1-on-1 with: Wouter le Duc

Intrigued by Wouter le Duc’s light obsessed photography (which we posted about in October), we decided to reach out to the Utrecht based artist and asked him to participate in our 1-on-1 interview series…

What age did you pick up your first camera, and what got you hooked on photography?
Wouter: At the age of 16 I had the opportunity to do a photography course at school. I got a small analogue 35mm camera and a few rolls of black and white film to experiment with. Since I was involved in the local music scene I started photographing local bands. Besides photographing the music scene I also used the camera as a way to meet new people.

Being attracted by people on the periphery of society, I strolled through streets and parks to find these people. Whenever I saw a person who fascinated me, I walked up to them and started a conversation. After the conversation, which consisted of hearing extraordinary stories about their life most of the time, I took a portrait of that person.

After shooting for a few weeks I found a darkroom kit in a local thrift store. I set it up in my father’s basement and I was hooked from the moment I saw the magic of the photograph appearing on the paper.

Talk to us about your photography style, it’s very light-orientated. What’s your inspiration behind this visual style?
I am attracted to all aspects of light: the source, the shadows and the reflections. This translates into my fascination for art in which light is the main source of communication.

When thinking about the artists who inspired me with their use of light, two examples come to mind: The late Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi and the American artist James Turrell. Vilhelm Hammershøi spent his life painting interiors. The interiors he painted were pretty ordinary (for example the houses he lived in during his life), however, he spent years and years to get the light just right. Hammershøi used light in his paintings to convey his thoughts, James Turrell does not use paint, he uses the light itself.

I am mostly fascinated by his installations which show the sky. He shows us something we see every day (the sky) in a way we have never experienced it before. These two artists taught me that using light, of which the presence is so obvious we hardly notice it, can be a way to express your thoughts.

The ‘Landslide in my mind’ series were very dreamlike, how did you build those ‘sets’ and what was your idea behind those shots?
The starting point for this series came from a long time ago. In the winter of 2010 I set out to a vast forest in Sweden to spend some time by myself. Being in a cabin surrounded by trees and snow, I filled my days with thinking, writing and chopping wood. These days were very helpful to contemplate the past, but were also mentally exhausting.

Recently I found and reread the writings I made there. What I found was pretty melancholic, but my memories of that time had already transformed into something else. They were no longer memories of dark days in my life but they had become a very comforting, almost Utopian, set of memories. I felt a longing to return to this place instead of staying away from it. These liquid memories of my stay in Sweden and the surroundings there fascinated me a lot and I decided to turn this into the project ‘Landslide in my mind’.

Creating this project was a very delicate process. Everything you see is made and photographed in my studio. The construction of these scenes took months and photographing them was a process of doing it over and over again.

To create the light I photographed these scenes under water. Although you won’t notice it immediately, it is an important part of the process as this is what gives it the specific look of the dreamlike light. Getting the construction of the scenes right the first time turned out to be an impossible task. Every image took multiple adjustments and the first construction never made it to the final results.

You shoot a lot of striking portraits, how do you find working with models who aren’t necessarily comfortable in front of a camera?
Every situation and every person is unique, so for me it does not make a difference whether a person is used to being photographed or not. Some people I photograph are famous and are being photographed on a daily basis, for others it’s the first time someone really takes time to take their photo. From the moment I enter the door I try to establish a relationship with my sitter.

Sometimes I only have a window of a few minutes to talk and I will focus on making sure the sitter is comfortable with the situation and is willing to show themselves in front of the camera. In other situations I have a lot more time to get the know the person and we start by drinking coffee and having a lengthy conversation. Sometimes it happens that somebody is really at ease while chatting, but freezes when I start photographing. I think the most important thing to do is to give the person a moment to get used to the camera and make a few shots which I know will not be published. This will give the person the opportunity to get comfortable in front of the camera.

Which other photographers working today do you love?
Lately I have been fascinated by the work of Todd Hido, Annabel Elgar and Julia Hetta. For me, they have the quality of exposing concepts, thoughts and feelings through photographing people and places without explaining too much. However, most of my inspiration comes from paintings and cinema. In terms of painters these are Vilhelm Hammershøi, Michaël Borremans, Anna Conway and Andrew Wyeth. I am fascinated by the way they use light and composition combined with the choice of subjects to create their own universe.

Although I could mention a lot of directors who inspire me, I would like to focus on one in particular, which is Roy Andersson. His ‘Living Trilogy’, on which he worked for the past two decades, is a true masterpiece. His signature is evident in every shot and detail. His use of absurd tragic scenes and this grey world which he invented keeps fascinating me.