Droplets that diffract the light, the gentle sun of the Basque Country, a surfer gliding through the water, young people playing on the beach, sea mist on a winter’s morning, an old lady’s swim cap, this is the world that César Ancelle-Hansen knows how to instantly capture with his poetic elegance.
Many of your photographic subjects revolves around surfing and the beach, a beach culture of sorts. As someone who comes from the North of France, where does this attraction stem from and how has it shaped your photographic choices?
I do indeed come from the North of France. I discovered the world of beach culture through surfing and bodyboarding magazines at my mate’s dad’s house. His dad Lucien, aka ‘Lulu’, was a lifeguard in Anglet as a teenager. He was crazy about the ocean and surfing. This was back in the days of Tom Curren, Mike Stewart, neon, the Morey Boogie etc. I discovered all this in the magazines, it was a huge wake up call. A few months later, my dad took me to Algajola in Corsica, a small village renowned for its waves. And there one morning there was a perfect offshore swell: I’m 14-years-old, I walk down the stairs of the hotel with a view of the beach. And there I see these surfers scanning the beach looking for a good spot, with this incredible warm morning light, the trail of offshore waves, the lines of the swell, the sound of the waves, the view of the tubes etc… Boom!!! I had never seen anything like it! Ok this is what I want and nothing else…
Bodies, light and water frequently appear in your work as naturally inseparable elements, how do you perceive this?
It’s actually quite basic. Light and water are fascinating natural elements. They have a magic side. Simply look at children around you: they love playing with water and light in all their forms. There is also a supernatural side to these fairly basic elements. In the end, I think that as an adult you never lose this childlike sense of wonder. That’s the case for me…In a broader, biological sense, without water and light, there’s no life, no body… maybe I’m getting a bit off track here…get out of my head Jean-Claude Van Damme!
Unlike many photographers, you don’t seem captivated by beauty in and of itself (a beautiful girl, for example), as if you’re looking for it elsewhere…Why is blurriness/fluidity often deliberate and embraced within your work?
Yes, I’m drawn to beauty but I also look for charm, detail, movement, emotion… beauty by itself is really boring. I love Helmut Newton’s photographs. They have everything: beauty and charm.
With regards to the blurriness and fluidity, yes it’s a deliberate technique and something which I embrace. But it shouldn’t be systematic. Nowadays everyone knows how to take out of focus shots without any depth of field.
Finally, isn’t everything a question of atmosphere?
A bit yes, in the sense where photography tries to trigger emotions, memories, to take you back to or to reproduce an atmosphere…a bit like a Proustian madeleine.