Contemporary Romantic: The Photography of Lucile Godin
The photography of Lucile Godin fuses the beauty of a Botticelli and the peculiarity of a Magritte under the shipshape aesthetics of contemporary tastes. Based in Paris, the 24-year-old manages to propel banal, at times even cliché content—an elderly lady, a young woman weeping, a pink sphinx—into foreign territory. The bizarre theatricality of the subjects, coupled with the even-toned, oftentimes tinted lighting, lends a surrealist quality to the images. You’ve observed each scene before, and yet looking away, shrugging off the material as perviously understood, feels almost transgressive. Novelty is so frequently what catches the eye; Godin asks us to reconcile the experience of an almost taxing draw toward something rather standard.
Where did you grow up, where do you live now, and how did you get into photography?
I was born in Brittany but I grew up in the south of France, near Toulouse. I arrived in Paris five years ago to enroll in The Duperré School of Applied Arts where I learned the techniques of textile design and creation, including embroidery, tapestry, weaving, felting, and digital printing.
In my last year, I met two collectors of nineteenth century photos (one of whom is the woman in my Laure series). They also collected a lot of macabre objects and jewelry (mourning cards, mini-books, medallions, medieval bracelets and brooches)—the kinds of relics you’d find among a deceased person’s clothes, or hair, or teeth.
These fetishized objects fascinate me and were instrumental in my relationship to photography. I suddenly directed all my attention to the subject and developed many shoots where the mise en scène was influenced by this macabre aesthetic. However, it was textile books that got me in to Gobelins, a school for the visual arts, in 2010. I studies photography there, but, despite changing fields, textile and fashion are still very pertinent to my work.
Your portraits tend to take these very simple, plain things and construe them into something strange and otherworldly. Your subjects feel almost mythical at times. What do you attribute this to?
Like many photographers I am influenced by painting and religious iconography. I’m pretty old school in my tastes. I’m particularly interested in the Renaissance and pre-Raphaelite periods and Flemish painting. I find it fascinating that a portrait done several centuries ago, in a context and a time that has nothing to do with today, can speak to us so fully; I find their universal timelessness so incredible. I try to incorporate this research, these paintings—many of which I don’t completely understand—into my work. I want my photographs to be anchored in that timelessness while still achieved a contemporary approach.
Why portraits? What fascinates you about the human face?
I have pretty intense relationships with people and I think that must come across in my images. I’m very observant of the small details—I really try to understand how people work. This is probably the reason I mainly do portraits, because I tend to be drawn to researching human behavior.
I always have great admiration and respect for my models. Most of the time, they are the starting point of my series. I observe and then I create context—I invent a story in which they are the muse. The actual shooting is very important to me. It’s so personal and intimate—I often see it as a kind of confession. I try to be documentarian when I’m actually looking at the subject and taking the photo, but I’m also totally fictitious and dreamy in my interpretation of it. This is one of the advantages of photography: you can bring your entire team (model, makeup artist, stylist) into a fictional universe that they can actively participate in. When the magic happens, there’re these moments of complete suspension—it’s incredible!
Some of your photos (including the series Enypniastes Eximia, the photo of the woman taking her sweater off in Laure, the photo of the hairless cat in Dermes, and the photo of a redhead flipping her hair in Alexia) capture motion. How do you view the relationship between a still image and a moving subject?
Movement is an illustration of sensuality. The stillness of a photo helps to “materialize” the pleasure. There is transcendence in a successful image—like capturing someone’s breath, or a bird in midair. I cannot explain it, but somehow I feel something pulling reality beyond what the eye can perceive. That’s why there’s something so dreamlike in capturing movement: it feels unreal, beyond the ability of the eye.
Most of your portraits are of women. Do you prefer photographing females and if so, why?
I think I work primarily with women simply because I understand them better; I can trust them sooner and they make it easier to project myself through them. Unconsciously or consciously, there is always a part of the photographer in the model. It’s a double image, and it’s important to find a balance, so that both parties can coexist in the same body without overwriting the identity of the subject. Hence the importance of a real trust and understanding between the photographer and the subject. My visual aesthetic is very oriented toward the Britannic painting of the 19th century, in which women are portrayed as either angelic or dangerous beauties, I believe that influenced me quite a bit.
I have always been passionate about fashion and imagery so it’s natural that women are my preferred subjects. However, I’m not always content with photographing female models—I have a new work that included only men! It strays a bit from what I usually do—it felt more documentarian than fiction—but it was a very pleasant study.
Who influences you, photographers or otherwise?
I have a ton of influences, primarily from cinema. I love the worlds of David Lynch and Peter Greenaway, the aesthetics of Steve McQueen, Fritz Lang, Kubrick and many others. There are certain characters that have really affected me too, such as Betty Blue (Béatrice Dalle) from 37.2°C le matin, Lucia Atherton (Charlotte Rampling) in Night Porter, and the Countess of Lyndon (Marisa Berenson) in Barry Lyndon. I came upon my favorite photographers a bit later, but in particular I really love the work of Valérie Belin, Rineke Dijkstra, Charles Fréget, Araki, Viviane Sassen, and Julia Hetta. There are some amazing photographers in the upcoming generation as well, like Matthew Stone, Hanna Putz, the Synchrodogs, and Charlie Engman.
Is there something you’ve always wanted to photograph that you haven’t yet? What is next for you?
There is a natural phenomenon that I’ve been dreaming of photographing for some time not, but it is being negotiated right now so I can’t talk much about it—and I wouldn’t want to jinx myself by discussing it! I also really want to develop my work in the fashion industry since it’s inspired me for so long, though I know my images are still fairly quiet for that world. And, of course, I would love to start creating videos!
What is your WILD Wish?
My Mom would be very proud of me if I said that I would like peace on earth, organic food for everyone, and the end of global warming. But my ego pushed me to ask for the gift of ubiquity. I want to have several lives into one. Lucile No. 1 would devote her life to photography, No. 2 to dance, No. 3 to cinema. No. 4 would open a restaurant, a bar, and a tea room, and would have a large vegetable garden that would fuel the restaurant. No. 5 would have the physical features of Natalie Portman (although ubiquity does not change the body), and No. 6 would spend her days reading, traveling, and becoming more cultured. And No. 7 would have created a secret society that prevented Anna Wintour from putting Kim Kardashian on the cover of Vogue.
This interview has been translated from French and lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
All photos via Lucile’s website.