Issue 19
Eric Guillemain
Eric Guillemain shares with us the most memorable, most special,
most touching moments throughout his six years as a photographer.
Eric Guillemain is an old friend of ours. We first met for The Vulnerability Issue for which he photographed and spoke of model Sofi Berelidze. The Frenchman not only delivered a strong sensual set of shots of Sofi but also penned a profound text on vulnerability that overwhelmed and opened us up to another mindset. “It has something to do with courage,” he wrote. “The courage to open up yourself to situations of everyday life whatever tough or disturbing they can be.”

Eric’s ambition was not always in photography. Before becoming the hotshot today, he was lead singer of the band “Venice”. Kickstarting his career is his first editorial in 2007 with model Ekat Kiseleva entitled “undisguised” for newwork magazine. This set of beautifully composed images playing delicately with light sounded our alarm seeking for talent. Today, his profile has bloomed impressively including shoots for magazines from Elle to Vs Magazine, and campaigns for brands like J.Lindeberg; working with models Karlie Kloss and Miranda Kerr, musicians Nick Cave and Lou Doillon, and stars Léa Seydoux and Rachel Weisz.

Over the years, Playing Fashion has kept in touch with Monsieur Guillemain. An exclusive interview appears in our Legends, Icons and Muses Issue in April 2011, where we discovered how muses, like Milla Jovovich, Elisa Sednaoui, Amanda Nørgaard, and Nanou Vandecruys, inspire him in different ways. This year, we are honoured with the opportunity to personally meet the man in Paris to oversee a shoot. Observing how serious he works to ensure everything goes smoothly, yet never communicating nervously or loudly when surprises arise, rather remaining composed and soft spoken, I could see how his simply stunning images come alive and understand the fast catapulting of his success. Today, we meet the phenomenally perceptive photographer, who once again strikes more than a line of thought in our heads.

I ACCIDENTALLY FELL FROM MUSIC INTO FASHION PHOTOGRAPHY as I could have fallen into gardening or sculpting maybe. Then I tried to adapt. Adjust my quest to the new medium. Practicing some art has always been a quest for me. My way to learn, understand and eventually transmit what life causes to me. Am I in for a mission? Am I in to structure myself correctly in order to fit some big and strange cosmic canvas or design? Or is everything just complete nonsense? Whatever I do. Every second I breathe, I am on that quest. So photography is just one more particular moment in between days when you need to refocus and see.

You open yourself in order to feel more vividly. But it is still a regular day. You photograph the same way as you would say hello to one of your good friend. Ultimately, it clarifies the quest. In the end, some say it is all about Love. Like in these lines from Rainer Maria Rilke: "For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been given to us, the ultimate, the final problem and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation."

WHAT FASCINATES ME ABOUT FASHION PHOTOGRAPHY? Shyness and loneliness are both part of my inner nature. I always felt them, but tried not to indulge too much in their patterns. So I had to open myself to other individuals. Trying to be less self-centred. Giving rather than taking and learn from others. I started as a singer performing in front of an audience and that's what I do now when I photograph strangers.

I go out of myself and meet the world. Photographing objects or passive subjects probably would have turned me into a total schizophrenic person. So, why particularly fashion portraits rather than classic ones or reportage? Obviously the fashion industry is overloaded with people that are obsessed by their egos and appearances and in this context, letting go of yourself and staying genuine is a tour de force. The ultimate challenge. And such an impossible one, it turns out to be heroic. And life is about heroism. At least that's how I apprehend it.

80% OF MY EXPERIENCE AS A PHOTOGRAPHER COMES FROM MY PAST ACTIVITY AS A SINGER. For example I had a slight tendency to be out of tune on certain moments of my songs. I kept that kind of flaws in my photography. I also used to sing with no echo, reverb, auto tunes or other effects. Once again I kept that in my photography. The other 20% of my experience comes from my time passed as an assistant with Peter Lindbergh. He never gave me a hard time and was always explaining and giving advices. I learned by his side that if you don't align your heart with what you see just right under your nose, you may get a pretty picture, but not a photograph.

WHO ARE MY MUSES? Suppose you are left in a dark forest at night and you need to find a way out. You are going to need infrared vision. This is what a muse offers you. The infrared vision so you can make it out of the darkness. I don't get along with all my muses long enough to be able to make it to the bright valley. I am still searching for the ONE. The gentle soul. So right now, she is kind of everywhere. It is an ideal I see in everyone of them.

WHEN YOU WORK WITH THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMEN, your vision I think becomes more accurate. As time goes by you can't be fooled, hypnotised or impassionate in front of their apparent beauty. But then suddenly you "feel" more. More subtle and rich. Less uniform. Once again it is less about just yourself and your feelings. It is about seeing your subject. And no more about "capturing" or "stealing" these women's beauty. I prefer to honour ladies rather than using them. I confess it may sound like old-fashioned chivalry, but this is my way.

MY LAST SHOOT TO DATE took place in St Petersburg at the Catherine Palace. I have a special tenderness for the city now. I went during the white nights. I walked a lot and got lost a few times. Something magical happened there, I still have to figure out what.

A PHOTO SHOOT MAKES BETTER SENSE AS A MEMORY. A photograph itself contains the idea of a memory. You don't cry often and are touched enough during the actual moment of the shoot. But when you remember, emotions are making their way. There is this one shoot though. It was a 3 minutes session in the makeup room with Léa Seydoux during an editorial for Numéro Tokyo. It was pictures I was shooting more for myself you know. During a break, Léa was looking at herself in the mirror deeply. Then she turned to me and looked at me with a tear in her eye. As the tear was rolling down her cheek, I snapped it in the most humble way.

A GREAT MOMENT OF ENERGY and fun was my last shoot with Milla Jovovich. She could have brought me the moon that day. She was all over. I also met with Jamie Bell for a shoot with Esquire in L.A.
He is such a nice and clever man. So cooperative, patient and super super talented. Truly one of my best moments.

I JUST PHOTOGRAPHED one of my heroes lately - Nick Cave. A 20 minutes shoot in L.A but wow, so intense. I am still dumbfounded having met him in the flesh!! Other than that, there are so many people who have inspired me all over the years, but none of them were really photographers. Except maybe Henri Cartier Bresson. But musicians or writers, philosophers, poets and other seekers. It's hard to mention names. Each one of them acts for specific moments of my life. Lately I was reading Herman Hesse again, the correspondence between Rilke, Paternak and Tsvetaeva. Listening to Nick Cave a LOT. And falling in love again with Agnes Varda's movie "Cléo de 5 à 7"

THERE IS HARDLY A CHANCE FOR ME TO GET TIRED OF PHOTOGRAPHY as long as I consider myself as a beginner. Unless I accidentally fall into something else of course or pull back. Start the singing again.

Photography by Eric Guillemain.
Words by Carrie Lau