I asked acclaimed poet (and sometimes photographer) Stephen Perry, author of Questions About God, to do a guest post for us about Pierre Beteille. Beteille is an artist, quite an unusual one, who manipulates photos and arrives at some extraordinary images. I know zero about digital photography (I only know what I like), and I wouldn't have known where to begin interviewing him.
Pierre Beteille is a French photographer whose work everyone with a brain should become acquainted with. His work can be found at PierreBeteille.com. Beteille generously answered my questions when I sought him out.
Stephen Perry Q #1: Your photo montages are beautifully funny. Are you funny outside of your photos? Can you be “the life of the party”?
Am I funny outside of my photos? I don’t really know. You’d have to ask my friends. I don’t really think that people see me as a funny guy, but I hope that I have a good sense of humor. For me, the humor is absolutely necessary to bear the world in which we live and to bear oneself. Humor is perhaps what is most lacking in the field of art where people are often desperately serious.
In any case, one thing is sure, I’m not the life of the party, because I don’t go to parties. I don’t like crowds, I don’t like ceremonies, I don’t go to openings, weddings, anniversaries, and I don’t like to get myself noticed. I’m rather a shy person.
Q #2: In posts online, I’ve noticed people talking about the vibrant humor of your photos, but few, if any, notice the horror. To my knowledge, in your self-portraits, there’s not one of you smiling (well, with the possible exception of the businessman pouring rice out of a red purse —but that’s not really a smile, is it?). Has anybody else commented on the unease you use as a primer for your humor? Does emotion, both positive and negative, actually give you ideas for some of your photos?
You’re right, I do not smile in my pictures. This is probably because I do not have a very optimistic vision of the world, and perhaps also because the smile is a difficult thing to simulate when shooting alone 50 or 60 shots for a photo.
I don’t really know what kind of comments people make about my photos. I never talk about my work with them, but actually I do not think they talk a lot about this thing you call unease. Of course I occasionally get some comments from people who find what I do funny but a little too “dark.” But generally most of them focus on my postproduction work and my use of Photoshop. For me, these “technical” things have no interest.
I can’t really say that emotions, both positive and negative, give me ideas for my photos. Of course, I deal with subjects that are important to me (like speculation, pollution, etc.), but I try to offer a vision that is not too personal. I try to be more distanced, more allusive, to allow more room for individual interpretation.
Q #3: Do you have a complete image in your head of what you want to do before you start work in Photoshop? If so, does the original idea change along the way? Does a placement of one element of the picture alter or give you ideas for other elements to come?
Yes, I have a complete image of what I want before working in Photoshop, but above all, before shooting. I even make drawings in a small notebook when I have an idea. I don’t remember that an original idea ever changed along the way.
Q #4: Have you ever had an idea for a photo montage which you found impossible to do?
First of all, I do not think about my pictures in terms of photo montages. I first get an idea, then I try to visualize it. When the image is clear in my head, I search the best way to achieve it. If I have to make a photomontage, I do. But if I can avoid it, I prefer not to. When I use the photomontage technique, I only use, of course, photos that I have taken myself.
So, of course, many of my ideas have been so far impossible to achieve. But this is not because they are too difficult to do. This is because I need accessories or special sets or even characters that I don’t have.
Q #5: You’re very modest about your Photoshop abilities, but you’re obviously very good. Some folks seem to think you have Occult Secret Knowledge and pester you to reveal it. May I ask for more simple advice? Your images often have portraits where the people seem to be real yet slightly beyond real. Hyper-real. In your sarcastic photos, it can even feel “artificial”—human but with a touch of mannequin. Is this your own version of HDR [High Dynamic Range imaging—multiple exposures of the same scene are layered and merged using image editing software like Photomatix Pro]? Is it a combination of many small manipulations? Is there one Photoshop tool that takes you closer to this effect?
No secret knowledge, no plug-ins, no effects, in fact no secret except working many, many hours on each image. I don’t use and I don’t like HDR; it’s too aleatory [unpredictable] and you don’t control enough of what you do. In addition, I think that all HDR images look the same. I have no special workflow. The only thing common to all my images is that I work with a tablet and I spend hours painting on layers to increase a shadow, enhance details, modify colors and shapes, and so on.
Q #6: What photo software or plug-ins do you use other than Photoshop?
I shoot RAW with a Canon 5D mark II, I first process my images in Lightroom, to adjust lights, contrast, colors. Then I switch to Photoshop. And that’s all. No plug-ins, no other software.
Guest poster Stephen Perry adds: "Unlike Pierre, I am partial to photo montages (many of these appear in the ebook version of my collection of poems and photos, Questions About God. The chanciness factor of filters and HDR also intrigue me, since I delight in the unexpected and strange. I do share, however, Pierre Beteille’s mad sense of humor."
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