Lydia Metral’s photo series Les Insouciants celebrates those who refuse to conform
The series – which translates to ‘The Reckless’ – is born out of the photographer’s desire to “create visual stories more in line with my idea of life”.
- Olivia Hingley
- 6 May 2022
“I’ve always felt that I was different, that something was ‘wrong’ with me,” begins the photographer Lydia Metral. “I would never identify with society, the way society wants you to express your femininity or your gender representation.” It was this very feeling – one of not fitting in and not ascribing to society strict limitations – that led Lydia to create her photo series Les insouciants. Endeavouring to document “young adults who feel different, who don’t fit the standards of society who try and escape the established norms”, Lydia reckoned with her own complex relationship with identity by portraying those who felt the same way.
Born and raised in Grenoble, France, Lydia recalls being surrounded by various forms of imagery from a very young age; her father and grandparents are lovers of photography and exposed her to comics, anime, TV and cinema. She swayed towards photography, beginning by taking photos of friends. Photography never began as something “creative or aesthetic” for Lydia, but instead offered “a way to record memories of my everyday life”.
It was only in the early 2010s, at the age of 25, that Lydia solidified her photographic practice. Having studied economics and business management, and working in a closely related company, Lydia found herself suffering from depression and constantly “thinking about escaping by creating visual stories more in line with my idea of life”. As a result, she took theatre classes which the photographer describes as “a cathartic experience”, and a time when she began to better understand herself. With storytelling beginning to take over her life, she started to take photos of young actors and document her relationship with her ex girlfriend, the person she has to thank for pushing her to become a photographer – she introduced her to Nan Goldin, the photographer’s most central influence.
While working on the series, Lydia strictly set herself the task of only working in analogue – a method she adopted to help her focus and avoid getting distracted by screens. “In fact,” Lydia ponders, “I take less photos than I would in digital but I’m much more careful with the details and make sure I really connect with my models." She takes photos of her models at eye level and uses mostly 50mm lenses – chosen for the ability to “take intimate photos without being invasive”, which is an element of connection that Lydia explains is essential. Moreover, she documents people in their spaces of comfort – primarily their homes – and her models are put at ease, which is of utmost importance to Lydia’s work. “I try to take care of them as much as possible, also taking care of the way I represent them.”
This considerate approach shines through in her portrait of Virgina, one of her favourite portraits from the series. Staring directly at the camera, topless, covering her breasts, and placed against the blurred backdrop of trees and greenery, the image withholds a powerful and beautiful intensity. Lydia explains the power of the photo to be embedded in Virginia’s generosity and by her “sharing so much”. On one evening, for example, Virginia invited Lydia home for dinner with her mother after the shoot. The moment was “so warm and welcoming,” says the photographer. “I love when I don’t just go to a photoshoot to take pictures but actually spend some time with my models.”
One thing the photographer is also keen to express is how much she herself has learnt about her own community through the project. “I’ve become less ignorant,” she says, “because even though you are part of a community, sometimes your perception is very shortsighted and it’s always good to have new perspectives.” And, through this, Lydia has realised how important it is to platform the oppressed, to counter narratives and false impressions that still so regularly work against and damage such communities. “I feel extremely proud to have built this piece of work,” Lydia concludes, “to show these beautiful people, empower them, give them a voice and give them a space.”
GalleryLydia Metral: Les Insouciants (Copyright © Lydia Metral, 2021)
Lydia Metral: Les Insouciants (Copyright © Lydia Metral, 2021)
About the Author
Olivia (she/her) 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.