What makes Hélène Tchen’s photography so mesmerising is its commitment to the cinematic. “The lightning is very important for me to recreate the ideas I have, it’s at the centre of my inspiration,” she tells It’s Nice That. Across the Paris-based photographer’s portfolio, we see a consistent aesthetic that fully realises itself through expertly crafted lighting, shadow, and colour. Each shot feels vivid and alive. “I started with cinematographic studies to be a director of photography and started photographing with film at the time,” Hélène tells It’s Nice That. Such a background has surely informed Hélène’s artistic vision today, but the photographer also attributes her handle over the medium to much larger societal structures. “Whilst studying, I was learning about feminism and how it was indeed possible to be an artist who is a woman of colour,” she explains. “I was evolving at the time in a very masculine and misogynistic environment, and being able to create by myself was very freeing.” Now, Hélène’s work is distinctively hers, with calming palettes of pinks, yellows, and blues swirling around across her portfolio as if becoming a signature style for the young artist.
Noticeably, Hélène’s work also includes a lot of portraiture – dazzling viewers with a diverse array of women in different editorial modes. “When I started working in a photography studio, I realised how important it was to me to create with a diverse and inclusive casting,” she explains. “As a child of immigrants who grew up in Paris, I wanted to be able to create the representation I needed when I was younger.” Hélène attributes the various people and models she works with on a shoot as the reason why she keeps going, and what ultimately keeps her excited about her art. “When I shoot I like to be close to my models,” Hélène says. “It’s a sharing process to me where I like to let the person I shoot show me a part of themselves with no pressure.” In doing so, Hélène prides herself on taking a gentle approach to her projects, describing them as “soft and generous.”
Working with lighting and shadow comes as part of Hélène’s background in cinematography, and is what leads her to work with analogue film – “it’s an amazing way to recreate textures and lightning, and approach my models.” She’s inspired by the likes of Wong Kar Wai and manga, as well as 1970-90s science fiction aesthetics. “Fairies, elves, dreams… I have a style that is quite feminine and colourful, and I love everything kitsch.” Keeping her work colourful and emotional is important, whether it be in fashion editorials or portraits. But, it’s also the process of collaboration that Hélène believes helps a vision come to life. “I like to let the people I work with the space to create with me and propose what they want too.” It’s mainly the space of intimacy in a collaboration that Hélène finds so inspiring, especially with the models in her portraits. “I completely let the person show me who they are and how they want to be seen, to dress and makeup,” she says. “Being able to be in someone’s intimacy is something very special to me.”
Now, Hélène looks forward to creating bigger and better artworks for herself. “I have very colourful and extra tastes, I’m usually at 50 per cent of what I want to do,” she explains. “As a freelance artist you are on your own a lot on and the ideas can be too big for what you can achieve sometimes.” Coming out the other side of the pandemic, Hélène is more sure and headstrong in the direction she now wants to pursue. “It would be creating bigger fashion series and digging into the documentary projects I have,” she says. “And I would absolutely love to make books of my pictures and more exhibitions.”
Hélène Tchen: Valentine and Jeanne/ Nearer To Me (Copyright © Hélène Tchen, 2020)