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Work / Photography

ECAL grad Jean-Vincent Simonet’s “totally twisted” image-making

Where most photographers search for definition through their method, Jean-Vincent Simonet feeds the intersection where digital and analogue blur. The result? Portraits and still lifes made dizzyingly artificial via an arsenal of post-production techniques.

Since graduating from ECAL in 2014, the photographer has embodied the school’s experimental approach, harnessing the web of possibilities beyond his graduation and into the present day.

In the three years since, Jean-Vincent has filled countless magazine pages — this year alone, he has secured commissions in L’Officiel, Interview Germany, KingKong Digital, BON magazine and Bolero Magazine. His images have been exhibited across Europe in galleries from Paris to Krakow and everywhere in between.

We caught up with the photographer to discover a little more about his ”geek side”.

You studied at ECAL — what did you learn there, and how it has impacted on your work?

I graduated from ECAL in 2014 with a Bachelor in photography. Those four years in Lausanne were very important to me. I learned every kind of technique, from traditional darkroom printing to digital retouch and manipulation. The wide range of teachers and lecturers also bring different visions from fashion to contemporary art, it really opens your mind and possibilities. The school is known internationally and gives each student a great exposure at the end of the cursus. I had my first solo show in FOAM (Amsterdam) thanks to my diploma work Maldoror I realised during my last year of studies. Finally the network of the school is really strong. I am currently working with a lot of ECAL’s alumni in different fields from art direction to graphic design.

What’s your process? How do you come up with the subject for a series?

There is a kind of schizophrenia in my practice. I try to juggle between commissioned work and personal practice. With commission, there is always a collaboration, it could be an art director, a stylist or whatever. Maybe it’s because I am a young photographer but I would be up to do some culinary photography if the concept and the team seem interesting. I am ok with feeling like a tool (a really weird one) in the hands of a passionate team: everything is about sharing ideas. But after a few months doing commissions, I get crazy and I need to do things by myself. In this case, there is no rules, even if my last personal project were linked to different travels in particular cities like Cairo or Tokyo. Most of the personal work that I do is based on personal feelings, in a romantic way. For example I graduated with a project on a book called Les Chants de Maldoror (1869), I felt directly attracted by the dark and transgressive mood, and I decided to work on it for almost a year, it was really spontaneous. After this emotional encounter I started thinking with a bit more of logic and tried to understand, organise and contextualise my thinking to produce something that is (not fully) understandable by others. And I guess it will be the same for my next project taking place in Tokyo and also about literature. We can establish some links into my whole body of work. Keywords like chaos, psychedelia, memories and a huge attraction for getting away from reality.

And how do you go about image-making? You use so many disparate post-production techniques…

Yes, there is a lot of post production, I use every kind of software from the traditional Photoshop to some weird iPhone apps, I also collaborate with people when I don’t have the skills – 3D software for example. But I quickly realised that something is missing when I only use digital technics. So I also print, tear, paint, re-photograph… My father runs a printing company so I have always been familiar to play with paper. Actually, I am right now in the process of hacking some inkjet printers to obtain a new kind of imagery. It takes a lot of time and mistakes before getting to an interesting result but I also like this phase of research. Playing with a lot of different techniques gives me a wide spectrum of typologies. It is important for me to go as far as possible from the traditional use of the medium.

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What excites you most about photography?

I guess photography fulfills me in two different ways. My geek side is always interested into photographic technology. Cameras are like toys, I use all of them from iPhone to 20×25inches. Also the chemistry part of the darkroom excites me a lot, I feel like a middle age alchemist working in the dark. On the other hand, I try to get out of the studio as much as possible, going to strange places, meeting people and breaking the everyday is mandatory if I want to feel connected to my work. Finally, I think that every photographic situation can be represented at its best or totally twisted by the camera that you use. It makes me feel that even if photography is not the result of the hand like painting could be, I can still get the sensation of it.

Where do you turn when you run out of ideas?

I guess you can’t really search for ideas. They are coming when you walk in the street or when you are stuck in traffic jam not while searching some reference in books or internet. Sometimes I get overexcited and overprotective for a week 18 hours a day. Sometimes I just can walk in circle in my studio chain-smoking. I haven’t found the magic recipe yet..,

Among your most recent projects, what have you been working on recently?

To drift a bit from magazine, book and exhibitions, I started to animate my pictures and to perform some kind of live performance with friends. I did one during Photo London 2016 at Tate and in Corsica Studio in London with Charlotte Krieger (who also graduated from ECAL) curated by Bruno Ceschel from Self Publish Be Happy. We also did a big installation during Les Rencontres d’Arles closing party last July. I will try to push it further next autumn in Amsterdam with the support of FOAM museum.

Finally, what would you like to work on next?

There is this cycle of experimental printing I mentioned before that I would like to apply to editorial and fashion collaborations. I am also currently working on two books. One, almost finished, is a big personal diary made in several cities like Rio de Janeiro, only personal and intimate pictures edited by hand and re-photographed. The other one is taking place in Tokyo and explores psychedelia and youth in the city. I spent three months in Japan last winter and I am traveling back there for a month before the end of the year to finish the project. I hope to get the book published in 2018.

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