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That Moment When Something Good Is About To Happen: Wisdom From Veteran French Photographer

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When we came across Claude Renault’s works, one especially if you are able to distinguish between people with camera and photographers, you will be able to sense that Claude Renault was easily on the latter side. Well a French man, who is so passionate about India and her people, who has strong roots in Sculpture and whose photographs resemble more of paintings and what more, born in 1952, says he loves rural India and gets inspirations from Raghubir Singh’s works.

We set out to interview him. There is something about his personality, and that reflects in his works. Well when you read and see his images below, you are going to get more of him…

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Claude Renault

1. A lot of photographs around ordinary walks of life. In fact as We see, it is an integral component of your style. You seem to admire ordinary people? Do they inspire you in any way?

I started to shoot pictures professionally as a financial photographer, shooting exclusively bankers in Black &White in the USA. I did it for 12 years. Then I went freelance and started to do travel photography. This is when I really started to get interested in “ordinary people” as you call them. I then started shooting regular way of life in countries I visited. I must say when I visited India, I really fell in love with the country and started to get interested in mostly traditional way of life in your country.  I just love the rural India which in a way reminded me of my youth in Brittany.

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A Passer-by in Morocco

2. Claude Renault, born in 1952, quite young! When did you get pulled in this field of photography?

I guess I started to be interested in photography because of an uncle of mine who was really passionate about it. He actually helped me build an enlarger using an old folding accordion camera. My grand-father, being a blacksmith, built the structure. Then, travelling with my parents, I fell in love with an Oympus Pen FT, a half frame camera, and I started.  Going to Art school later on, I started to shoot more seriously, mostly street photography in Scandinavian countries. After about 2 years shooting, I won a Kodak scholarship to document Whale Hunting in the Faroe Islands (Denmark). After graduating I shot less. Another passion took hold of me.

3. Photography is one way of story-telling. In your photos, you seem to convey story about your subjects. There is an urge to capture the perfect moments. What exactly goes in your mind before you close the shutter?

When I shoot I usually can feel when something good is going to happen. You start to move faster and sweat. I like to shoot That way. I love to compose my images when shooting them. I hate to crop images. Sometimes I have do it but usually a tiny bit. As I already told you I don’t like to process my images.

C A R P E T. Chefchaouen

Cleaning Carpet in Chefchaouen, Morocco

4. Why India attracts you much? Particularly, those on the rural side. You seem not be moved by urbanisation.

As you have seen in my images, you can really feel, I hope, the passion I developed toward your country. You’ll have notice as well that I love colors, and what a better country than India to find colors? I also love Indians, don’t ask me why, I feel just home when I am in your country, especially in rural India. I grew up in a 400 people village in the heart of Brittany, (western part of France) and even though I lived in New York city I still find myself feeling better in villages. Now I just moved back to Brittany

5. Mr. Claude, tell us more about yourself. Do you photograph for a living or is it just one of your serious hobbies?

No, photography is my job.. I do a living from it, even though it’s more and more complicated right now to do so. I wish I could live better from it.

G A N G A. Rishikesh

Drying Sarees in Rishikesh

6. Your photos definitely have a touch of Steve McCurry. Who else are your inspirations?

I have really been inspired by few photographers of the likes of  Bruno Barbey, Marc Riboud, Henri Cartier Bresson, Steve McCurry, and definitely Raghubir Singh, my favorite Indian Photographer. But I must also admit that I get inspiration mostly by two painters, Paul Gauguin and Nicolas de Staël .

7. French have always been known for their artistic and intellectual way of life. As a French man, what does art personally mean to you? Is it an expression? Is it an experience? Is it a philosophy?

I don’t know if it’s usual for French people.. You know in France it’s just like in any other countries. My father was passionate about sculpture so I was already surrounded by it and after high school the choice for me was to go to Art School.

It has always been part of my life. Painting, Sculpture.. photography is something a bit different. You don’t have the freedom you can have in painting. I believe at my age it’s just a way of life !!

4In a sari factory in Pali. Rajasthan

In a Sari Factory in Pali, Rajasthan

 8.Would you mind letting us sneak-peak into your photography kit?

I have been using a lot of brands during my career but since 1993 I have been using Canon EOS cameras and EF/L lenses.. Nowadays I am using Canon 5D MarkIII with Zoom lenses, 24/70mm , 16/35mm, 24/ 105mm, 35mm, 70/200mm . I stopped using flashes or tripod. The older I get, the less material I am using. During my last workshop in Morocco, I left with one Camera and 2 lenses…

9. In the digital age, there are a lot of aspirants. Some aspire to be great photographers, some do it for passion sake and still quite luckily, some do it as profession. How do you see this development? World has become more artistic, is it not?

A tough question. It’s a bit tough to aspire to become a great photographer, not an easy task. I think passion is a good way to start. Professionally it’s also becoming very difficult to make a living from photography unless you are willing to do commercial photography.

May be in India people are becoming more and more interested in Art also because of the growth of the middle class. I don’t see any changes in Europe.

7In a café of Yangoon. Myanmar

In a Cafe of Yangoon, Myanmar

10. Do you spend a lot of time processing images? Could you please describe your digital work flow and the software you are using?

I must admit I don’t really spend a lot of time processing my images. I do as little as I can so the image can be viewable. I kind of like to find exactly what I remember shooting in my images. I don’t like them to look over-processed, something we see a lot these days. I use Phase One Media pro in my Mac book during the trip at night to classify my images, when coming back home. When shooting, I try to compose my images in a way I won’t have any cropping to do afterward.

I do some exposure correction, and minor retouching with Photoshop Camera Raw, with PS CS6.

 11. Your photographs are like paintings. What’s your shooting approach? How would you describe your photographic style? 

I’m glad you say that, since I would love all of my images to be like paintings. Not an easy task!  Photography is not as easy as painting to show exactly what I want. Painting allows you to do exactly what you want. It’s more like a total creation, and does not depend on the reality that photography registers.

I like to flatten the perspective, “à-plat.” I would love to get masses of color, flat and full. The color fills the background, as sharply as the foreground. While I was taking a picture in Pondicherry, for instance, I immediately thought, by association, of a painting in which Gauguin uses a tree transversally, almost to divide the scene. And I did the same, even with completely different settings, colors and, of course, characters. People of all social classes, mostly people in the streets, and people in temples are ever-present in my photographs. In some pictures, as a result, you don’t see the whole of their bodies. Heads or legs are cropped for the sake of the whole scene that I want to represent.

So I suppose I would really love to be able to shoot more like the paintings I want to do. In fact, in the next few years I’ll gradually shoot less and spend more time painting.

Woman resting on their way to the Janagadh Hill in Gujarat

Women Resting on their Way to Janagadh Hill in Gujarat

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