Valentin Chenaille is a young talented photographer based in Lyon who started to shoot at the age of 15, when he left school, and was drawn by the desire to travel, to express himself, and to externalize his passion for photography. The fact that there were a few photographers in his family could have triggered, as well, his love for such profession and the beginning of his career at such an early age. Valentin wields a serene effect on us by turning the smallest details into deeper reflections: the way two hands are holding, the curved and unprotected position of a nude back, a staring gaze, or even the dried blood on a wound are some of the detached elements that create a little frame of truth and authenticity.
His exploration of light is elegant and pure. There’s also some kind of architectural composition that appears in inspiring atmospheres captured in a series of photographs that also include the interaction of models with clothes, as fashion is also a main theme in his world – he’s worked for American Apparel among other brands. We had a nice talk with Valentin about the technical processes, the balance between artistic and commercial works, and the things that fuel his creativity.
Valentin, identity in artistic works reflects the truth about oneself, a recognizable language. Is there any definition of yours? Do you prefer to avoid classifications?
I’m extremely sensitive. I think this feeling helps me a lot to express myself and you can somehow recognize it in my work. But at the same time, this sensitivity may explore parts of myself that I’m not yet entirely aware of. I learn every day.
When you go through a fashion image, which elements are the most engaging? Are they the clothes, the attitude, the look…?
I try more and more to create a narrative first, for me, but that I can sometimes share it with the model, even if it’s just for one image. I work to tell a story in relation with everything that composes the scene: the clothes, the model, the pose, the place, and also little details like the position of hands or fingers. All these elements are important to me, sometimes too much, in a sense that I can have a hard time getting on with the work.
The expression and the position of the body are always revealing. Do you have any criteria to select unconventional models?
No, I don’t have any criteria in particular. It is usually about the faces that will ignite something or not. It’s very instinctive. And it’s better like that.
You’ve used some vintage photography techniques, like Polaroid or large format cameras. What do you think about the new digital tools?
It’s complicated. Yes, and unfortunately by lack of means, I don’t do much of those anymore. It’s evident that digital doesn’t have the same magic or charm as any other photographic process that I still seek in digital. But you have also to admit that digital is very practical, it has a lot of possibilities and it reassures clients as well.
Images change completely when they appear in the same locations but exposed in different format or angle. Is everything about perspective?
Photography is what it’s all about and that’s great! Photography is a little frame of reality, but only a fragment. The rest is built by all the surrounding elements. The light, the angle… These are the elements that will allow you to show or see different things.
You’ve worked for different fashion brands such as American Apparel. How do you balance the commercial and the artistic side of your work?
I’m lucky to be called often for what I already do, for my “world”. This allows me to actively take part in the artistic direction (when possible) in commercial projects. So I try my best to merge the client’s universe with mine. It often works, but it sometimes doesn’t (laughs).
The professional life of a photographer today goes beyond labels, fashion magazines and art galleries. Do you think the internet is the best platform to discover new talents?
Let’s say it is the easiest but not necessarily the best. It’s like the thing of the digital tools we were talking. They are practical, but are they the best? I don’t know. Internet is a big mess and photographers are no exception to it. What’s true is that the internet allows you to show your work without intermediary, which enables you to find many interesting things as well as uninteresting ones. In short, it’s a way like any other to do great discoveries and even to bring closer certain individuals. Practical, but lacks charm.