Jun 11, 2013

Phlearn Interviews Pierre Beteille

Neither artist nor a photographer Pierre Beteille defines himself as an “image maker”. After working for radio and tv shows, music production, and web and art direction, this French native of Toulouse, now focuses on his two passions: photography and photo retouching. He is currently working part time as an art director so there is time to do personal shoots, however, he does find himself busy with commissioned works quite often.

His series of self-portraits is a huge international success on the internet, which is no surprise because he is truly a master at creating them. A mix of denunciation, humor, and self-mockery makes for one heck of a series of self-portraits. (Excerpts taken from Mélanie Geelkens / Talk Magazine)

Pierre is a modest man, and I don’t think he truly knows how amazing his work is! He’s been recognized for his work in countless articles and magazines, not to mention his exhibition in 2011 at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles.
There’s a great interview ahead, with many “before and after” images to keep your mind boggled. Enjoy!

I’ve heard you prefer to go by the name Monkey Man. Where does this nickname come from? (ha ha ?)

No, I don’t use this Nickname anymore… It was an old Nickname I was using a few years ago in a blog. I kept it later when I published my first images on But when I started to make self-portraits I thought it was stupid and decided to not use the nickname anymore.

For the last 8 years you’ve been an art director.
How has your experience as an art director affected the way you see things?

Being an art director is not something I really like. I do this for a living, but if I made enough money with my photos I would stop immediately. I do not think this job has influenced my way of seeing things and I hope it did not. It’s a job with too many commercial constraints. You have to make so many compromises that it becomes very difficult to be creative. Unless you’re really famous (In this case clients leave you more freedom), which is not my case.

Where did your interest in photography come from?

As far as I remember I have always been interested in photography, but not only in photography. In fact I’ve always been interested in the image in all its forms, painting, graphics, photography… even TV and film.
When I was a little boy, I was already doing a lot of drawings, all the time. I also took pictures with my father’s camera. Later I studied fine art, drawing and painting. I also worked for television. There have always been pictures and images in my life, not only from photography.

When was the moment you decided to step down from your position as an art director, and do free lance photography full time?

I’m still an art director, but now I’m freelance and I only do this part time. This guarantees me a steady income that allows me to do photography for the remaining time.

What inspired you to begin taking self-portraits?

It was not really an inspiration. I just started doing it for fun. I wanted to test a lot of things; different ways of shooting, lighting, image editing, and I had no one on hand. And I did not want to annoy people with my experiments.

How do you manage to come up with such creative ideas in your photography, especially in your self-portraits?

I try to have original ideas, this is the longest part of my job and it takes me much longer to come up with the ideas than to achieve them. There are many great photographers who have already made thousands of images better than I would ever do. So if I have an idea and I realize it has already been done I forget it. I must be lucid, the only thing that can make a real difference between my work and the work of another photographer, is unfortunately not its quality but its originality.

What type of photography do you enjoy the most?

I enjoy almost exclusively portrait photography.

What is your creative process like?

In my pictures, the idea always comes first and then I look for a way to achieve it. I often make a sketch of the image I have in mind in order to try to be as faithful as possible during the shooting. But after that I do not have a particular method or workflow for the post-processing. It depends on what I want to do.

How long does it usually take you to create an image?

Usually the shooting takes about 2 hours and the editing is really very variable. Sometimes it’s pretty quick (about 4 or 5 hours) and other times it takes much longer (2 or 3 days)

Tell us about your series “Books”?

I read a lot, I love books, so I wanted to make pictures about books. I’m sorry but I don’t have much more to say about my photos. For me, photos are like jokes, if you have to explain them it means that they are not good.

What image from the series Books was your favorite (or most fun) to create?

“The War of the Worlds” (below, left), probably because it was the first of the series — I didn’t even know that it would become a series! It was difficult to make the smoke and the hole and I almost stopped, but finally, I became quite happy with the result. (I’m not anymore, after a few weeks or months, I don’t like my photos anymore).

What image of yours was the most frustrating to make? (For example, unexpected problems occurring with lighting, editing, etc)

Shooting young children is really difficult. Shooting 2 young children together is almost impossible. I had to use 7 different photos to achieve the final image. 3 photos just for the baby (1 for the head, 1 for the body, 1 for one hand). It took me 3 days (it was a commissioned work).

What is the average amount of layers on a PSD file?

That’s a strange question 😉 . One more time it’s very variable… I really don’t know what the average amount is. I would have to open a lot of source files to calculate it. I guess the minimum amount should be around twenty but as I work on a non-destructive way, I never merge my layers… so I often have more than 50 layers.

What image of yours are you most proud of?

Probably “Let’s Have Fun Speculating”.
Because the result is very close to the image I had in mind. And above all it has a meaning and it deals with a topic that is important to me.

How has the popularity of your images affected you and the way you work?

I will tell you once my images are popular :-).
Really, I don’t consider that my images are popular. I have little critical success on the internet from people who are interested in my photos or image manipulation, but it has nothing to do with popularity. In any case, it didn’t in any way affect the way I work.

What inspires you?

Everything : every day life, books, films, news, etc…

What are you currently working on?

Unfortunately, I’m currently too busy with commissioned works to work on personal projects and I will not have time to do so before summer. At this time, I write down all of my ideas in my notebook, and when there’s more free time I will choose one to execute.

What advice would you give to someone interested in creating self-portraits?

I’m not qualified to give any advice to anyone. But I can tell you what advices I try to follow: Don’t try to imitate anyone, think before you shoot, try to “say something”, and don’t take yourself to seriously.

What is your main goal as an “image creator”?

My main goal is to try to make images that make people laugh, cry, smile, grin, grind… to make images that people either love or hate (I don’t care), but not to make images that leave people indifferent… And I still have a lot of work to achieve that…< To keep up with Pierre and his work you can do so on his Website, Flickr, Google Plus, and/or Facebook Page.

Interviewed By: Angela Butler


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