portfolio?
A: My main activity is to work as a cinematographer (or director of photography) and it certainly has an influence on my photography. The China portfolio may have a cinematic quality, and on some photos, this is obvious with the 2,35:1 panoramic crop ratio. But it has also to do with the storytelling which is really important to me.
My next project as a photographer is a documentary on wild horses and the ranchers life in the northern US. It is a kind of scouting for something bigger. As a director of photography, I am really looking forward to work on a big film, either Hollywood or independent. Something that shows the greatness of mankind and nature would be great.
The last Jean-Jacques Annaud “Wolf Totem” must have been great to shoot. I definitely see myself in these landscapes again.
Q: This image is a compelling portrait of en elderly bearded man with a bemused expression standing next to a large billboard or poster covered with Chinese writing. To me this picture conveys resignation, a grudging acceptance or circumstance, and a kind of world-weary, but his hand on hip gesture and contorted features also convey self-assertiveness and dignity that manage to transcend despair. Am I reading too much into this, and what is your feeling about this image and what was going through your mind when you pressed the shutter release?
A: First, thank you for reading this image this way. Taking a photo is always spontaneous, and sometimes we discover the meaning only a while after. I see in this man the resignation of a culture, but at the same time the dignity of the elder. He has the wisdom of his culture, but he is somehow overtaken by the society, which moves too fast. Most of the young ones flee away to go in big cities. When I pressed the shutter I wasn’t specifically seeing all that but somehow I could feel it.
Q: This shot expresses a kind of serene desolation, with the expansive barren landscape, and two small dark figures standing next to a little tent that seems slightly askew. I think the composition works very well in the panoramic format you have chosen, which emphasizes the sweep of the horizon. Where was this picture taken and why did you include it in this portfolio?
A: This image is very moody. I felt a strange mix of melancholy, oppression and hope at the same time while taking it. This picture was taken in Tibet, and the two young men were travelling nomad buddies. The melancholy and oppression came with the skewed tent and the desolation atmosphere. But I also see hope in this picture, the Yangtze is lit in the distance and they are looking in that direction. Where there is light, there is hope.
Q: This is another masterfully composed panoramic-format image that shows two dark figures silhouetted against a tableau of rigged peaks and rocky ground, but it has a completely different feeling than the previous image—more like focused energy and purpose rather than surviving the harsh elements. Do you agree? And who are these people and what are they doing in this barren location other than taking in the sights?
A: This glacier is one of the springs of the Yangtze River. With Eric Valli (director of the films), we walked a few hours to get to this gigantic glacier with all the filming gear. Two nomads were accompanying us to open the way. And yes these men are strong; the environment is harsh with the 6000m altitude, the wind, the temperature, the snow, the wolves… I don’t know how they deal with it for weeks and weeks, but they do!
Q: What do you think you have accomplished in executing this project, and do you think you have succeeded in telling the story of the people and the land you encountered in traveling from the Yangtze spring all the way down to Shanghai?
A: In executing this project, I think I was sincere to my emotions and my photography. I wish I had more time to focus on my photos, besides shooting the films, but I hope you’ll still understand the story and meaning in this collection.
Thank you for your time, Alexandre!
– Leica Internet Team
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