In the digital age, what truly makes an exceptional photographer? And since people love nothing more than to pigeonhole artists after one breakout body of work, is it possible to be truly versatile? Answers below, as you discover the brilliant and unconventional career of French-born photographer Stéphane Gallois.
Be / Paris Phoenix (Vogue US)
You were born in Marseille in a family of photographers. Were you always meant to end up as a photographer?
My passion for photography actually came very late and under rather strange circumstances. My dad is a photographer in the world of theatre, so I spent my entire childhood in the studio and immersed in that world. As a teenager, the only times I would use photography was to shoot girls I found pretty. [laughs]
Wow! Great seduction tip, right there.
You can’t forget that being a photographer means being inherently timid and also usually entices falling easily in love. It allows you to hide and create contact simultaneously.
How did you transition from studying beaux-arts to photography?
Strangely enough, I just needed a job! I moved to Paris and had to pay rent, which led to the realization that I had a solid photography foundation and could make a living off of it. At that time though, I discovered the world of fashion and became an assistant for a series of people and realized that I was born to do this. I just hadn’t been aware of it.
It’s a choice, but that’s hard to keep: I want to be extremely versatile. I get easily bored so I want to keep on shooting a bit of everything. I get as excited about high fashion as I do photographing a tattoo artist.
Many of our readers are in their twenties or early thirties and at the start of their careers. How did you make the jump from assistant to professional photographer?
I had the amazing chance to become assistant to a known-photographer: Jean-Baptiste Mondino. This allowed me to travel with him, often in the United States, and to create a network and photographic style. Talent and creativity are essential, but being able to surround yourself with the right people is as important; especially for someone like me who really started past the age of 25 in an industry that is incredibly youth-oriented.
You say that you were “born to do this.” What was your ah-ha moment?
I have a very strong memory of Madonna’s wedding to Guy Ritchie in Scotland while I was assistant to Mondino. We were invited to the ceremony to take pictures, and the castle was completely surrounded by paparazzi. As I was shooting the wedding, I would receive text messages from people I didn’t know saying things like, “Give me a picture. You name the price.” This helped me realize the power of photography and the phenomenal importance of entertainment. It found that terribly exciting…
What images are you the proudest of, and what images inspire you?
I think there are two types of images: fashion photos, which are all about teamwork and that belong as much to the hairdresser or makeup artist as they do to me, and intimate portraits which are all about you and the subject. I can’t play favorites, especially at such an early stage in my career. As for inspiration, music plays a huge part and I really enjoy album covers. Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde is very touching; it’s a blurry image from the sixties that almost looks like a painting.
You’ve photographed a wide variety of subjects, from Marilyn Manson to Kristin Scott Thomas, from Michel Gondry to The Kills. What is your relationship with them at the time of the shoot?
Since I’m a timid person, I try to find out as little as possible about each of my subjects so it doesn’t affect the work. That said, I can also have a groupie-like fascination with someone and pursue them for months in order to get a chance to get a picture of them; Neil Young and Bob Dylan are certainly part of that crowd. At any time, I’m always respectful. A few years back, I was one of the ten photographers able to shoot (New York-based director) Abel Ferrara as he was promoting his new film. He was in a bad mood and walked by each really eager photographer, barely spending a minute with them as they jumped on him. I was the last one in line, and knew I had to do something different. I shook his hand and introduced myself as well as my team, and complimented his work. He said he’d be right back and left. His PR person told me I was dumb and missed my chance, but he came back out in a new outfit five minutes later and we spent a whole hour doing a great shoot together.
Abel Ferrara (Numero / Paris), Grace Jones & Iggy Pop (Liberation Next), Mélanie Laurent (Vogue US)
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
If you have any connections to Dylan or Young, send ’em my way! And please let me know if you like my work or if you just want to start a conversation.