Get to know the French photographer who's mixing things up

Arnaud Lajeunie captures the tensions in erotic photography and the erratic possibilities of shooting with water

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'Prisma Studies' Arnaud Lajeunie

Parisian photographer Arnaud Lajeunie first came to our attention back in 2012 with his Babayaga series, fresh out of art school and with a newly co-founded erotic magazine, L'imparfaite to boot. We recently featured his 'Water Meets Colour/Colour Meets Water' series in our round-up of the best art picks at the Hyères International festival of Fashion and Photography. Now, as he gears up to move over to London and the seventh issue of L'imparfaite comes out later this year, we catch up with Arnaud to discuss the tensions in erotic photography and why water is such a powerful, unpredictable tool for him to shoot with.

There's a strong sensual strand running through a lot of your works, is erotically-charged photography your favourite to shoot?

Arnaud Lajeunie: Probably not. I get the same pleasure out of building structures on the shores that I have when I shoot nudes in the desert. But within my approach to the body I can experiment a lot, I find a certain tension in the nudity. I started a sort of active exploration of landscapes, trying to engage the natural places I was scouting with my subjects, maybe here lies the seeds of some of my actual practices. 

Can you tell us a little bit about the 'Casper' series and where the idea came from for this? It strikes me as quite a dark series yet it comes from something as simple as a plastic bag, how did you create that effect?

Arnaud Lajeunie: As for Water meets colour, color meets water it came rather naturally. I am working on several ideas, related to fluxes, randomness, notion of information and control, but the aesthetic translation of this emerges spontaneously. In Casper, a structure made of plastic covers is arranged to capture and give form to the water propelled by the waves through a crevasse. It is a balanced construction between human contrivances and natural movements. The entire system reveals patterns that existed but could not be perceived naturally. The contact between water and plastic create a form, a 1/320s sculpture if you want, a configuration that could only be revealed by the camera, the latter allowing the viewer to overcome his organic eye, restricted by the persistence of vision. 

“I find not knowing exactly what your are observing can force you to enter into a certain creative process, using memories, feelings and thoughts to create your own grid of reading” – Arnaud Lajeunie

Lighting seems to play a really strong role in a lot of your work, would you say that's one of your signature styles?

Arnaud Lajeunie: In several of my works I have played around with the idea of light in photography (Prisma Studies for example), but it remains one tool among many for me. In many of my experiments I rely on strong solar light, as I need relatively high shutter speed to capture the forms I seek. The question of style is always difficult to answer for me, it requires a rather strong distanciation from your own work to be able to analyse it’s inner features — as I said, most of the ideas come naturally, they develop within a network of thoughts and feeling, but they come rather viscerally. Maybe some elements of my work are, so far, constant : engaging nature with artificial elements, capturing the rhythms thus generated, revealing pre-existing shapes. But, to me, it’s more a notion of method rather than style. 

You're most known for your 'Water Meets Colour/Colour Meets Water' series where you digitally manipulate the colour of the water…

Arnaud Lajeunie: It's funny that many people believe that I was using digital manipulations to achieve these images, it's actually not the case but it’s interesting as it allows me to explain some of the reasons I do what I do. The process in this work is rather simple – just food dye poured in the water seconds before a wave hits the rocks. Here, colour is explored as a raw material, as are the rocks and waves. It adds density and thickness to the water and therefore objectifies the forms created by the waves. The coloured structures artificially reshape the depicted landscape for a very short instant, they loosen the analytical abilities of the audience and reject straightforward interpretations. I find not knowing exactly what your are observing can force you to enter into a certain creative process, using memories, feelings and thoughts to create your own grid of reading. 

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'Eesti' Arnaud Lajeunie

There seems to be a similar technique going on with 'Langema'? Water/fluids also appear to be another strong theme in your work?

Arnaud Lajeunie: You're right, water is central to my current practice, as the artificially enhanced movements of water offer rhythms, which convey sensations that could trigger questionings. The physical intervention is crucial as I see the latter as an intrusion to which the nature might respond or not (often my system fails). In this sort of dialogue, I accept to lose control of the outcomes – the shapes created are random, and I cannot predict how the colours will merge – I simply propose and capture. In Langema, the colours are used to reveal very thin streams of water running through an Estonian beach I visited last year. It’s an ephemeral map of an existing but hardly perceivable network. 

Tell us about the erotic mag you co-founded, L'imparfaite

Arnaud Lajeunie: In 2009, I was finishing my political sciences degree and with three friends we decided to create a magazine which would address various societal issues through the prism of sexualities. We aimed at thinking about sex in a different perspective and this was extremely exciting to receive papers about the links between Voodoo and homosexuality in Haiti, about some obscure Slovenian sex activists in the '70s, about the role played by pornography in contemporary China etc. One of our primary goals was also to discover and to offer exposure to young artists. VLF studio, with whom I work on this and spend a lot of time scooting for exciting authors, and I think we were among the first magazines to publish photographers like Ren Hang or Sasha Kurmaz for example. We'll be publishing the seventh issue in september, and for the first time it will be bilingual – French and English. 

What's next for you? You've said you'll be moving to London soon, what are you most looking forward to about that in terms of photography opportunities?

Arnaud Lajeunie: Indeed, I have recently established myself in London. I think there is an interesting synergy between Paris and London, one fills gaps in the other. I feel that I will be able to develop my projects in an interesting way, as I have been lucky to receive some great attention for my work over here. I'm really looking forward to it all.

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