The French regatta is not only one of the most beautiful regattas in the world – it is also a place for collaboration. The professional sailing-photographer Carlo Borlenghi, talked with the newcomer to sailing photography, Fred Mortagne, about their experiences.
Mark Twain once said: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” Why are you fascinated with sailing?
Fred Mortagne: Until I got onboard a speedboat last year, when Carlo invited me to come along, I had never, ever shot sailing before. Indeed, I got on the boat as a total tourist, fully unprepared for what was too come. I thought it would be a mellow ride out and around the sailing boats. So naive and foolish was I. Carlo handed me a jacket, which I only used to protect my small camera bag…
Why is sailing the subject of your photographic work? What came first, boats or photography?
Carlo Borlenghi: I was born on Lake Como, and I liked photography. Many of my friends began sailing, and so I started to shoot the regattas on the lake, laser dinghies…
How did you get into photography?
Fred Mortagne: I started out making skateboarding videos. After many years, I felt the need to also try to shoot pictures. I sensed that the photographic medium would allow me to express different things to video. It brought a great balance to my work. Video was my commercial side, and photography my personal one.
Carlo Borlenghi: For me it was a hobby. I studied hydraulic engineering, but also started to follow the regattas on Lake Como. The sailors asked me for pictures, so I was developing and editing in a dark room at home before I sold them. At that time Vogue decided to launch a new magazine called UOMO MARE VOGUE. I was involved with that for more than twelve years. That’s how it all began.
What standards do you expect from sailing photography? What is your goal?
Fred Mortagne: I’m still a total novice in this field; but like with any photographic subjects, I will try to give it my own touch. I still don’t know anything about sailing and, in a way, I like to photograph a subject without knowing anything about it, following my feelings and instincts instead… My experience in skateboarding definitely helps me to understand the motions and dynamics of other sports. Regardless of these points, however, it was important for me to ask a true expert, in this case Carlo, for his opinion of my images, as my judgment couldn’t rely on anything concrete or legitimate.
Carlo Borlenghi: Sailing photography has been my job and my life for more than 40 years now. I keep on living my work, working on a virtually endless series of images of sails, shadows, spray, reflections, regattas and boats. The wish is the same as when I was a child. I watched the sails from my house on Lake Como, dreaming about a job that could be an exercise in freedom. Even now I think that the best picture is the one I still have to take, on an endless path of artistic research, where the purpose is in the research itself.
You met one another during Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez. What was your first encounter like?
Fred Mortagne: We come from different backgrounds, we’re from different generations; yet, something rather strong seemed to happen between us – like the planets were aligned. Our sensitivities matched very well. We connected on so many different levels. Then after talking a bunch, we identified the source of our easy connection: we both have the same photographic hero, the legendary Italian photographer, Gianni Berengo Gardin.
Carlo Borlenghi: It was nice to meet Fred and to discover what his eyes saw in the nautical world. And I was also so happy to find another simple person with a lot of passion for his job.
To be on a boat while taking pictures is a challenge in itself. What does it take, and what needs to be considered when doing so?
Fred Mortagne: It was tough. It was infinitely more difficult than shooting skateboarding. The wind was blowing and the sea was wild. Everything was in motion all the time. Our boat, the other boats, the framing, the compositions…. it felt like being in a tumbling, washing machine, and trying to shoot pictures. On top of that, water was splashing all over the place, and I got entirely wet.
Carlo Borlenghi: It’s always a challenge with myself. I am never completely happy with my work. I’m still looking for a new “photographic language” to present the sport and yachting in a new way.
How does the choice of camera influence sailing photography?
Fred: I only had my Leica SL, which proved to be the best option. My Leica SL was getting the same treatment as I; so I was praying that being “weather sealed” was not a scam. The body and lenses got incredibly wet with salty sea water; but there was no escape anyway, so I continued shooting. In the end, everything was fine, including the equipment… and, after asking Carlo, I can say that I did fairly well for a first timer, and came back with interesting sailing photographs…
Carlo: The technique is really important, and for sure the new cameras are very advanced in quality and technology.
What was your biggest challenge at Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez? What kind of difficulties did you encounter?
Fred: I was excited when the project was proposed to me; but I also wondered how I could capture my style of images in a place like Saint-Tropez, that doesn’t have the usual modern architectural features that I cherish in my photographs. In the end, it wasn’t as challenging as I expected because I quickly adapted to this new situation, and was forced to find solutions. To do so, I had to be very pro-active.
Carlo: This regatta is one of the most beautiful in the Mediterranean, presenting both the oldest and the newest boats. The goal is to find a right mix, inserting them into the St Tropez setting. It all seems perfect for a picture, but often just turns into a “post card”. So it isn’t easy to find something different…
Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez 2019 will take place from September 28 to October 6. Find more information here (in french).