The châteaux of the Loire Valley are architectural masterpieces, distinguished by tasteful decadence and spectacular gardens. One of them is the Château de Chenonceau, a magnificent building with an almost 800-year history. Its famous gallery was built by order of Catherine de Medici, regent of France. Predominantly owned and lived in by women, Château de Chenonceau served not only as a venue for the extravagant celebrations of the French court, but also as a meeting place for illustrious figures from the world of art and culture. Inspired by the extraordinary history of this stunning location, Letizia Le Fur set out to create a fashion feature, dedicated to the theme of seduction. The series – which juxtaposes mesmeric landscape shots with enticing fashion photographs – is a deeply appealing amalgamation of forms, colours and contrasts. In our interview, the artist offers insights into her connection with painting, how she continues to develop her photographic style, and which equipment she deems indispensable for her work.
One can see from your images that you have very close connections to painting.
At first painting was my thing. Studying at Les Beaux Arts, I realised that I didn’t have much to offer the world of painting. Meeting Valérie Belin was a turning point in my decision to switch to photography. She allowed me to rediscover the notion of pleasure in the creative process, whereas painting had become nothing but suffering. Her teachings were based on the experimentation of the photographic medium in all its forms.
You seem to have brought this altogether in your series, The Ladies’ Castle. Please tell us about the production.
This series was shot at the beginning of March in the Castle of Chenonceau in France. I chose this castle because it is magnificent, human-sized and inhabited exclusively by women – including Catherine de Medici.
When did you work on the series and when on the film?
Several times a year I organize photo shoots with models, stylists, and make-up artists, in order to develop my portfolio. I knew that Leica was looking to film me as an ambassador for the SL2, and I offered to do the film at the same time. So we looked together for the best environment to produce both this series and the film, and we very quickly thought of Chenonceau, and quite unexpectedly, Chenonceau accepted!
You have combined models and plants with landscapes. Please explain this interesting combination for us.
I like to photograph plants, minerals, naked bodies and large spaces. But I also like to photograph saturation, abundance, tone on tone. I like to fill the photographic frame with patterns and colors. I use my sensitivity to recreate atmospheres that induce dreaming and escapism. I come from an environment where ugliness was omnipresent and looking for the beautiful in the hideous was a survival technique. That probably explains my obsession with color as opposed to the gray of the suburbs. I even push them a little to the limit of reality.
What did you apply from all this for the shoot at Chateau Chenonceau?
Each room in the castle is decorated with huge bouquets of fresh flowers; and they feature in the images. I chose to associate the image of each model with an image from nature, because I always like this interaction between human beings and plants. In this case, I chose images of a dense and dark nature to go with the interiors of the castle, finding formal, chromatic correspondences, and, in order to bring a little bit of strangeness, I added roughness to the somewhat smooth images that are at time typical of fashion series.
What was the idea behind the series?
It is a fashion shoot, in the sense that I worked with the stylist Céline De Selva, who dressed the models in sublime dresses from great designers such as Alaia, Balmain, Xuan… I had a whole team and we had to deal with the difficult conditions of a fashion shoot, aiming to photograph a maximum of outfits in a minimum of time. But with the freedom of not having a client!
This fashion shoot shows quite unusual photographic techniques: I’m speaking of reflections and prisms which make the story very artistic. What made you try these techniques? Was it a matter of trial and error before they became part of your skill set?
Over the years I’ve built up a small stock of objects of all kinds, collected either for their colour or their reflective quality; and I experiment all the time. In this case I mainly used a prism or flowers in the foreground. And each accident is a cause for happiness: they are the ones that make you go further.
How did you develop the visual language for this series?
I would say that whatever I’m confronted with is what dictates the way I photograph, be it bokeh or the use of flash. I guess that if I want to isolate a certain element I would use bokeh, and if it’s a colourful foreground that I want to accentuate I would use the flash.
For this series I worked with artificial lights: we shot very early in the morning and very late at night, nearly in darkness. From time to time, I also used a prism placed in front of the lens to blur or split the image. Inside the castle I didn’t use flashes but continuous LED lights. I had four different sources with color filters.
You seem to use flash a lot outdoors. How do you go about it?
Yes, when I shoot outside I use a small Cobra flash, installed on a box. Equipment-wise I like to stay as light as possible.
Did you also work with the Leica SL2 this time? Which lenses did you use?
Yes, I worked exclusively with the SL2 on this series, mainly with the APO-Summicron-SL 50 f/2 ASPH and sometimes with the Apo-Summicron SL 75 f/2 ASPH. In my opinion, compared to the SL1, which I have used before, the SL2 is a step up ergonomically speaking, and it is also faster when it comes to AF, start up speed, access to the different menus, etc. And the digital viewfinder was a great help when shooting in what was almost darkness. I can’t part with the SL2, because it suits my aesthetic approach.
Born 1973 in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis. From 1993 to 1998, Letizia Le Fur was a student of Valérie Belin at the École Beaux Arts. She then spent two years working as an assistant for the Swiss artist Beat Streuli. Le Fur has previously shot campaign images for Air France, Ruinart, SNCF, Clarins and Nivea. Her work has also been featured in magazines such as Voyageurs du Monde, Wad, Psychologies Magazine, Le Parisien, and Les Echos. In 2018, Le Fur won the first edition of the Alpine x Leica Photo Contest, themed ‘Hit the Road’. Find more of her work on her website and Instagram account.