Happy campers! Francois Prost photographs France’s dedicated camping community

“A bit like a music festival with a different community”: the Paris-based photographer on how his love of camping and all its quirks influenced the Van Life project.

Date
1 September 2022

Camping isn’t for everyone. But for some it’s a passion, pastime and way of holidaying that defines their summer months. It’s these happy campers – specifically the ones who are dedicated enough to have their own caravans – that photographer Francois Prost has captured in his most recent series Van Life.

It’s for the very reasons many may veer away from the camping lifestyle that Francois professes to love it. “I like the proximity between people at campsites,” he begins, “you live in a very tiny space, you go and brush your teeth in flip flops and then you wash your dishes in front of a person you will probably never meet again. It’s a bit like going to a music festival, but with a completely different community.” This sense of proximity was important for Francois to convey in the series, especially the confined spaces of peoples' caravans. So, he took the photographs with his subjects framed in their doorways – some crouching below the low frame, some stepping out – with a flash that gives a very paparazzi-esque look.

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Francois Prost: Van Life (Copyright © Francois Prost, 2022)

This aesthetic approach is one we’ve seen before in his series Champs Élysées, which snapped tourists as they came off coaches in hot-spots around Paris. “Van Life uses the same recipe,” Fancois says, “but instead of being plunged into the universe of tourism and big camera lenses, we’re entering the world of caravans, plastic Birkenstocks and apéros.”

In the few years between these two projects (primarily because of the pandemic), not much has changed in Francois’ personal life – he still lives in the same flat in Paris with his wife and two children. However, in his professional life, things have seen a major shift having quit his job as an integrated designer and art director to become a freelance photographer. Initially over the pandemic, things were a little “up and down". But, everything finally started looking up; alongside his personal projects, Francois has now shot two commercial campaigns with Balenciaga, exhibited at an art gallery in Paris and published his third monograph.

Through the Van Life project, though, Francois met some pretty interesting people, made all the more endearing by their love of camping. Discussing some of the stand-out images, he cites his picture of Luc in Bretagne. Coming out of his caravan clad in only a pair of speedos and with a golden, sun-kissed glow, he exudes what Francois calls the “David Hasselhoff touch”. On the other hand, the picture of Nono – also in Bretagne – is full of excitement and energy. Almost seeming to leap out of his caravan, with his fingers held in a victory sign and a grin on his face, Francois tells us he had been coming to that exact campsite every summer for the past 25 years. “He looks like a film character to me,” Francois adds.

But with the intimacy of the campsite and the conversations Francois started with so many people, he also found himself forging some quite deep connections and friendships. For example, the image of Marylene in Rhone-Alpes, sporting a colourful bikini with a bottle of wine, shows her just before her and her husband were about to have apéro – a custom in France whereby drinks and snacks are shared in the early evening. “I got invited for apéro and a chat after taking pictures a lot,” Francois explains. “Whenever you take their portrait, you’re already in their intimate space, especially when it’s hot and they’re in a swimsuit; it opens up the communication.” Humorous and heartwarming in equal measure, the Van Life series feels like the perfect end to a summer of fun.

GalleryFrancois Prost: Van Life (Copyright © Francois Prost, 2022)

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Francois Prost: Van Life (Copyright © Francois Prost, 2022)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

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