Marie Valognes is a French photographer and art director working out of London. I first discovered Valognes through her work, a series of sculptures based on various collections during the spring/summer and fall/winter 2016 fashion weeks, for AnOther. Valognes created still-life imagery based on single runway looks from each of the designers, and the free association in her work resulted in Comme des Garçons being paired with pink rubber gloves and Hood by Air transformed into a male deodorant stick.
This level of imagination comes through in the portfolios found on her websites: marievalognes.com and mise-en.com. Here, various photography sets reveal Valognes’ ability to connect minute details, most frequently in creating mirroring between the placement of figures in different photographs. In this interview, I speak to Valognes on her process and feelings as an artist within the modern creative industry. What follows is an intimate, personal profile on a young professional who uses her passions and natural talent to shape a career through creation and introspection.
Annunziata Santelli: Describe your background and the moment you realised that your career in photography, art direction and set design had really begun.
Marie Valognes: I studied art and painted and exhibited in my teens at local galleries where I’m from in the South West of France. I also grew up looking through pages of mags in the 90s and was a fan of Jean-Paul Goude and Jean Paul Gaultier’s crazy fashion shows (anyone called Jean Paul in the 90s basically). After working as a fashion designer in London, I began to have ideas and wanted to experiment with the field of image making. I started collaborating with photographers and when I felt it was unfair to make a photographer do what I wanted, I picked up a camera…
AS: Detail your process: how do you move from concept to finished product?
MV: I either have an idea that comes to me like a present from out of space and I just realise it. Or I have a few open ideas and the magic happens when all the elements are there and I can really work out how things fit together physically. I always leave room for the unexpected. I often experiment in my own time, so I have ideas ready. When I have to work with a mood board I like it to be loose enough that I can just use it as a starting point to develop other ideas.
AS: What do you think has been your most fruitful collaboration project and why? What do you gain personally as an artist from collaborations?
MV: One of my first projects for Sang Bleu with Logan White was special - we'd been communicating, discussing ideas over email and the day of the shoot was the first time we'd met and after a slow start, things just happened like magic. It was just us two and the model, Lauren. I also work really well with Amanda Camenisch, we understand each other creatively, bring each other something the other hasn’t and we have a similar sensibility. The collaborations are most fruitful when there's mutual respect as artists and both parties are open to ideas so you can be taken somewhere unexpected, perhaps outside each other’s usual zone. I love collaborating, it's a compromise but it can be inspiring and it's great to share these creative moments.
AS: I really enjoyed your set entitled "above and below". It portrayed the need to watch and consume images of others as a sort of calming theme rather than a disconcerting one. In the sense of voyeurism, but with less of a stigma. How did that piece come together for you and when did you feel like you had captured enough of each subject?
MV: I am still capturing some of these subjects now and then, the kids have grown, some people have moved and been replaced. And as I have captured these moments unbeknown to my neighbours, I consciously chose images where they are less likely to be recognised, as I didn’t think it’d be fair to expose their identity in these private moments. And I also didn’t think it should feel creepy. I think the moments I chose, say as much about me, and my behaviour, as it says about them. I’m aiming to emphasise the extra-ordinary impression I have of the seemingly ordinary and the repetitive nature of life, there’s and mine, under the sky we both share.
AS: I've noticed that a large theme in your work is that of looking or the act of viewing something. Are you inspired at all by the film Cléo de 5 à 7, where the central figure is at first an object of society's view, but who then becomes the viewer by the end of the film?
MV: I have not seen the film but it sounds interesting! My photographs and the subjects I tackle are always about me somehow - it’s through other’s experience that I recognize me. So, I am both the observer and the object of society's view upon the work I create. I'm also interested in playing with viewer's perception; creating something that is between reality and my perception of it.
AS: How do you feel about the frequent sense of over saturation in the photography market, made possible by personal and professional blogs and similar outlets, and how do you seek to differentiate yourself as an individual artist in this sphere?
MV: I think it's great that everybody is able to have a voice and put it out there. It’s been great for me too. But it does feel more challenging now to be seen and heard in the masses than it ever was; it seems like talent is measured by popularity and likes. But I love creating works, and regardless of the saturation I don't think there's a point in doing it unless it’s somewhat different.
AS: Does your work rely on a certain amount of introspection? Do you create a connection in your mind between yourself and your subject when you shoot or design?
MV: Conveying a feeling is central to my work. I may say things or physically manipulate a subject to get what’s needed for the story but I always aim to capture moments that are truthful. When creating objects I make connections in my mind as to what I'm aiming to convey.
AS: When are you most frustrated?
MV: I'm regularly frustrated… But mostly when I'm asked to do something uncreative, that anyone else could do or something that some else has already done. I always want to steer the direction away to ideas that are hopefully unique and interesting.
AS: What is the most powerful emotion you experience while working? When you feel it, does it affect the end result of the piece?
MV: There can be a point where my mind just wonders off freely and I basically get high. Ideas just flow and it just makes for the best results.
AS: When have you been most proud of yourself as an artist?
MV: When I'm most sincere and true to myself. But pride never lasts. I feel like a genius for about two seconds after producing the works. And then I'm back on earth, wanting more and striving for better. It's annoying, but that's what keeps me motivated I guess.
Words: Annunziata Santelli