Thomas Aulagner, picturing close encounters

Translation Iona Elerbe

Thomas Aulagner is a young photographer from France, based in the Basque country. His work translates the intimacy of bodies, moments of sharing and emotions, and the surf that he discovers with his friends.

Can you introduce yourself (your age, your career, where do you live, if you surf etc.)?


So I’m Thomas. I’m 21 years old and I currently live in Biarritz. I started to take an interest in photography, when I was 15. So I’ve been doing self-taught photography for about six years. I moved closer to Biarritz for my studies. After my high school diploma, I decided to get an advanced technical degree in audiovisuals to make sure that I would have something to fall back on. I haven’t really had the time to get into surfing yet, as I only moved here about a year ago. But because surfing is a board sports, I have a natural interest in surfing.

How did you get into photography?

I don’t really remember, how I got interested in photography. At first I used to borrow my parents’ little Lumix camera and I would go to the vineyards behind our house and take pictures of the vine leaves and the ants. Then for my 15th birthday, my parents gave me my first SLR: a Canon 550D. And that’s when I started to take photos of my friends, who were into skateboarding and BMX.

Do you live off photography only?

No, as I said, I’m still studying to make sure that I have something to fall back on, if the photography thing doesn’t work out. But next to my studies, I regularly do different photography jobs.

What are your four favourite subjects?

Board sports, escape, the spirit of freedom, the sweetness that emanates from a girl.

What role does surfing and the ocean play in your work?

Since I was little, I have been dreaming of surfing. Well, currently I still don’t have the time for it, because of my busy schedule. But the ocean and surf inspire me. The ocean can calm and beautiful, but it can also be terrifying. Because it’s a board sports, surfing speaks to me. There is this particular spirit that you find in this kind of environment – a spirit of perseverance and of freedom, the continued search for that perfect spot.

And what’s the role of the body – masculine or feminine – in your work?

I photograph the male body in skateboarding, BMX, and on road trips. These are my friends, with whom I share those different moments with. The female body is a little different. I think that a girl can show off a crazier side than a guy.

How do you choose your collaborations?

At first I just worked with my friends, so that was very easy. Now that I get more and more requests, it’s becoming more complicated to engage in collaborations. But I have a lot of ongoing collaborative projects and they are with people who, I think, have something atypical about them and with whom I can share moments and make projects the way I like. Or sometimes you contact me, or I contact you, or it happens, because you know someone who knows someone… Basically, it depends.

Do you retouch your photos (or not)?

It’s hard to find a photographer, who doesn’t edit his photos, right? As 99% of the photographers out there, I obviously edit my photos. But I only make small changes. I don’t want to create a scene or an atmosphere that doesn’t exist. I like it, when it’s realistic and authentic.

Do you prefer to shoot locally or when you travel?

Both! I like everything! Unfortunately, at the moment I can’t move around too much, because of my studies. But as soon as I can travel, I’ll hit the road. I like to immerse myself in new spaces and translate those encounters in my photography. Each place has a different atmosphere and all atmospheres are great to take in.

If you had to choose only one of your photos, which one would it be?

That’s a very difficult question. I have a special relationship with my photos. I only need to love about 5% of my photos and the rest, I keep for myself. But in the end of the day, after two weeks or so I even grow tired of the photos that I love and that I’ve shared with the public. But, if I had to pick just one photo that I’m pretty proud of, I’d say it’s the one, where Lynne’s surfboard flies right over her. It’s a black and white photo that summarises everything I love – authenticity and freedom, combined with surfing and the sweetness of a girl.

What kind of gear do you use?

Not much! A Canon 6D that is starting to die on me (help!). As for lenses, there’s the 35mm Sigma Art (I use it almost all of the time), a 50mm Canon, another 28mm and a 14mm Samyang. And I recently bought a waterproof case from Aquatech.

What’s your favorite spot?

I don’t have one. I like to move around too much to be able to choose just one.

How do you see the future?

At the moment I only have one dream: to live off my photography. I’ve been working on it for a while, I’ve made sacrifices and I hope that they will pay off one day. He who doesn’t dare anything, wont get anything, as they say. In June, I will have finished my studies and I’ll finally be able to devote myself 100% to photography. I don’t know exactly what I’ll do, it’s still pretty vague. I don’t know, whether I’ll stay in Biarritz or whether I’ll go on the road for an indefinite period of time or try to settle in another country, where I can develop my photography. Let’s get back in one year, ok?!