The Sprocket Rocket camera is known for its ability to expose the sprocket holes along with the photograph to provide that natural and raw expression of the film. Similarly, portrait-photographer Alexandre Boucher has an ability to bring out the essence of his models in all their beauty and imperfections through his photographs. So what happens when you put them together?
You get these intricately-crafted and emotion-filled experimental portraits that leave you wondering who is this model and what is their story? We sat down with Alexandre to hear about his artistic journey and detailed process of creating these Sprocket Rocket portraits (it's truly a scientific experiment!)
Hello Alexandre, welcome to Lomography Magazine. Please tell us a bit about yourself.
Thanks for having me! Well, for the purpose of this interview, let's say I’m a photographer. To be honest, I am sort of a jack of all trades. I am good enough at a couple of things and I have many interests and hobbies. I do interesting stuff like woodworking (I work as a carpenter aside from photography), painting and drawing, reading a lot, computer building and programming, building electronics, playing music and the list goes on. Photography is what’s closest to my heart though. I started film photography at college as a teenager in the late ‘80s. I kept doing it on and off when I was younger but it has always been a part of my life. From the day my kids were born (my daughter turned 18 on May 26th), I began shooting every single day. I shoot both digital and film, I hand roll and develop my own film, I retouch each and every photo I post myself (mostly cleaning…in camera shots are 95% close to finish quality), I search for new ideas on a daily basis. Photography is one of the reasons I wake up every morning. I love it. It runs in my veins.
Why do you shoot portraits? What do they mean to you?
For most of my journey as a photographer, I shot everything: landscape, travel, architecture, portraits, still life, macro, astrophotography, etc. In the last 6 or 7 years, I did real estate photography then I shifted full throttle to portrait photography about a year ago. I shoot portraits because I see the beauty in everyone's face…even though people are not aware of how beautiful they are. When I show them my shots between poses, more often than not, they are amazed. This is how I see them. Light literally sculpts their faces to amazingness. This is why I shoot portraits. The beautiful glow of the skin, its texture and its shine may be what strike the viewer at first; but real beauty lies in imperfections; bumps and depressions, freckles and moles. I mean, this is gold to me. If light and glow attract the viewer to the photograph, imperfections lock their eyes to it. I never remove them in post. I only dodge\tone\blend them according to the model’s taste. Otherwise, I render imperfections to glorious eye catchers.
Are there any emotions you want to capture or portray in your portraits?
Yes, mine! I often say to my models that my goal is to catch their soul. When it happens, I feel deep emotions rushing inside my chest. Almost to tears. A few weeks ago, I photographed a 13-year-old girl, @charlotte_roy_08. I had my ideas for months prior to the shooting. I told her mother, back in December 2021, that I felt sort of an old energy coming out of her daughter’s look. She reminded me of Evelyn Nesbit, a model from the early 20th century. When I saw her in person, my mind had shifted centuries earlier than that. I shot a Renaissance icon that day. Right after the capture, I took a deep breath trying not to shed a tear, I turned toward her mother and said: “I’m in shock, I just shot Mona Lisa!” She looked at my camera screen. She was blown away. So I was. Look at my Instagram feed, the photograph is there. You can’t miss it.
What drew you to the Lomography Sprocket Rocket?
From the start, I always thought about the film, the texture, the size, the sprockets…they are awesome! It is so sad we only keep a small rectangle out of it. The whole thing, the technology, the techniques, the matter itself, scratches, liquid stains, dusts, light leaks…it should be shown. Moreover, the whole surface is covered by silver salts…why not use it all? I did some experiments with Holgas. It worked well but the camera isn’t meant for this exact purpose. Around 2011-12, I saw the Sprocket Rocket for the first time in a magazine ad or a website. Anyway, I was attracted to it. I wanted one. While on a four-day trip to NYC in December 2013, I told my girlfriend I wanted to go to the Lomography store on West 8th street. We went there and she bought a Sprocket Rocket for me as a gift. I used it right away. I loved it on the spot. It is a beautiful object and it produces outstanding pieces of art. I ordered a second one recently. Just received it. Twice happier!
These Sprocket Rocket portraits are truly stunning. May you tell us about your process?
Thank you! Well, the process is simple once you’re used to it but it is a little complex and abstract. It is obviously about light but things logically imply some time progression twists. It basically depends on three main things: photography knowledge, understanding light very well and, the most important, math skills.
First, photography knowledge is helpful. As you know, Sprocket Rocket cameras aren’t flexible (compared to a Sony a7rIV or a Canon R5, for example); there are almost no manual focusing capabilities, aperture is limited to f10.8 and f16 (a small aperture size for off camera flash photography), shutter speed is fixed at 1/100s and ISO is film box speed (I prefer ISO 100 for better and finer grain structure). You need good light metering skills, you need to juggle with exposure triangle and stops theory all at once, you need to know how to compute chemistry recipes spot on to push or pull your development and get the right results (one miscalculation and you’re left with nothing but all white or all black frames.) You need to keep the model within the focusing range (+/- 80 cm or 32 inches) because looking in the viewfinder at close range is pointless, I don’t even bother using it at all. I may forget items but you see the picture.
Understanding light is a must. The main source needs to be at the right place and you have to be really conscious about it, about softness of light, about light falloff, about light feathering and so on. With film, there is no second chance. You cannot see a shot and adjust. It’s got to be good, period. Depending on what off camera flash equipment you use, you need to be very careful about flash sync. The flash must pop within the 1/100s obturation; you miss a sync and you end up with a black frame. You have to eyeball it, no gadget will tell you if it’s right or not. You also need to have a very skilled model because you’re too busy with technical issues, they should do the job on their own.
Math skills are key. Math is what keeps everything together. It is the only parameter you can truly count on. Aperture, shutter speed, ISO, light power, flash sync, focusing distance, lens height and levelness compared to the model’s face (a misplaced camera can result with a heavily deformed image due to the wide panoramic lens), measuring developing times according to what is needed (push or pull), knowing the risks of overdeveloping (or under), deciding how far you can go with chemistry, what can be done in post process and the right balance between the two…everything is math related.
The trickiest part is to expose for ambient light by under or over exposing “mentally”; you need to consider beforehand (while shooting) over or under developing the film later on (according to box speed). On top of that, you need to adjust flash power to those theoretical exposure parameters which exist only “mentally” until your negatives are properly developed. Actions of the future call for actions of the past. I hope my explanations are clear enough even though the process seems totally abstract. It is pure math, it is a mathematical equation elapsed in time that you have to loop around in your mind all along the process. Like processing code with your brain, always validating a "for loop" that would end up true as a result.
So, this is it. This is how I do it. You gotta be exactly where everything balances out. I guess this is where art and science meet somehow. I happen to fail at times but less and less.
Do you have any advice for photographers when working with models?
From my perspective, photography is not some guy with a camera and some model with attributes. Not at all. Portrait photography is a teamwork. Both parts are involved on the same level and their ultimate goal is to create an outstanding image together. There is no subordination. Everyone plays a key role and respect is rule number one. Portrait photography is about dignity. It is about glorifying a human being.
I think that a good portrait photographer is a person who is able to see beauty, with or without a camera. A good model is a person who knows their strengths and weaknesses, who has the skills to balance them in order to show beauty. It is even better when the model has some beautiful imperfections and knows how to bear them, how to use them. I think of Marilyn Monroe and her notorious mole; without it and without the skill to bear it, she might have remained unknown. As I already said, this is the kind of thing that locks the eyes and the memory on a photograph for a long time, if not forever. There are a lot of similar examples. As a photographer, you need to talk to your model about it, about using imperfections to create good images, about their level of comfort regarding what they want to show and what they don’t. Unless you do it, the model is frozen, unable to lower their guard, unable to open up to create images that speak to the viewer. Once this issue is cleared, magnetism starts to operate, the model starts to feel the “pull” of the lens. All models have things that haunt them; you have to tame their devil inside and make it an angel. Once you get there, all the other angels sing and it shows in the photos! Hallelujah! It is true. Communication is key. Respectful communication.
Another good advice for photographers working with inexperienced models is to allow at least half an hour for warming up, more or less. When you look at the pictures at the end of the shooting, the progression is always very obvious. With professional models, it is different; warming up takes a few minutes to no time at all.
Is there anything you’re working on that we can expect next?
I am working on a lot of projects. Studio portraits, lifestyle and editorial experiments as well. Ideas keep popping up nonstop and at an accelerating pace. I am overwhelmed with ideas, I am overwhelmed with thousands of pictures to edit with no time spared. It is almost making a Vivian Maier out of me! Seriously, I am having the time of my life. Meeting new awesome people all the time, shooting every week and not having enough resources to accept all amazing opportunities, always pushing forward the limits of what I can do with a camera. I might have to shift gears very soon.
I also made the plan to recruit 3 to 4 models (maybe more) I can shoot with and try new things on a regular basis. You can’t do that with paying customers. So far, I have agreed for sure with one model for multiple shoot projects. She is so skillful. She’s basically unable to make a bad photograph. You can see some photos we made together in my Instagram feed. Her Instagram name is @mailyslamoulie. To me, she has a high potential to become one of the fashion faces of the next few years. Fingers crossed and hard work ahead with her.
Anyway, Lomography projects are among my top priorities. A 50/50 balance between film and digital photography would be a sweet spot. People seem to get crazy about film photography these days. Way more than I expected. I just ordered a Lomo LC-A+. I hope it can do magic as well as the Sprocket Rocket. We’ll see. I will soon experience developing color film with the C-41 process for the first time (after working with black and white for 35 years and counting.) So color Sprocket Rocket portrait shots are coming up. You will discover my progress in real time. I’ll keep you guys posted.
Thank you Alexandre for sharing your process with us. Please don't hesitate to follow him on Instagram for more of his work.
Check out our Sprocket Rocket 35 mm Film Panoramic Camera!