Today we’re going on an adventure with the photographer, journalist and writer Elisa Routa as she takes us on the roads of America! Equipped with the Lomo LC-Wide, she travels the large territories and captures these moments with our Berlin Kino 400 film.
Discover not only her journey but also her relationship to photography and the questions she asks herself to keep the experimental spirit of analogue photography alive within her.
Hello Elisa, can you introduce yourself to the Community?
Based in Anglet in the Pays-Basque, I would describe myself as a bear in a seaside resort, somewhat fierce and not very talkative, whose mean of communication is not really the spoken language. It is probably not a coincidence that I chose journalism.
Obsessed with words, I’ve been working as a journalist for more than 10 years now. After a start in the written press specialized in surf and street culture (Surf Session, Desillusion, Wax, Huck, Herewith,…), I felt the need to open myself to larger areas such as travel, adventure and the great outdoors. Moreover, I have been the editor of a paper magazine combining outdoor and entrepreneurship. I worked as an editor for Instagram, dedicated to the French-speaking community. For five years, I was at the head of Panthalassa, a newspaper dedicated to the contemporary vision of our oceans. I try to collaborate with publishers as well as press agencies, such as the Zeppelin Agency, focused on exploration and outdoor life. It is with this desire that I co-founded the Relief Agency in 2017, a cross-disciplinary content creation agency largely influenced by its passion for outdoor, art and adventure. For more than a year, I have been working as a journalist for Vogue, specializing in emerging talents from the creative world (art, fashion, photography, music, ...).
I also always put my insomnia in favor of writing. During my spare time, I scribble texts, verses, poems, loose lines, stories of adventures or simple thoughts. I am finally a bear in a seaside resort, a pen in the hand, and notebooks in the pockets.
Why do you practice film photography? How did you start?
I recently found some films I shot on my first trip to New York. I was 14 years old. I then went to study journalism in London where, for a few years, I captured my life so that I could tell my mom and my brother everything I had the chance to discover in a city where people, reserved and disciplined, queue to take the bus. Coming from the South of France, London had an exotic taste.
Beyond the simple will to document my life, I think it would be difficult for me to intellectualize my personal approach, but the spontaneity required for film photography has always pleased me. I never ask people to pose and do not calculate anything in advance. It all happens in one click; a palm tree in a rear-view mirror, an old American car parked in front of a diner, the lip of a beginning wave, the flight of a seagull… I strongly fear premeditation or scheming for aesthetic purposes, and I currently have the chance to take pictures without any imperative. Unlike writing where I sometimes like an imposed framework on me, in photography, the constraints frighten me. That's why I always made the choice not to describe myself as a photographer. I am apprehensive of all the guidelines that could be given to me and I am attached to this notion of freedom in my opinion caused by chance.
Could you tell us a little bit about your passion for surf?
It’s a universe I discovered quite early because with my brother we were spending all our summers in Hendaye in the Pays-Basque. Barefoot and swimsuits on, we would roam on the deck of my grandfather’s sailboat, thinking we were explorers. We had the same ritual every morning, going to the beach 100 meters away after swallowing a whole box of chocolate cereals. As a navigator, my grandfather loved to take us offshore. He made us navigate, holding us on his shoulders showing the way, the stuffy nose under the rolls of the ocean. It is, I believe, our routine around the ocean which naturally made me discover surfing. I first took classes, then I quickly dropped the shortboard for a longboard the day when, in 2009, I arrived in Biarritz.
At the time, I was working as a journalist for the Surfrider Foundation Europe, the NGO dedicated to the protection of the ocean. I was then hired by the Trip Surf magazine, Surf Session and Desillusion. I was quickly immerged in the universe of surf competitions and festivals. However, it is more the creativity related to longboard, its nonchalance, its history and its aestheticism which moved me. I discovered everything late, thanks to a community of wacky creative surfers, whose freedom and impertinence gave me wings. Free from any rule, they represented what I wanted to live and materialized this melancholy that had always been part of me. With their longboards hand-shaded, heavy replicas of the treasures of the 60s, they personified the nostalgia of a bygone era, all with grace, lightness, casualness and carelessness. As if there were no tomorrow, I touched every day the paroxysm of absolute freedom and escape. For me, even today, surfing is that, this euphoric space where nothing and no one is getting older, where nothing is serious. Even today, I like to meet surfers, artists, creatives or virtuosos of life ignoring themselves, those whose talent or trends have not yet had the time to ruin their vision of the world.
How was your trip in California? What did you do?
This trip was really something special because it was a real surprise for me: it was my birthday present. As a secret resolution, I had quietly set myself the goal of traveling even more in 2019 and by February, I found myself on the roads of Southern California alongside two people I love. I'm used to road trips, family restaurants, nights spent in motels that are often shabby, sometimes crazy, at best with clean toilets and a TV stuck on the weather channel. This time, we stayed around Costa Mesa, and I must say that being able to live this Californian routine from the inside, which I knew only in bits, was a real treat. We have voluntarily inflicted ourselves a tour of mythical surf shops, surf sessions on the legendary spots of San Onofre and Blackies, a stay in the Joshua Tree Desert, a colorful getaway through the Palm Springs villas, and a serious daily diet based on tacos and onion bagels with avocado and Philadelphia, which we strictly followed. We also had the right to a repair by a group of adorable Mexicans because we had the great idea to break down in an industrial area of Santa Ana with my friend's old Toyota. In short, this trip was the pretext to give life to my fantasies and, especially, the opportunity to see dolphins from Newport Beach’s pier, screaming like a hysterical child. Above all, I forbid myself to be jaded. And even if I return almost every year to the United States, I want to marvel at everything, always and forever.
You took our Lomo LC-Wide with you, what did you think of it?
I was truly surprised by the wide-angle of the LC-Wide. I was not expecting such a big depth. I almost regret some shots because I would have liked to capture more symbolic places in California, such as diners, cafes or bars with exaggerated pennants, pictures and signatures of deceased stars framed above the counter. With the LC-Wide, you can really have a lot of elements in the same picture. The portraits also stand out really well. The ease of use and its speed of execution are crazy. The point & shoot is very responsive. Given its lightness, the device is really easy to use. One tip: do not hesitate to get closer to the subject for further immersion.
You seem to prefer black and white, do you know why?
I think it is still a question of coherence here. I am of a melancholic temperament and I spent a lot of years trying to hide this constant state behind an exacerbated humor. I have since learned to assume this neurotic side. I have a romantic approach to life, I probe my emotions, I constantly ask myself questions about the existence, the people, the origin of the world, and the meaning of it all. I also have fundamental questions like « Why did Celine Dion choose to ride a scooter in the streets of Paris? ».
When you take pictures, I think it’s because you want to express yourself first. For me, colors are often too far from my state of mind or my moods. It would almost sound wrong. The few times I actually choose to make color, it is through outdated films to obtain this pale and faded shades. I am far from being a sad person, but only the black and white manages to embody the perpetual mood in which I find myself. In this sense, I am constantly looking for authenticity, coherence, truth, and I have the impression that the black and white gathers a little my truth. Peter Lindbergh, who recently passed away was saying: « I like to recognize myself in the pictures I make. This was the most important thing for me, always being able to find my identity in my images. » I don’t pretend to want finding myself in my pictures, but staying close to that, it's already good.
Impossible question : if you had to choose between photography and surf, what would you do?
It's a funny question and, paradoxically, a pretty simple one. Without hesitation, I would choose photography. There are so many topics that interest me outside of surfing that I could blossom fully, and without regret, only through film photography and writing. I especially like to document life, the street and the anonymous people that populate it. I am particularly fascinated by the work of New York photographer Andre Wagner who, in a very clever and unique way, portrays a heterogeneous, diverse and complex society. Despite the use of black and white, people are colorful, multiple and unique. I am convinced that when we put the human at the heart of photography, we expand the field of possibilities, and this inexhaustible perspective comforts me a lot.
Incoming projects you would like to share with us?
The more years go by, the more I want to get closer to what I really love and values that animate me. And what I want above all today is to write. Photography goes with it, it is a bottomless pit of memories in which I draw my stories. Through my pictures and the notebooks in which I write, the details are sharp, the smells are eternal and the colors remain intact. Last year, I had the chance to meet Catherine Poulain, author of the Grand Marin. She said to me: «The Grand Marin, I wrote it quickly. This contract arrived so quickly that I felt like I was doing collage of the sticking notes that I had taken. In the end, to be honest, I was not very happy. Finally, the book moved me a lot, I found it beautiful, but it seemed normal since it was my story. » And I admit that her experience reassured me a little because I also work with notes, I have a notebook for each of my travels, and they become the main source of my texts. So, without saying too much, my future projects will inevitably build on this deep desire for writing.