«I wanted to do something immediate, slightly dreamy. A book in the spirit of James Dean». An ode to French cinema nonchalance and frivolity revealing how photography complements cinema
Sam Marie-Saint: It is a love letter to French and Italian cinema. There is this feeling of hope one gets from films of that era, something comforting. They afford an escape, a sort of safe place one can enter and dream for a short time. I wanted to do something immediate, slightly dreamy. A book in the spirit of James Dean. The day Damiani offered me the contract, I was visiting James Dean’s resting place in his hometown of Fairmount, Indiana. I used a variety of 35 mm and medium format films, Kodak Tri-X for black and white and Kodak Portra 400 for color. Much of the book was shot with 35mm film because the images required a relaxed feel, and this format allows for more freedom and movement. Otherwise, I used medium format film for some of the more static work. I have since dropped Kodak Tri-X after years of use in favor of Ilford black and white films.
Ibrahim Kombarij: Sodapop uses a palette of colors as tools to set the atmosphere.
SMS: I use primary colors in my work, mostly red and yellow. The former tends to contrast black and white. I started working with color more after the book was finished. I narrowed it down into scenes. As simple as it sounds, it takes time to understand your color palette and how to make it work for you.
IK: Your subjects in Sodapop seem to carry elements of nonchalance and frivolity.
SMS: My sets are pretty lighthearted, and they have that nonchalant feel. I prefer small teams for personal shoots. Most subjects I cast tend to have an idea of what mood to bring to shoots based on my work. They do their homework: it is not enough to show up, not knowing what to expect.
IK: Godard said: ‘Photography is the truth and cinema is twenty-four times the truth per second’.
SMS: They are both instrumental in the creation of iconography. The photographs of James Dean by Dennis Stock were just as instrumental in immortalizing him as his films did cinematically. The movies alone could not have achieved that: this was the whole point of Fashion photography once upon a time, to create a way of being. It has now become about product placement. Garry Winogrand, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Fred Herzog, Lartigue, Dennis Stock’s work with James Dean. The work of Joseph Koudelka in Prague, Bruno Barbey in Paris, both in 1968 are inspiring. Some current photographers are doing work that I can relate with, like Gavin Watson, who also has a book out published by Damiani.
IK: It seems like Sodapop has a movie-like narrative. It reminds us of ‘400 Blows’ (1959) by Truffaut with the protagonist’s rebellious spirit shining through.
SMS: Breathless by Jean-Luc Godard has that nonchalant, mood, and an aesthetic that was touched on earlier. Federico Fellini and Michelangelo Antonioni are an influence. The aesthetics of La Dolce Vita made an impression on me when I was young: I wanted to be Marcello Mastroianni. Or Alain Delon. It was not just the stories but the characters who populated the frames: Anna Karina, James Dean, Jean Seberg, and Jean-Paul Belmondo. The early films of Gus Van Sant: Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho, River Phoenix, and Matt Dillon in those films. They created unforgettable personalities.
IK: Where would you go for frivolous 400’ Blows adventures in New York?
SMS: Once upon a time, Bushwick in Brooklyn. There are still pockets of it here and there; it manifests itself in small scenes. New York resembles more of a modern Midwest city today. The people who could not live in New York ten years ago love it today. They no longer arrive to become part of its culture; they instead expect New York to cater to their sensibilities, which is why New York has become a conservative town – not in terms of political affiliation. The place affects how I approach everything and what I shoot. New York is rougher and more industrial, whereas Paris sings an entirely different tune. New York is Charlie Parker, whereas Paris is Anna Karina. They have different souls.
«The one shoot I remember fondly was this simple test shoot in Paris back in 2007. The model embodied the Parisian woman with a sort of detached elegance. She arrived ready to shoot, in fishnets, heels, and faux fur. We just ran out and took pictures all around the city, in phone booths, laundromats, by the river. The atmosphere in the city was charged with all the nostalgic goodness one could imagine from such a description. We were characters in a black and white film, taking pictures, laughing at everything, and just being in the moment. It was my last day in Paris, too, on that particular trip».
«At an early age, I was interested in landscape photography. Then I started shooting fashion. Young photographers should take the time to develop their style and not rush into this: it is a marathon, not a sprint. Most of the photographers who started shooting fashion around the time I did have now left the industry because they were more interested in who they were shooting for than what they were shooting. Do not worry about rejections, not everyone needs to love your work. Put yourself out there and do not fall in love with your own legend because of a couple of social media likes and comments. Learn to say ‘no’ when you feel you are being taken advantage of and know your worth. They never ‘amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world’».
Sam Marie-Saint, Sodapop