By Quentin Petit. Photos courtesy of Patrick Ibanez.
I recently met with famed fashion photographer Patrick Ibanez in a Brooklyn coffee shop; his daughter attends a school nearby. As soon as we sat down, Patrick showed me two photographs of butter he took earlier that morning.
“Which one is your favorite?” he asked.
“The second one,” I said.
“And why the second one?”
“I don’t know, because of the way it’s lighted.”
“Exactly, because of the way it’s lighted.”
Then he said, “did you know that the word ‘photography’ comes from two ancient Greek words: photo, for ‘light’ and graph for ‘drawing’ which translates to drawing with light.”
Patrick Ibanez, fashion photographer?
I prefer just “photographer.” You know, my biggest gripe is that today’s photographers are categorized. You are not a fashion photographer, a wildlife photographer or whatever—you’re just a photographer.
So why did you choose fashion photography?
When I was a kid, my parents had a restaurant in Paris; just across the street was Robert Laffont, a publishing house. The director always ate his lunch at our restaurant. One day, I asked him, “How can I create my own photography book?”
“Listen,” he said, “first you should become a student/assistant, then produce images and make a name for yourself.”
You assisted Guy Bourdin; how was it to work with him?
First, I would like for people who didn’t know him to stop propagating false information about him. I can’t stand all the stupid things I hear about him.
Guy could be hard to work with, but he was human… He would have been a painter if he hadn’t been a photographer. He loved painting and painted on the side. He would censor himself—he didn’t like faces or hands on his canvas—but that gave a strength to his paintings, a unique touch, I told him many times. When it came to his photography, he really went all the way and focused on suggestiveness. There’s never any vulgarity in his images—you either get it or you don’t.
Guy worked on his own, clients gave him carte blanche. For example, for the Charles Jourdan’s campaigns, such a collaboration between a client and a photographer never existed at this level of creativity. He would just go with a stylist, makeup artist, hair stylist and models—no art director, no client. He would come back a couple of months later with images. Leaving him alone was the best way to get amazing images from him… He really had his own visual world, like Richard Avedon or Irving Penn did.
During my early days, I really wanted to work with him. It was almost an obsession. One day, I talked with a hair stylist friend who worked with Guy, telling him about my dream of working with him. He asked me, “Are you sure?” and he called Guy in front of me to tell him that I was interested in assisting him. Guy said he wanted to take a break so timing was not on my side, but he sent me to Vogue studios.
I called Vogue the morning after—I remember it was the time of the collections, the fashion shows. Lucky me, I talked to Jocelyn Kargere, the art director. He said, “Can you come tomorrow morning at nine a.m.?” In fact, they did not need anyone in the studio but someone at the graphic design department. I accepted and I worked there for three years; after working on layout with Guy’s pictures, the desire to assist him became even stronger. One day, Guy needed a new assistant. I heard about it and I asked Guy directly if I could be his assistant. I worked with him for four years straight.
Is it difficult to find your own style after four years of working with such an important photographer?
Obviously, when you leave and try to stand on your own feet, you mainly reproduce the same pictures. When you’re finally working for yourself, you think you can revolutionize the whole world because you assisted a great photographer. But no one needs a second Guy Bourdin. Somehow, I had to destroy my work, because what I was doing looked like Bourdin’s work but it was not as good. Paradoxically, I had to unlearn what I had learned.
Why did you come to the U.S.?
It’s pretty simple, I believe in the French expression that says, “Travels broaden the mind!”
The long answer is that, I came here to find my style. In France, my career took off when I shot an ad campaign for Kodak. My image was plastered all over Paris next to Jean-Baptiste Mondino and Stéphane Sednaoui. All of a sudden, every advertising agency wanted me to work with them. In just one day, I went from an unknown to a photographer who did not stop working. But what was I doing? I was reproducing the creations of art directors and copywriters. I wasn’t creating anything. I was just making money. I had no time to produce my own images, which was very frustrating. Finally, I decided to stop working in advertising, and in 1996 I moved to New York.
I had always wanted to be an editorial photographer so I did a lot of research, and I found myself inspired not by photographers but by painters and illustrators like Norman Rockwell and Tanino Liberatore. I had an epiphany and created a technique that put me in the map. I used Photoshop to destroy my photos, dramatize the sharpness and enhance the contrast. It resulted in surreal photos where the photographic aspect had almost disappeared, giving way to an illustrative feel. As soon as I was published in Manhattan File this technique accelerated my editorial career forward; I worked for French Vogue, The Face, Vanity Fair, Citizen K, Visionaire and V, among others. This process has been used extensively since then by other photographers, so I dropped it.
Do you feel there’s a difference between European audiences vs. the American one?
The American public is completely different from the European public—although you don’t feel it so much in New York since this is not the most typical American city. If you travel in the U.S., you can see how much more conservative they are. It’s easier to shock Americans than Europeans. Once, while working with Helmut Newton, he told me how much he loved to work with major American magazines, because he enjoyed provoking so much.
I asked you earlier why did you choose fashion photography and not animal photography for example. It’s pretty funny because I noticed that all your fashion photographs have an animal aspect. All your models are very feline. Is it something that you’re looking for?
I always try to highlight wildness in my models; I find it beautiful, and people too often forget that we’re “educated” animals. I think there must be honesty in photography, and I think the animal and wild aspect show it. Moreover, I don’t even control this anymore—I shoot with my instincts. Photography is all about your eye—choose ten photographers to shoot the same subject, and you’ll have ten different images. Everyone has their own eye and therefore their own photos. If your eye sees the same thing, you’re just copying—and it shows, as copies are lesser than the originals.
WHAT’S COMING UP FOR PATRICK?
Patrick just shot for SPashion Men (issue #2), a new magazine about high-end sport clothes and fashion spearheaded by fellow photographer and publisher Michel Haddi. Patrick continues to shoot fashion as he’s also working on several projects. Stay tuned!