Artist Interview: Photographer Axel Dupeux
Axel and I met in New York City a few months back. We were at a bowling alley in Brooklyn drinking beers and trying to work this artist-networking event. Those things are always weird but I met some cool people, Axel being one of them. Since then I’ve been keeping up with his work and thought I’d share some of it with you guys today.
Alright, give me the basics…full name, where you’re from, age, where you live, etc.
It’s Axel Dupeux, I’m 30y/o, I was born and raised in Paris France, and I live in Brooklyn since 2005 in a neighborhood called Bushwick.
We met in NYC a few months back and you told me that sometimes you’ll put up a back drop and photograph people in the neighborhood. Tell me a little more about that.
Yes, I started a project about Bushwick passer bys in 2009. I was seeing a lot of very interesting faces in the street but it was always difficult to give people appointments and make them come to a studio. So eventually during the summer as work got slower, I decided to directly set up in the street. It’s an ongoing thing.
So you ask people to pose for you right then and there. How do most people react?
Yes, mostly. I also have a guy working with me posted on the other side of the street and we stop whoever looks interesting. People generally react very well, I think they re genuinely happy that someone is interested in them, plus they get a print so it’s a good deal.
You were also telling me that when you moved here people were telling you how dangerous Bushwick was, but you didn’t find that to be true?
Bushwick was definitely rougher back then but I always felt very welcomed. I never was really scared in the streets. Now the gentrification is on full mode, It became cool. Bill Clinton ate in a restaurant here a couple weeks ago.
That’s a pretty big shift then.
Do you think the neighborhood is losing some of it’s character?
No generally I think the gentrification goes quite harmoniously, Bushwick doesn’t have a really nice real estate, that saves us from the yuppies.
Do you think the people you stop give you a more genuine view of themselves on the street as opposed to the studio?
People don’t like to go out their way, I think the one who would accept to come to a studio would be the ones aware of their images…who are willing to pose. The fact we are in the street…(I have) to make it very very quick. It’s a tense moment for them, there are other people watching and they don’t know why I am photographing them.
I didn’t think about the fact that people would be watching. Have you ever had any negative reactions?
No, never, actually, to my own surprise, I must admit. Even when they don’t want to be photographed, we never had any aggressive reactions. I got fined by the NYPD though for not having a permit but they got used to it now, they know me, they leave us alone.
Cool that they leave you alone, now though. It’s personal use though… They still gave you a ticket?
No, I had to go to the court, waited 6 hours for a judge to finally dismiss the whole thing. They have this thing with the tripod so we just stopped using any tripod and taped the background directly to a wall.
Tell me a little about your commissioned work, it’s completely different, style wise but still very personal. What’s your technique for getting the best photos from people who aren’t used to being in front of a huge set up?
Yes, I try to keep close in tone if that makes sense. I shoot mostly editorial and corporate portraits. It’s by nature a more environmental portraiture although the Bushwick thing got some “white background jobs.” CF NYF 2011 on my site.
Oddly I don’t really care about the model’s confort. I often feel more free with someone very uncomfortable. I don’t speak much when I shoot, I place them physically by positionning them.
That’s interesting…you think their anxiety adds to the photo?
They give it up more quickly because they want me out ASAP.
More seriously, I think it gives a certain concentration to the session…it’s a climax.
I can see that. For sure. Your Slaughterhouse photos are really intense and beautiful. I was immediately drawn to them. What brought you there and what was your inspiration behind it?
Oddly, that came from a very boring corporate shit-job when I was in Paris. I was supposed to go to that slaughterhouse to make a very technical photo of a machine that takes off the chicken feathers, for the external communication of the company that builds them. Told you it was a shit-job. When I saw the place, I thought it was looking very cool, I asked if I could come back. It’s a bit old now but I get high on offending vegetarians.
They are easy to offend!
You have any go-to equipment that you like?
I switched almost fully to digital since quite a while so I have go-to equipment that I don’t like. I would only have a Rolleiflex if it was up to me.
I hear you. What’s in your pockets right now?
A quantity of change you usually only find on a homeless person, an iPhone and a pack of Marlboro lights. And 3 lighters. I am kleptomaniac with lighters.
Any thoughts on NY vs Paris?
God, don’t get me started. NY wins, definitely. France has a really pessimistic vibe since a few years, it’s not really motivating. Not to mention, the photo industry is very small and the the pay is ridiculous.
So tell us how to follow you…blogs? Twitter? Facebook?
So the site www.axeldupeux.com, news and occasional rambling at axeldupeux.wordpress.com, a snapshot diary on axelsnaps.wordpress.com. Twitter, Instagram, Facebook!, Friendster, etc, it’s @axeldupeux. I am just fucking with you, I am not really on Friendster. (laughs)
(Laughs) I thought it might be a French thing!!! Any other projects you’d like to tell us about?
Not really. I am trying to find a place to exhibit the first part of that Bushwick story and I am hungry as usual for editorial work.
Also, I wish someone would explain me what Google plus and LinkedIn are for.
Yea, I do too. Linked In is about useless. I’m not sure what Google+ does either. Tried it. Not impressed. I will say I’m over FB. I think we are in the slow downward spiral at this point. I don’t know if you keep a fanpage, but they’ve limited our exposure so much.
No, I agree, but I like it as a social spying tool. You go to a meeting to show your portfolio and you already know the photo editors kids’ and husband’s name, what dog they have, where they spent their last vacations and eventually what they look like in bikini.
That’s an excellent point. I’ll only work for people I’ve seen in a bikini.
I only let them come on my shoot if they wear a bikini. No, not really. (laughs)
Best rule, ever.
Let’s make a Facebook group.
Photographers Who Only Let Art Directors On Set In A Bikini.
Let’s open it to all staffers, we could miss opportunities.
Sounds good to me. Thanks Axel! I appreciate your time!