ESTELLE HANANIA, The ambiguity of beauty

ESTELLE HANANIA, The ambiguity of beauty

Estelle Hanania is constantly playing with an intriguing ambiguity in her photos mixing de raw with the soft, the magic with the realistic, the ordinary with the extravagant.

She has won the photo prize at the Hyères Festival in 2006 and since then her work can be seen in the most renowned fashion magazines and prestigious clients such as Hermès have collaborated with her giving her carte blanche.

Graduated from the School of Fine Arts in Paris you won the photo prize at the Hyères Festival in 2006. Why did you finally choose photography as your means of expression?

During my studies of Applied Arts and at the School of Fine Arts I always used a lot photography. But the real turning point was when I meet the french photographer Camille Vivier. She’s a fantastic person and her fashion photography has something free and independent. Her work encouraged me to become a photographer without renouncing my artistic freedom and requirement.

I’m someone rather instinctive, my photos are some kind of visions of different shapes composed within a certain frame. I love the flatness of the light that was used in old Eastern European movies.
There is also the psychological dimension in my work. Who is the person that I’m shooting? What in particular do I want to reveal in my picture?

In your book “Glacial Jubilé” you’ve gathered 6 years of work focusing on Eastern European pagan cultures and winter rituals. What is so fascinating and interesting for you in those ancestral rituals?

I’m a huge fan of Folk Art, art made by self-taught artists or even untrained people. There is something very spontaneous in these kind of creations, something utilitarian, decorative, naive.
10 years ago I saw the exhibition ” L’Esprit de la Forêt” an there was this image of a mask in the catalogue that in particular intrigued me. I’ve made some research and I finally managed to find the tiny village in Switzerland where it came from. I decided to go there and take photos during their winter solstice celebration. Since then I haven’t stopped taking photos of these kind of winter rituals in Bulgaria, Austria, Switzerland, Basque Country.

“What is fascinating to me in this subject is that during this winter celebration ordinary people become performers, become somebody else, get out of themselves in order to come back calmer and purified.
It’s a kind of exorcism.”

However my photos are less precise than an anthropological research. I like to keep a certain kind of mystery.

Masks, costumes, drawings on bodies, painted faces are themes that are constantly returning in your work. In your book “Happy Purim” you’ve shot children dressed up in costumes celebrating this Jewish holiday.
Why this obsession for disguising, masking?

I’ve shot the “Happy Purim” series in Stamford Hill, an orthodox Jewish headquarter in the North of London. I’ve been there several times to take photos of those kids celebrating “Purim” and dressing up in the weirdest costumes.

These photos combine not only my fascination for masking, disguising yourself, to get out of yourself, but also the “siblings” theme, my other subject that I’m fascinated about.
I have a twin sister, so there is also a very personal approach and background behind my fascination for sisters and brothers who look the same and dress the same. This kind of resemblance can be perceived as something creepy or as something funny, depending on the each person’s personal perception.

Besides your anthropological approach in your photography, you’re working also on fashion shoots for magazines such as M magazine, Another Magazine, Wallstreet Journal, Pop, Dazed and Confused or clients such as Martin Margiela, Miyake or Hermès. Does fashion inspire you?

With my sister Marion, we were always interested in fashion. We bought all the fashion magazines and knew everything about every designer and fashion photographer.
Our mother was drawing and painting a lot, and transmitted us this passion for art and being creative. My grand-mother was sewing a lot and passed us on her love for doing manual work.

“To me fashion is something very inspiring, clothes and accessories are like objects. It allows you to create characters, tell a story.”

I’m also interested in the human body and the way it can be presented. So fashion photography is a great opportunity to express all this.

Do you prefer to work alone or do you like to collaborate with other artists and blend different means of artistic expressions? A good example for pushing the boundaries was your collaboration with the French artist Christophe Brunnquell.

I love to work with Christophe. We’ve met in Berlin and have organized a working session together for the magazine “Sang Bleu” casting several dancers. During 8 or 9 hours we were improvising and creating.

“Collaborating with Christophe Brunnquell is extraordinary, almost like a performance.”

It’s a fusion of his work and my work, leaving behind all the constraints of our usual creative process and creating something new together, without knowing which result we’ll achieve. He is constantly pushing the limits, breaking boundaries, I’m more attentive, focused on the model that I’m shooting.

But there are also other artiste that I admire and that I’d Iike to collaborate with such as the Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmajer, the artist Corentin Grossmann or the florist Thierry Boutemy.

You’re constantly playing with a certain kind of ambiguity in your photos which creates a very strong and intriguing ambiance and can sometimes be also even quite disturbing. Is this the feeling that you’re trying to evoke with your work?

I aways hated being categorized, the blond, sweet, gentle girl. We all have also our dark side. Even though we represent a certain image on the outside, there is so much more behind.

“In my photos of the winter solstice rituals I show this dark side that in the end leads to purification, to cleansing your spirit.”

Are there any films from your childhood that have influenced your artistic vision?

There are many, “The Wizard of Oz”, “Sound Of Music”, “The Never-ending Story”.

In “The Sound Of Music” I like the story around the siblings that dress the same.

In “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Never-ending Story” both stories start in an ordinary world and suddenly at one point switch into a strange and fantastical world.

That’s what I also try to obtain in my photos. So these films have definitely influenced my work.

What comes to your mind when you think about Iran?

I think of my friend Payam and his art collective “Slavs and Tatars”. He introduced me to Iranian culture.

All photos by Estelle Hanania
Text: Anahita Vessier
Translation: Anahita Vessier

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CAMILLE VIVIER, Surrealism and erotic tension

CAMILLE VIVIER, Surrealism and erotic tension

Camille Vivier’s photos carry you away to a world of romantic surrealism, a melancholic reverie mysteriously and softly blurred. Her free-spirit and sensuality in her artistic univers are intriguing and seductive.

Her photos can be seen in the most prestigious fashion magazines and galleries. She’s also working on music projects, shooting recently the portrait of Dita van Teese and Sebastian Tellier for the cover of their album.

The female body, its sensuality, its eroticism, its diversity are very important issues in your work. What is for you the definition of beauty?

I’m very sensitive to the poetry of beauty. The body is a very classical subject. In my work I question the definition of the word « beauty », of how it is perceived by history of art and also by society.

“In my photos there is of course an aesthetic research but I want that my vision of what is beautiful is above all a subjectif and open suggestion without imposing a definition of beauty.”

This vision can even appear awkward or bizarre. But I really like to go sometimes towards something more odd that might even create some discomfort.

I’m a woman who takes photos of women, expressing eroticism in a total different way than a man would do. I show it in a more abstract way.

Do you like to control and direct a photo shooting or do you prefer to go with the flow and give chance to « accidents » ?

I’m not directive, I let things happen in a climate of confidence.

“In moments of uncertainty and non-control, a lot of interesting accidents can happen.”

However before starting a shooting I already think of the picture and I prepare the references especially for the light which is very important element in my photos.

In your work you play a lot with contrasts, juxtaposing the rough with the smooth, the animated with the inanimate. What is so fascinating for you in the association of two things totally different from each other?

The disturbing bizarreness of the inanimate has always fascinated me.

I love playing with contrasts, bringing together shapes and worlds that are totally different from each other in order to stimulate and create a dialogue between these two objects, like for example a woman’s naked body lying on a sculpture made out of concrete.

This work consists of building a vocabulary between two elements that then communicate with each other.

Beside your personal projects you collaborate regularly with internationally renowned fashion magazines and brands such as Isabel Marant, Stella McCartney, Martin Margiela. Hermès has given you carte blanche for a short movie.

Is there a photographer who you admire and his artistic approach of photographing fashion?

I still remember, it was in the 90s, I was working as an editorial assistant for Purple Magazine when this book of Wolfgang Tillmans came out.

“Tillmans’s vision totally blew me away! I discovered in his photos a complete freedom, an artistic expression that opened my mind, that encouraged me to take pictures, that helped me to overcome my difficult relationship with fashion and the way it was usually presented at that time. His way of showing fashion was more accessible, more spontaneous, free, less glamorous and sleek.”

I love Man Ray’s work too. He was working for fashion but was also working a lot on personal projects involving his recurring codes and themes.

He had taste for objects and for the association of different elements.

My relationship with fashion was not always very simple, but after all these years I have gained confidence as an artist that allowed me to finally impose my vision of fashion, a point of view that is influenced by my personal work. I don’t feel obliged anymore to photographe fashion in a certain way.

In your photos you can feel a kind of romanticism, a softly blurred reverie. Is there a particular source of inspiration?

“I love scenes where you’re carried towards something completely phantasmagoric, scenes that seem distant with this certain dramatic quality even though you can still perceive some fine traces of reality.”

I’m very inspired by classical art. I love the Dutch painters and the way they expressed light and shadow.

I also love to read and dive into an imaginary landscape.
I had a period where I was reading a lot of novels of the french writer André Pierre de Mandiargues. In his books there is this erotic tension set in a surreal universe.

What comes to your mind when you think of Iran?

The contrast between the past and the present.

All photos by Camille Vivier
Text: Anahita Vessier
Translation: Anahita Vessier

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