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In recent years, I have worked on many projects with very large format photographs, several meters tall. Examples include my retrospective at Austerlitz station or the series of Jesuit portraits supporting the refurbishment of the Jesuit Chapel in Saint-Omer. It was through these projects that I met Olivier Girardot, the Director of the Terres Rouges Agency with whom I worked on these exhibitions. It was he who asked me to think up this new urban scene project for Ardian Real Estate. With such a name, it was only natural that the Renaissance project would immediately strike a chord with me. I had already been inspired by the Flemish school of painting for Super Flemish and had just finished the Louis 114 series on the imaginary future of Louis XIV and his contemporaries.
From the outset, I was convinced that it wouldn’t be enough just to propose a gallery of photographic portraits inspired by the Renaissance or the Flemish school of painting. I had to use the context, that of a construction site, to showcase the workers who were going to carry out this refurbishment while inventing a Renaissance world. Even though the project is located on rue François-Ier (Francis 1 of France), we chose to take inspiration from costumes dating back not to the start of the Renaissance but to the end. Their large ruffs are both visual and identifiable.
The first phase of the project shows six portraits of craftsmen who are working on the building refurbishment. The second phase, which will commence halfway through the year, will showcase the future boutiques of the Renaissance building with three “customer” portraits in period costume.
I wanted to bring poetry to these portraits, to create a sort of fable. With my team, we worked using objects and tools that did not exist at the time of the Renaissance, such as a jackhammer, drill, cement mixer or smartphone. These objects are Renaissance-inspired but not realistic or usable. I wanted them to be poetic and tell a story. Like a paint roller with a ruff.
A source of inspiration?
Rembrandt is the painter who impresses me the most. I'm referring in particular to his self-portraits. And of course in the Flemish school of painting, the primitive portraits, by artists such as Jan Van Eyck or Rogier Van der Weyden, or those of Van Dyck. But there’s also Velasquez, who inspired the backgrounds of this series or the Flemish portraits exhibited at the National Gallery.
Besides the costumes, decor and make-up, a lot of focus was put on the lighting. It was organized by drawing inspiration from the chiaroscuros of Flemish painters. I wanted to give the illusion of a painting and get passers-by to stop and look and ask: is that a painting? A photo?
A glimpse behind the scenes?
What I remember the most about this shooting was meeting the craftsmen and immersing them in the world of photography, which they knew practically nothing about. But, after having been with the make-up artists and hair stylists, and after having put on these magnificent but heavy Renaissance costumes, they got into the full swing of things to embody their character with force. I was really bowled over.
Each medium, each format calls for a different way of thinking. In this case, it was guided by the technical constraints of a site scaffolding cover, the very large format and the perspective provided by the width of the street.
Renaissance project identity sheet
- Buyer: Ardian Real Estate
- Building address: 26-32 rue François-Ier, in Paris’s 8th district
- Construction period: 2019-2021
- Project purpose: 6,500m² of new and refurbished offices, 4 luxury boutiques, 1,300m² of outdoor areas...