I have always wanted to interview this girl; Estelle Hanania, creator of conceptual images that have blown my mind for years. Her images are like nothing I have ever seen before, each time they surprise me and encourage me to investigate the ideas behind her vision. They’re could be dark, possibly a little twisted but nothing less of beautiful. Here’s a little insight to the mind, the eyes and the heart behind them…
Yasmine- You were recently sent to Kyoto for AirFrance magazine, can you tell us about this trip and what it offered.
Estelle- Air France send me to many countries since July 2011. As I start to answer these questions, I’m in a train from Casablanca to Marrakech in Morocco for the magazine again.
Kyoto was a destination where I felt both at ease and totally disoriented. I knew Japan though , I went near Nagano in 2008 for a previous project called Dondoro to photograph a puppets master in the countryside. But I was excited to discover Kyoto after all the movies I had seen taking place in the city and all the historical background.This trip was a commissioned project, so I wasn’t shooting exactly what I would do for myself, I have to consider that I work for a travel/ in flight magazine which means giving a positive version of the city. What amaze me in Japan, is the incredible level of spirituality you find in the daily life. Everything is filled with style and spirituality, the way you eat, drink, meet people, start a conversation, visit a monument….
Y- You seem to always have the most freshest ideas for your images, how do you go about coming up with a concept?
E- I find my subject by digging in my deepest interests, my childhood obsessions, visual inspirations. I try to be spontaneous toward a subject or an idea. When a concept pops up in my mind I let it simmer a bit and then I go back to it and I check if it is still of interest for me then I go. All is instinct, coincidence, chance and most of all determination.
Y- What do you feel is the difference with working for a client and working for your own personal projects?
E- I try not to approach both works too differently. I can’t take a job too lightly because I don’t like the idea of producing images I’m not proud of. I put all my energy and enthusiasm in commercial projects, I’m listening a lot the clients, I want to deliver images which are both faithful to the brand and to my style. I’m lucky cause I have such interesting clients who understand my way of working and very often I’m offered a “carte blanche” or i’m involved in the creative process.
For my personal series I’m very passionate, I like to start a series and manage to get to the result I had in mind, but I’m also so excited by all the little unexpected things that go in the way. I construct my own frame and let things happen in it. I go my own rythm, follow my own instinct, what could be more exciting than that. I usually work in a very lonely process, which I like, I don’t like to share ideas or images in advance, maybe a superstitious method….
Y- Once given a brief from a client, what’s your next move?
E- When I get a brief from a client, first I discuss a lot with him to be sure we’re on the same wave length. Then I brainstorm on my own from all the elements I have been given earlier. I gather iconography, I do sketches and write.
Y- What cameras do you use?
E- 98% of the time a middle format Mamiya 645, i’m not a camera geek, so I have this one and 3 lenses which I rarely change though. I found my tool and I’m faithful to it.
Y- How much of shooting is pre-planned in order to capture the shot you want?
E- Improvisation is the key word for my personal series. I’m planning things in advance though, the country, the people, the specific event, etc, and once this frame is approximately set then I let myself go according to what happen in front of me. I love to improvise, I’m not a control freak, I like imperfection of a moment, unexpected details that you wouldn’t think of before the shoot but which make all the difference.
Y- Tell us about your life growing up.
E- My childhood was filled by creative activities, my twin sister Marion and I used to draw a lot, she was also into constructing robots, and got obsessed about it for a long time. My father had to construct one with a light bulb on top, a huge battery in the back and 6 pieces of random wood for the body parts. It looked weird to me but she was very happy. On my side I had a fetish for notebooks and paper by then and still do. A new notebook was for me a big moment, especially the first right page when I could push the pencil heavily on the depth of the paper.
Y- When did you decided that making images was what you were going to go for?
E- Well, I studied graphic design first and then I went into the Ecole des Beaux-Arts of Paris. At the same time I was also art director free -lance for an advertising agency when i was 23-24 years old, this was a great “school”, I ordered portfolios of photographers to try to apply their work to our campaigns etc. So it has given me a wide perspective on what photography can be. I would say I’m not just interested in shooting the images but I always have in mind the way I want to organize them, the order, the narrative aspect of the editing . Fine arts was a great school to get access to the best photo equipment and studio, I could experiment there, started to print my color photographs, but it didn’t help me to step into photography at all. The school was a great tool but I didn’t find motivation there. In 2006, right after I had my degree I won the Hyères photo prize which was a good spotlight on my work and then I was certain I wanted to keep on in that direction.
Y- Any mentors or teachers that you would like to acknowledge?
E- No mentors really and certainly no teachers at all. But the people who motivated me could be from various horizons, anyone passionate by what he does. In the photography field I was really impressed by the work of the photographer Camille Vivier who I met when I was still in school and whose work I remember seeing in liberation style as I was still in high school. Mentors…well I’m moved by many different types of artworks. I’m inspired by self taught artists, folk art painters, “illustrators”, I’m a big fan of traditional art, anonymous creations. But I’m very influenced by directors such as Tarkovski, Paradjanov, Terence Malik. I love movies where the aesthetic is strong and is emphasizing the meaning. I’m also totally fan of movies i would see during my childhood like “Endless Story”, “Le Voyage Interieur”, “Wizard of OZ”, they keep on haunting me.
Y- What has been to date your most favorite/memorable job/shoot and why?
E- I can’t compare shoots, I get excited for everyone of them, I loved being in Switzerland and Bulgaria to shoot ” Demoniac Babble” and “Parking Lot Hydra”, this is exciting and scary also. The mood in these event is very intense. Another intense shoot was when I got to go in Nagano countryside in Japan to meet Hoichi Okamoto for the “Dondoro” series. I was completely in another world, first time in Japan, talking very little with my host and surrounded by dozens of puppets hanging on walls, lying on floors. Extraordinary experience.
Y- Do you tend to work with the same group of people to make your work happen or do you enjoy mixing it up?
E- For commissioned shoots I really like to work with the same team, I have a make-up artist, a few nice assistants, 2 stylists I love to work with. I think when you have a good team and it gets to the result you want then why should I change? For my personal series, it’s all about meeting new people, so it’s changing all the time.
Y- Thoughts on the internet and how it works for you as an artist?
E- Huge subject, I would say it’s at the same time a great source of imagery and information and a huge loss of time, but I don’t say anything new! This is a big machine full of contradictions. Sometimes internet feels claustrophobic to me I must say and I need to escape from it.
Y- How do you like to spend your down time?
E- Doing all kind of things, I enjoy walking in some very “cliché” part of Paris like Saint Michel, Saint Germain des Près and going to some Brasserie to watch people passing by in the streets, watching an early movie screening, seeing a good exhibition, staying at home with books, bread, butter and sencha tea.
Y- Favorite music/bands?
E- I love The Feelies, Sam Cooke, Bruce Springsteen, Michael Hurley, Bulgarian songs and so many more…
Y- Plans for the rest of the year?
E- Many different projects, both personal and commissioned ones. I’m a bit superstitious so I won’t mention details!
Thank you Estelle!
You can see more of Estelle’s work here-