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Petzval Artist: The Red Square with Alex Laurel

The Lomography x Zenit Petzval Lens is traveling all around the world in the hands of the most talented photographers these days. It is now Alex Laurel's turn to try the powers of this lens. The French photographer and surfer who took the Petzval Lens for a walk on the Red Square in Moscow shows us his stunning portraits and talks about his experience with the lens.

Alex Laurel is a fun and passionate lomographer. We first met him earlier this year when he told us all about his photographic and lomographic experiences. This time, Alex has taken on portraiture giant, none other than the new Petzval Lomography x Zenit Lens. He took a chance on the art lens and brought it during his trip to Kamchatka, Russia for the Nixon Surf Challenge and took photos at the extremely famous Red Square in Moscow with some fellow surfers. Discover Alex’s beautiful swirly pictures and what he has to say about his experience shooting with the Petzval Lens.

Hey Alex! Could you tell us something about yourself that not everyone is aware of?

I enjoy altering the colorimetrics on my digital photos. Back in the day when we only used film, there was a great variety of emulsions, many developing processes, but nowadays, with digital photography there’s a great limit to the sensor chroma if one does not want to alter his photos. The lab is now our computer, and it can process the same photo in thousands of different ways. You’ll probably either love or hate my style, but it is what defines me best and what I love to do.

You joined the Nixon surf team in Kamchatka, Russia, for the Nixon Surf Challenge. How was your trip? Please tell us more about the place and the photos you took.

The Kamchatka peninsula is on the far eastern side of Russia. !t was the place where the anti-communists were sent to at the time of the goulags. I think this is the first time I took a 9-hour domestic flight, from Moscow to Kamchatka! Once on the spot, one gets the impression of going back in time;  the buildings are crumbling, the roads are potholed, but the fauna and flora are almost untouched. It’s a sharp contrast that can sometimes be disturbing.

What makes the Nixon Surf Challenge unique, especially from a photographer’s perspective?

Surf photographers are often sent to tropical countries, with crystal clear blue and warm waters and coconut trees in the background. Destinations that feel like a dream. The concept of the Nixon Surf Challenge is to fight these stereotypes with uncommon destinations, often in frigid temperatures. It is very pleasant for a photographer and quite refreshing on the creative level. It gives us the chance to shoot a rider with a background of snowy mountains, giving a unique side to the pictures.

What were the challenges you faced when shooting action in the volcanic Kamchatka Peninsula?

Swimming in water as cold as 2°C is a real challenge. Even with the 5mm neoprene gloves, after 30 minutes you do not feel your hands anymore, your finger struggles to find the shutter button, and don’t even get me started on the feeling of being stirred by the waves. It feels more like a washing machine filled with ice, than the hot tub from the Spa next door.

This wasn’t your first Nixon Surf Challenge. Which one is your favorite so far and why?

Kamchatka was a memorable cultural clash and a unique experience. Russia is a huge country with forgotten and abandoned regions which brings us to a harsh reality when you think that it’s 2014. This edition will always be remembered but the trip in Iceland was truly my favorite. The scenery was spectacular, with oversized glaciers, waterfalls of more than 60m and a potential for first class waves.

How was your experience with the new Petzval Lens? Do you remember having any particular trouble with it?

We had an 11-hour stopover in Moscow and I convinced the surfers to go around town to kill time. The rain was pouring and we took the train to the city and did a bit of walking to get to the Red Square. It was the perfect time to take out the Petzval Lens and shoot portraits of the riders. The rotation of the focus ring is very small and you have to be astute in order to take sharp and clear pictures . That is doable when you’re taking a portrait of a posing subject, but it’s a real challenge when you’re experimenting with street photography and moving subjects. The Petzval Lens is a very artistic tool that must be treated as a precision tool. The visor is very deep, which was an advantage in the rain because I never had need to wipe the water off the lens. The use was different, but the result was above my expectations. The bokeh truly has a lot of character and that is what I like the most about this lens.

What was your first impression when you saw the lens?

It’s a beauty! The golden brass side makes it look very classy. During the week prior to the trip, it sat enthroned on my desk, not as an ordinary clipboard but more like a small work of art. I had it mounted on my camera but I didn’t try it as I was already thinking about the shooting on the Red Square and I wanted to keep a little magic for this first experiment, losing my Petzval virginity in the right place at the right time.

Were people curious about your brass lens in the middle of the Red Square?

The surfers are used to seeing me take out pretty strange gear such as my Lomo plastic cameras. But this time, they were taken aback a little more than usual. When I showed them the pictures on the back of the camera, they could not understand why the picture was so different. They interpreted the bokeh as something very unusual, as a 3D image. Others could not even express their questions.

What is your favorite Petzval and camera set-up?

I’ll be honest, I have only tried one single diaphragm, f.2,2 with my camera in manual mode. What I am really interested in with this lens is the bokeh, and I wanted to test it in as many situations as possible to see what the f.2 2 was worth. I wasn’t aiming for ultra sharp pictures, but images that look different.

Do you think there is one photo in this series taken with the Lomography x Zenit Petzval Lens that stands out?

I love Eric Rebiere’s picture because it’s literally the 9th picture I took with the lens. When I saw it on the back of the camera, I felt a great satisfaction that I had not felt for a long time. What’s more, he is an old friend so it adds a little something to my personal satisfaction. The picture of St Basil’s Cathedral is also very interesting with this somewhat ghoulish effect on the people in the foreground whereas the monument is very sharp. It is impossible to recreate this effect with modern lenses.

Eric Rebiere

Are there other projects that you would like to do with the Petzval Lens now that you have discovered it?

When I came back from Russua, I got a request from a magazine to shoot a portrait and I chose one lens and only the Petzval Lens ! It has become my “go to” lens whenever I’m feeling creative.

Thanks a lot for the interview Alex!

To see more of Alex Laurel’s pictures, head to the Surf Europe Magazine website.
You can watch the recap video of the Nixon Surf Challenge here.

written by lomographyfrance and translated by lomographyfrance

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The original version of this article is written in: Français. It is also available in: Deutsch.