The timeless atmosphere captured in exciting, contrast-rich images: acclaimed photographer Mathieu Bitton explains how his personal experiences in Paris influenced the creation of his new Paris Blues series, which will be on display at the Leica Gallery Los Angeles as of January 13th.
Paris Blues seems to be a photographic love letter to the French capital. How have your personal experiences in Paris influenced your perspective in this series?
I was born in Paris, so Paris is always a part of me and I take it everywhere I go. Although I moved to the US in late 1987, I have never lost the feeling of being a Parisian. Paris’s culture is so strong and multi-layered. Every time I go home, I’m inspired to create something new. So yes, Paris Blues is absolutely my love letter to my city of birth.
The series reflects your journey through various facets of Paris. Which places or situations impressed and inspired you the most?
A big part of it is the Paris flea markets, which I grew up going to every Sunday and still do to this day. This is where I was influenced, and where I bought my first vinyl albums and movie posters. All my collections started there. And as you may know I have quite a large collection of vinyl and posters (and statues, paintings, etc). My dad is a big art collector and would get a lot at the flea markets.
From a photographic point of view, what is most important to you when it comes to capturing the essence of something – in this case, the essence of the city of Paris?
Enhanced, timeless reality. I want to capture the moment as it is, uninterrupted, but put my own twist on it. Black and white helps heighten the sense of timelessness. Sometimes just shooting from a less obvious perspective will give you that surreal image. If you’re lucky, fog or rain will place itself in the perfect spot. This is the main reason I would rather not ask a subject if I can photograph them before taking the photo. They will become self-conscious and the moment is gone.
How has your collaboration with musicians like Mick Jagger, Lenny Kravitz or Jay-Z influenced your approach to photography, especially within the context of Paris Blues?
First and foremost I am a music fanatic. I’ve been collecting records since I was under ten years old. I’m not impressed by success, I’m impressed by talent, and these days real talent is hard to come by, because computers are doing most of the work. That being said, I can enjoy a good pop song once in a while. Now getting to shoot legends like Mick Jagger, Lenny Kravitz, Dave Chappelle and hot young artists like Bruno Mars and Jorja Smith – both very talented artists –, is always a privilege for me. Some of the photos are completely candid (Jagger, Kravitz, Mars, Jorja Smith) and others are posed in the moment (Chappelle in the snow, Jay-Z in the 79 Club). But I approach them the same way as I would any subject. I’m just under a little more pressure to make sure they look great.
How did you decide which images would be included in the series — and, in the end, in the exhibition?
As always, this is the hardest thing to do. Going thought THOUSANDS of photos to narrow it down to 35 images is some kind of torture. It was hard to always keep celebrities to a small amount of photos. I didn’t want the whole show to be about that. My sons and other people close to me helped me when I could not decide which images to remove, because I felt attached to all of them. But, at the end of the day, I had to accept the challenge, and I got to a place I’m really pleased with.
How has your cultural upbringing in Paris shaped your photographic vision in general — and what role does music play in all this?
I grew up on Man Ray, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Gordon Parks, Robert Capa, Robert Doisneau, Brassai, my friend Jean-Baptiste Mondino, and so many other greats, as well as so many great photos of Paris, that it must have influenced me without my even realizing it. Music is my life, my breath, my blood. It goes hand in hand with photography. Music was playing in my ears while I was shooting all of the street photography included in the show. Radiohead, Chopin, Serge Gainsbourg, Prince, Dvorak, Paco De Lucia, Billie Eilish, Harry Nillsson, Kurt Vile, Pink Floyd, Madlib and many more, are specific artists I was listening to while shooting a lot of this show.
Your work with Leica cameras is well known. How does the choice of equipment influence your approach to photography?
Leica is the best, and it took me years to get to shoot with a Leica, so I’m very proud of the fact that I’m shooting with them and doing the show at Leica Galleries. When I’m shooting shows, I usually use the SL, SL2 and SL2-S (better for low light) systems. The Q2 Monochrom and the Q3 are my backstage cameras of choice. The M system for street photography always, because it makes you really slow down and focus on the moment. This show has M photos from the M8 to the M11, as it spans a decade. The M system will always be my favourite. I can’t imagine anything being invented that’s more to my liking than the Ms. The precision and engineering has been perfect since the M3 was launched in the 50s.
What impression do you aim to leave on your audience with your project?
I hope they will enjoy it as an experience and a continuation of my “real life” series, which I started in 2016 with Darker Than Blue, my last Leica show. My main desire is for them to feel like they are travelling to Paris while standing in the gallery, and that they also step into my shoes and my life for a moment.
What role does this project play in your personal oeuvre?
Being my first show about Paris, it is very important to me. I will make it my next book, which will also help me share a hundred or so more images. It’s a more personal project for me for sure. I even have a photo of my little brother Sasha, jumping on a trampoline at a Paris fair when he was little.
Grammy-winning artist and Leica Camera ambassador Mathieu Bitton is one of the most undisputed representatives of his craft. After spending his childhood in Paris, he moved to the United States when he was 14 years old – first to Los Angeles, then New York four years later. His passion for art and music led him to photography. Bitton’s oeuvre includes portraits, lifestyle and travel photos, though he has lost his heart to concert photography. Find out more about his works on his website and Instagram page.