The talented Martin Colombet, who specializes in portraits and reports for the press, used the New Jupiter 3+ on his Leica M for a portrait series with striking glances. Lit by the autumnal glow, the faces he captured seem to reveal us, without artifice, their most intimate secrets.
Name: Martin Colombet
Camera: Leica M type 240
Lens: New Jupiter 3+
Hello Martin! What's up?
I'm fine! My neck has just been blocked for a month, more or less, so to be honest, it’s quite shitty. I’m a sensitive and also quite a pessimistic and tormented person. And I think you can see it in my photographs.
Could you please introduce yourself to our community.
I’m a 30 year old guy who works and lives in Paris -- I'm a photographer mainly for press, portrait and report. My main clients are the magazines Libération, Télérama, M and Grazia and I’ve also worked with Polka. I confess that my approach is always very personal, even for my personal work. I put a lot of my own self in my pictures. Regarding this, it’s hard for me to do concessions. I like hearing Godard defining himself like an “high level person with autism”. Not to compare myself to him, but basically I understand what he meant.
Tell us your story as a photographer. What was your very first camera and when did you decide to become a photographer?
Certainly, photography has saved me. I was so bad in school, my schooling was a catastrophe and I suffered from this a lot. I was always out of step, agitated, angry, not like I should have been. Lost in my mind and thoughts, without the power of fulfilling my dreams. I was dropped in a technical cleaner BEP. Without photography and important encounters, I would probably be stuck in a stupid job or I’d be an outsider.
I bought my first camera to take pictures in nightclubs. We did this with a friend of mine to get inside for free and hit on some chicks. It was a Minolta bridge camera I think. I’ve chosen to become a photographer during a journey in Canada when I was 21. I spent a month in a wood house in front of the ocean. To be far away from my own life helped me to project my own self in the future and to detach myself.
What were the most important moments of your formation, both in a personal and professional way?
My first formation was to take pictures of a lot of wasted people with shitty lights in nightclubs as I’ve already told you. Even during this moment, I tried to find a hidden truth in people that I was shooting. When I decided to do it more seriously, I subscribed for a school, the EPA, in Toulouse. I’ve almost been sacked during the first year. I was joining the lesson very tired because I was working for McDonald's at the same time. But two teachers who believed in me saved me and helped me to access the 3rd year directly. Then I met Pierre Barbot who was hosting a workshop. He helped me discover new things. After this I had a decisive encounter and met Stéphane Lavoué who is a very good photographer. I assisted him for a year and I learnt a lot. I liked his sensitivity, and even though he’s 15 years older than me, we were a great duo and we shared the same point of view. There was also the meeting with some artists such as Avedon, Bashung, Mano Solo or Bach. I had a piano teacher who often said “Bach saved my life”. It saves you a lot of time.
Your work were awarded (Bourse du Talent #54 and the special mention of the Jury at the Grand Prix of ETPA 2010). Could you tell us more about the story of the awarded series?
I was a finalist twice for the Bourse du Talent award with « Les Regards de Marco », a series about friendships and intimacy that I did with a 13 x18 large format camera in calotype, and also a series in an African squat with the same camera. For the Jury special mention, I mainly won thanks to a work dedicated to an independent anarchist squat.
You represent the Hans Lucas agency. How does it work when you're working for an agency?
Basically, it’s Hans Lucas who is representing me. The world of agencies is getting quite weird. Today, only a few of them are able to give you work, directly or indirectly. The agencies are disrupted by technical and economic changes, they are too weak now to defend photographers and photography. We don’t know what they can bring to us anymore. It anyway enables you to sell photos and with Hans Lucas, it’s pretty cool because the conditions are very pleasing. It enables you to be identified. As for the rest, even though it can be argued, I could tell that basically it’s useless.
Could you tell us more about your work as a photographer. What does a typical day in your life look like?
Personally, everything is a matter of balance between artistic satisfaction and more basic and material necessities. I’d really like to do more personal stuff, to experiment, make some researches, but I know that it’s not where the money really is. Fortunately, I’m lucky enough to have good clients that allow me to be free, who come to me for what I really do. That’s the only way I find to accept practising photography as a mean rather than an end per se. Doing photography, it’s not like making socks or waffle irons. You have to constantly nourish yourself, sharpen your sensibility, and put all of this on your photography. I do think that all this process is very exhausting, even painful sometimes, but that’s all the value to the photographer. If you have nothing to say - better do something else. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of trivialities during a typical day: office, social networks, accounting, appointment booking, editing. I would really like photography to take a more important place in this routine.
You are the happy owner of a Leica M camera. Why did you choose this camera in particular?
It’s a tool with which I feel comfortable with. It speaks to me. I like its aesthetics and the spirit of the brand. It’s a heavy camera, in brass, with minimal settings and without any unnecessary buttons or menu. It’s noble, smooth and this camera helps me to do superior things. If you are a pianist, do you think you’ll play the same way on a Steinway in an old church of the XIth century or on a digital keyboard in a shopping mall? It stimulates you and it “produces meaning”. For a practical point of view, these are clearly the best optic makers and I like working with the rangefinder. The composition is more instinctive and mental because you can see the depth of field. For me, it re-defines the frames you want to enlighten and not always the foreground like it always does with the AF. It’s also a discreet camera which does not frighten people and it allows you to work slowly. For a long time, I felt the need to slow down, especially when I did portraits because I used to shoot too much. I can use my Leica during my wanderings without being too boarded. I’m bringing it everywhere with me. And there is also the Leica finish, especially for the long time exposure shots.
Could you talk about your artistic approach and the way you're doing portrait?
I have a restrictive definition of portrait. For me, it’s like this: a photo of someone who knows he’s been shot, a picture who has to search for a certain truth on the people. It’s a very psychological vision. I also have a very humanist approach because I consider that the subject should participate in his representation. I know some portraitists who think the portrait is like a still-life and that people they shoot could be sum up by just a “mug”, a piece of meat that you just light up. From my side, I think you must integrate the story of the person you shoot, his life and you have to find the balance between your projections as a photographer and what the model can give you. Sometimes of course, to have a perfect balance, you must set up a powerful relationship and it’s often the case for politics or generally with people who want to use press to do their communication.
Any difficulties about being a portraitist?
The artistic and moral draining. You can also encounter models who are difficult to shoot and you must know how to direct them. There is a few difficulties according to me when your model has nothing to give. Either he/she is empty, either because he/she doesn’t want to participate. It’s a kind of relationship. The photograph can’t do anything alone.
Any tipsters to share with our community ?
Your photography culture must not only come from magazines or newspapers but from books, exhibitions and museums. Look at the portraits of Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus, August Sanders, Richard Dumas, Patrick Swirc, Stéphane Lavoué or Julien Mignot.
Could you tell us more about your committed stance and your front portraits style?
It’s a way to trust someone. It’s like words, they have their own meaning. It’s useless for an actor to do so much when he’s saying a text. It's just making everything absurd. When you’re doing a portrait, it’s the same thing. No need to ask your model to put his/her arm behind his/her head or take some crazy positions that doesn't really happen in his/her daily life. It’s a way to be simple and direct. But there are photographers who find interesting things to tell in movement. From my side, this could be interesting if the subject doesn’t play a role like an actor.
Before pushing the trigger, what is the first thing you think about?
I try not to think too much. I focus and I try to have a global vision on things. I try to be instinctive and to listen to my feelings. I also try not to be unpleasant because I have already been “rude”, especially for some very guided shooting. When you’re focused too much on lighting or framing, you could miss some anxiety or stress signals. I mainly observe. First, you must observe, detect the signals, look at the light and its details. A detail could ruin everything.
Any significant encounter or moment related to your job that has particularly moved you and from which you keep a very strong memory?
Not really. When I’m shooting, I’m very focused, so there’s no room left for memories. I have some funny anecdotes about some actresses or politicians, but if I had to choose, I’d rather pick some special experiences while working for my personal projects. At the Squat for instance ... you know, when a guy waits several weeks before letting you take a picture of his lacerated torso, it’s something strong, it does make sense.
You got to use the New Jupiter 3+ for a few weeks. What were your impressions when you first used it?
The lens is beautiful and quite heavy. When I first used it, I was a bit confused about the stroke but I quickly got used to it. I like the ring aperture without crank, it’s very smooth. I was also amazed about the blur the lens produces.
For what kind of use would you recommend this lens in particular?
It’s a 50mm lens so for portrait, it’s a really good focal length. I’d recommend this lens for an artistic use. It produces effects that many brands have corrected but that photographers still like such as flare, vignetting, singular colorimetry. Its sharpness is good and the color fringing is very limited. The chromatic treatment of the optics produces really interesting effects. For a more professional use for bigger stakes, I’ll be more careful because you could sometimes have some surprises in terms of finish.
What’s your favorite thing about the New Jupiter 3+?
Its singular finish, different from what we can find on the actual market. The lens is not very expensive for the quality of the images it produces. I could even prefer it to Zeiss or Voigtlander lenses.
Could you tell us how was your experience with the Jupiter 3+?
I carried the lens with me during a month. I wanted to use its artistic potential as much as possible. It means working in colors with textured backgrounds that offered a nice depth of field.
What did the lens bring to your pictures?
A certain character. I took advantage of its cosmetic features to create a universe -- a bit fictional and colorful.
Could you tell us more about your series.
When you told me about the lens, I immediately wanted to do something special for it, something that would be consistent and interesting. I used the Jupiter in Paris and in Brittany where I spent a few days. I chose to do outdoor portraits of people I know. I did my little casting and then I went to Belleville Park in Paris. It was the end of autumn, the trees were still yellow and red, most of them. We had several weeks of sunshine in December. Around 5-6pm, the light started to be very low and there was a kind of white mist that is typical of Paris in winter. The park was facing due south and the light was really interesting and directional and that allowed to a lot of possibilities. I worked almost at the same hour every time. I really like autumn, it’s sad and beautiful at the same time.
Working outside, we're talking about wind, cold, sun on the skin. It’s a sensual approach. I didn’t direct my models a lot.The idea was to do photography for what it is, without any story-telling. When I’m working, I have more of a journalistic or reporting approaches. For my personal work, I like to take pictures that doesn't have any real purpose. Just the fact to be here and to simply exist.
Any bedside reading?
Currently, Capitale de la douleur of Paul Eluard and La vie matérielle of Duras.
Any portrait/photo that have marked you recently?
My friend Arno Brignon lent me his new book « Based on a true Story » that he wrote during an artistic residency in the Pyrénées. It’s really beautiful.
Lomography rhymes with?
I prefer when the things don't rhyme.
Any projects for 2017?
I'd like to focus more on portraits and to start a work about the US maybe.
Any last words?