Marwane Pallas is a young self-taught fine art photographer and visual artist. This French photographer is based in Saint-Etienne. Currently he is attending a French Grande Ecole in a city near Paris where he moved, but he’s from the countryside. He just finished a three year bachelor last year and in a couple of years he will graduate with a Master in Business Sciences.
He shoots portraits and self-portraits, and let me tell you, they are out of this world. His images are so crisp, rich in content, and heavily beautiful. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, but, that’s what makes this interview fun! Join us as Marwane tells us about the meaning behind some of his most fantastical series, shows us what it takes to get from the shot out of the camera to the final image, and humorously tells us about his self published book. This kid’s got some talent!
Please Note: NSFW language in one of the questions
How would you classify the work that you create?
Pictures. I really like the adjective “pictorial”, there is a very important link between painting and photography in my art which is a kind of cross-over. Mixing two ingredients requires taste, which I’m always exercising. I need to reach the perfect dosage. Sometimes two good things can merge into something very disappointing. Like chocolate with alcohol in it.
How did your interest in art develop at such a young age?
I was a very introverted and aware kid. I remember thinking I had an inclination for visual art when I was 3 years old. The teacher asked us to draw our hand. Which I did, but obviously my classmates struggled more. And when I compared my hand to the rest of the class I realized I was able to convey reality on paper better than anyone else there. My hand had the colour of an actual hand, the shapes of normal fingers, grey marks for every nail and proper proportions. My parents motivated me to draw and paint. I had folders of historical or renaissance paintings and of photos of ancient statues to copy. I was drawing greek gods’ orgiastic scenes when I wasn’t even ten but my parents never expressed any concern. They even used to send me once a week to a neighbour painter who briefly taught episodes of History of Arts and some painting techniques.
Later in my teen years I stopped trying to draw in the most realistic way and tried to create my own universes with more simple forms, detached from reality and finally closer to what I should have drawn when I was a kid.
How did you become interested in photography?
I discovered photography quite late actually. Some people are born with a camera in their hands, but in my case I had pencils.* I had already left high school when I started being interested in taking photos and only bought my DSLR in june 2011 (I remember it clearly because it was the day right after the most important exams of my life). I was very busy with my studies already, but I needed to keep exploring visual arts. I switched from drawing to photography as it seemed faster to take a photo than to draw.
*Except that one time when I was 8 and I was given a disposable camera for a school trip of several days, and I kept taking photos of the same building near the youth hostel every morning because I was not sure I had taken the right photo the day before and finally the only photos that survived printing where the 6 photos of that very same building. Regarding today’s standards in contemporary photography, I think I can say it was my first conceptual series.
Why’d you photograph your ass? 😛
It’s my body part that had always received most praises. The story behind it is that I came back from a portfolio review where I was told I would be “a good stock image photographer” because my work was only illustrative or brainless or “too much”, and I will never be taken seriously if I don’t drop my pencils and take photos of sinks in the third world while quoting Nietzsche in my artist statements. So they got a picture of my ass.
What inspires you?
Paintings of the XXth century, screenshots of movies, old BBC series, my childhood, folk music, the countryside, life frustrations, pieces of clothes, the sky and jokes.
What’s on your equipment list?
Camera: Canon EOS 550D+ an old 50mm 1.8. Photoshop CS5. I also have 2 soft boxes now that I only used a couple of times for my latest ‘Sur/face” photo series. I really want to upgrade though.
I really need to upgrade (I’m selling a camera I won at a contest by the way).
How long is the process of creating a photograph?
I don’t plan my shooting, sometimes I have an idea but I tend to improvise more. It’s hard to compute the time spent on one single photo. I can produce up to 10 pictures out of a single shooting or only 2 for a shooting of the same length. Then the editing varies from a couple of hours to several weeks of different drafts when drawing is involved.
What is your proudest moment as an artist?
I haven’t accomplished much for the moment. I may be represented in America by a gallery based in New York later this year, which is a huge thing for me but I’m not sure of the outcomes yet. So for the moment, it’s every time I showed my pictures to my parents. I view my photographs like my drawings, and the first thing I would do after finishing a drawing was to show it to my mother or father. I still do that with most of my photos. Including the weirdest ones.
What is your favourite image that you’ve ever created?
“Central Station” from my series Sur/face. It features Little Nemo, The visuals of a Universal exposition in late 18th century Paris, Charlie Chaplin… it has more poesy than most of my photos. I shot and drew it when I was doing an internship in Paris. I was commuting every day and was spending a lot of time in the trains watching the city outside my windows. I wanted to portray how the busy life of a city can impregnate the human body, how you feel part of a whole in a city, not just with the people, but with its walls and irons too. You’re part or a bigger machine, however there is a little place in your mind that is still a shelter, even if it’s very tiny. That’s where people go and relax while they’re silently waiting and thinking in the trains. And you have to cherish that place as it becomes tinier each day because of the city.
Your series titled “Sur/Face” is so unique and absolutely beautiful. Can you tell us about this series?
I was stuck in a small room of the ugly Paris suburbs when is shot this series. I was far away from any landscape or beautiful things to take photos of. I was only left with myself. I took it as a challenge. I wanted to see how far I could go with just creativity and little ingredients to feed it (the skin of my bust, a white sheet behind me…). Sur/face is a play on word (sur=above).
Some people are very good at showing who they are in the outside, or at least that’s what they think. I’m not that kind of person. I don’t “wear” myself everyday. I wanted to pull something from within. I wanted to explore something deeper with this series, proposing something that the skin would hide.
Your series titled “Tea?” is so fantastical and so surreal. The images are literally out of this world. Can you tell us about this series?
I wanted another picture of my little sister to put in my book because I was no longer proud of the earliest images I took of her. And then it got out of control. I shot a dozen instead. I’ve been a Tim Burton and Henry Selick fan for a very long time and I felt like I was directing a stop motion movie too while creating all the sets. The photos are of course manipulated (my sister isn’t that small), but most of what composed these pictures was really just put together or created (some little details are obviously painted though). I had a lot of fun creating these images. It should be seen as a book. That’s why I don’t really like seeing these pictures outside the context of a book. Of course Alice in Wonderland is a big inspiration. I was a bit disappointed my Tim Burton’s adaptation of the tale. It missed the nonsense, the deconstructed storyline and the fun. Even the visuals were disappointing as he succumbed to computer animation instead of his famous visual tricks. I wanted something made of paper, something closer to Ed Wood’s work than Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland paradoxically. My parents love old things. I live in an old house with a lot of old things. It was also a childhood game of mine to give life to all the objects of my house. I also think that Arabic teapots (I’m half Moroccan) are a beautiful and funny object. They look like strange Steampunk machines or some kind of elephant gone wrong.
Your series titled Humans is a series of self-portraits described as “the tribes of Egos”. How did you enjoy creating these images? What was the inspiration behind it?
It’s the very first series I took in 2011. I’m representing a fight of egos that echoes colonization. I’m a child of colonization. My country, the country of my father colonized my mother’s own country. I’m from a mixed marriage and need to deploy different kind of cultural masks according to whom I’m with. I also shot this series at a special moment of my life, before entering the school I’m in now. I was trying to decide who I was and where I needed to go. I’m in a perpetual conflict. I have very harsh mood swings and I’m rarely the one who made decisions in my life as I can’t reach an agreement with myself. With these pictures I’m drawing a parallel between the diversity of our egos and the diversity of human civilizations, beyond the simple “race” glass (the word is impossible to use in French, as races don’t technically exist within the human species).
You have a book released titled “The Indigo Child”, how did it feel releasing your first book?
It’s self-published and I sold only a very few copies so it’s not a big thing. It’s an enhanced portfolio. But I was very proud of it. I kept the photos secret for 6 months until the book was released which helped me focus on why I was taking photos.. Obviously, it was not for an audience. I would like to create more pictures for a second book, this time I might/may try to get it published by an editor but I don’t have high hopes.
On the back of your book you have a review from Cindy Sherman that says “I’m not giving you my opinion on your stupid book, stop calling me in the middle of the fucking night or I will call the cops”. Did this really happen?
No, it didn’t happen, at least according to the conclusions of the lawsuit.
I usually disregard reviews on book, it’s always a bit arrogant, and a book of photos shouldn’t need ones (compared to a novel you’ll have to read before realizing it was bad).
Can we see a before/after of one of your photos?
My most edited photos are simply the ones with most painting on it so I can show you the “before” the painting but people shouldn’t expect the Photoshop actions that automatically paint whatever you want. Usually, my pictures don’t have a lot of layers, I tend to me more efficient in my editing and go directly to the point.
How did you learn your skills with Photoshop?
The same old trials and errors. Specially errors.
Any advice you can give us fellow photographers? 🙂
Avoid portfolio reviews!
Or even “constructive criticisms”. The artists are in charge and should only follow their plans. They are the ones who build, they don’t need guidelines from anyone else but themselves.For more information on Marwane you can visit his Website, Facebook page, and/or Twitter.Interviewed by Angela Butler