Gregory Herpe is an award winning photographer in France that shoots some of the worlds most famous people. Although not part of mainstream Gregory has found much success shooting A-List celebrities and photo journalism. With a keen interest in street art graffiti the photographer has been shooting the formats whenever possible and has even tried his own hand at producing his own paste up street art. We sent one our writers Pete Fallan to interview the hugely likable Gregory Herpe…
Gregory we hear you’ve just collected an award. Tells what it was and how do you feel about it?
In fact, I just received two, in two weeks! It’s funny, because so far, I lacked still in awards and honors. As if I could be an artist by remaining on the sidelines … it is perhaps time to accept and to receive… First prize is that of the best press photo released in 2015, given by the press club in France that brings together all journalists, photographers, and French communicators. I won this award for a photo taken during the marches from “Je suis Charlie”, in January, after the attacks in Paris. This photo shows a young Muslim woman, she looks me straight in the eye, and she holds a sign above her head. The sign says: I am French, Muslim, and I condemn this act…It is a strong message and it was important that representatives of this community show their disagreement. And I also have been just awarded at the International Biennial of Contemporary Art in Genoa, in the category Photo. Smaller than the Venice Biennale, but Genoa offers great visibility to artists in sumptuous palaces.
Receiving an award pleases; and two gives a double pleasure, especially when it is from abroad. Of course it flatters the ego, but more important is the recognition of my work and the new visibility. I must also admit that having a price, arouses curiosity to me, from people who did not show before, as if suddenly I am more accessible or credible. Success breeds success, always.
I’ve been told you are something of a big name in France
Honestly, things have moved a lot since the beginning of this year. Reputation is a strange thing and that comes down to so few things. Often trivial things and certainly not just talent, unfortunately you do not need talent to be known. Currently, in France, I think they start to know that I’m here, and my style is recognized. Famous actors wants to pose for me. But it’s all to do because I lost time trying to do things by the book. So what is actually my place in France now? Not high enough, but that is not important. What is important, is the place I would have next year, and in two years. Important is to progress. I work on my own way in communicating and reaching out to others. Exhibiting at the Biennale of Genoa was important for my reputation in France, and so are already my next exhibitions in Moscow and Monaco. These are beautiful projects. I exposed in Bristol last year, and I would love to show my work in London! So if a British gallery reads this article, do not hesitate to contact me! My place abroad means more to me than in my country.
What are your first memories of using a camera and when did you first realise that it was going to feature so highly in your life?
My grandfather gave me an old camera when I was 10 years old. With a school trip, horse riding at, the castle of Aynac in the Lot. I made my first pictures and the castle was my first subject. Then I really started to do photography seriously at the age of 15 with a Canon AE1 that my father lent to me. Besides the Canon AE1 is tattooed on my arm, even though I switched to Nikon since! I knew that my life would be made out of art, only I did everything. Theater, literature and photography. Finally, pretty late, around the age of 35, I knew I had to let go of everything else and dedicate my life to photography.
Do you prefer using film or digital?
Well, I hate those people who tell you that the real picture is the argentic photo, and that digital pictures aren’t! This is such a bullshit! These idiots prefer to admire a picture even if it is unclear and the framework is misplaced, because it is “argentic”! I started with film and I switched to digital. I do not want to know with which camera you do pictures, and I do not care whether you retouch your photos with Photoshop! We are in 2015, and today we take pictures differently because it has evolved like the cinema. Should we should still make movies with camera crank? The cinema is also in the digital age! So is this not real cinema? Doesn’t Tarantino do the same work as Orson Welles? If Orson Welles would be alive now a days, he would be the first to do 3D and digital. The only important thing is when I look at a picture is if it gives me an emotion. The rest, I don’t care. That is good for snobs and those without any talent.
Your portfolio is packed full of famous people. Do you have a favourite ?
I started with theater in Paris, at the age of 19. I went to one of France’s most prestigious drama schools, were great French actors have come out of. Many of my classmates are today well-known actors in France. I’ve always known celebrities and suddenly, I have a very natural relationship with them. Among those I photographed, there are a few that stand out. On stage, I was totally captivated by Iggy Pop and Izia Higelin which is the French Janis Joplin, which I advise the British to discover. David Bowie was my first big catch and I loved having the chance to photograph my favorite filmmaker Peter Greenaway. I had also a chance to photograph Omar Sharif, who has just died, during the entire filming of a movie. A month and a half with a legend that told me many anecdotes about the stars who had marked his career.
But the greatest, the only one to whom I felt very small, was Gérard Depardieu. It is a screen legend! I took pictures at his home in Paris, and when he entered the room where I was waiting, he filled the whole place, and not only physically! His charisma is huge. And what a character! Funny, nice, a friend that everyone would dream of having. In “Depardieu,” there is “Dieu” (God in French) … And he has something of a God; Dionysus, for example, because like him, he loves wine, excess, extravagance, sex and tragedy!
Yes, I would like to do a shooting with Quentin Tarantino because he is more than only a film director and it is a creative with a whole world inside his head. I would like to photograph Banksy, too. Because thanks to him, the image of street art has radically evolved, and I think he is very intelligent. And of course Mick Jagger because who is greater than him in rock? And he also speaks French very well! I would also like to photograph Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London. I heard a few days ago what he said about the former French Prime Minister Alain Juppe, at a congress on the English TV. What humor! He made me laugh because he knows all about the French political social class!
You are clearly much more than just celebrities. What other genres drive or motivate you?
To be frank, of course with a few exceptions, there is not a great pleasure into photograph someone famous. And I do not want to be famous for that, anyway! What I like is traveling, discovering a country, city, losing my way in streets, while I take pictures. I like to make offset images, with another perspective, such as photographing by chance Sri Lankan cricketers in a parking lot in Italy or the illegal cockfights from the gypsies in the south of France. I like to photographing life faraway from the unreal postcards.
Is there a need for photographers in a world where we all own a phone? Are they going extinct?
No, photographers will not disappear because of the smartphone. Taking pictures with a smartphone, is very good. But it is a trend that will pass with the appearance of another gadget. Apple launched a few months ago an application to compose music just by singing a tune into the iPhone. Will the Rolling Stones and Red Hot Chilli Peppers disappear as a result of this? I do not think so… And there are still people who want to do this kind of work. I know because this year I taught at university in France and I will be doing soon some master classes in Moscow. The demand still exists and to share my love for this work with photography students or simply enthusiasts is extremely rewarding.
What are your dreams in relation to your artistic world.
Dreams, I have lot of them … you have to dream to live. Without dreams, the creators of our history would have done nothing, nor in art or in science. My dreams are more modest and I’m not trying to change the world. I dream of photographing certain regions of the world such as Scandinavia, Louisiana, Japan, Ireland, Alaska … I dream especially to find some nice sponsors that enable me to achieve my dreams in good conditions! And to accomplish beautiful exhibitions and to publish quality books.
Do you have a favourite image that i) you have taken ii) somebody else has taken?
Yes, there are three pictures that I love above all in what I’ve done so far. The first is a self-portrait I did in my bathroom 4 years ago with my daughter Agatha, 4 years old at that moment, she is sitting on my shoulders … Her arms and her legs are totally enfolded around my shoulders and my neck, like the roots of a tree in the ground … There is also a photo I took on the roof of a hotel in Barcelona. There are two German women sitting at the pool, nonchalant, the roofs of the city, the atmosphere … This picture is quite successful. Finally, I like the picture of my son Arthur sitting with his back towards me at the Loch Ness, taken at dawn in December last year … I see serenity, hope that is born along by the rising of the sun, personified by my son … The next generation …
To speak about other pictures, I love the photos of Stephanie Seymour taken by Richard Avedon. Especially the one where she wears a transparent black dress, she does not wear panties and she lifts her dress up, just letting appear a triangle of hair well-trimmed. It’s the sexiest picture of all time for me!
We know its not about the kit but what do you use? Nikon, Canon? Other….Post production.
As I said, I spent the argendic years with a Canon AE1 basically. Since the digital age, I only use Nikon cameras and lenses with wide angles. For post-production, my preference goes to Photoshop this is a very rich tool with multiple possibilities. As for in the way I work my black and white, that is a secret …
Your portfolio is wide and varied from porn stars to Scottish Glens. Does any one genre define you most at present? How do you decide what area to focus on on any one day?
It is true that it is varied . But if I have to introduce myself, I’m not talking about celebrities. I am an urban photographer and I love photographing cities, street art, the life that abounds, anonymous. And I’m also attracted to lunar landscapes, apocalyptic deserted, that we can find in Scandinavia or in Scotland. I am totally in love with Scotland, its overwhelming landscapes, its history and its people which are so generous and authentic!
Again, I like to lose myself in a country, go randomly, without worrying about what I’m going to find because if you are curious, if you open your eyes, you will find material to take pictures . I also photographed many religious heritages. Churches, cloisters, cathedrals; especially the cathedrals. I like to publish a book of pictures with all the cathedrals of France. So far I photographed thirty … but I need a sponsor, again!
How powerful can a camera be. There is paranoia, fear and suspicion when a camera is on show. Especially a professional looking one.
The power of the image has always been enormous. But the true power is in the meaning that we give to an image. You can give two complete different stories to the same picture and reach the public in different ways, by insisting its sensitivity or its credulity. It’s like a gun. In the wrong hands, a camera becomes a dangerous weapon. But often the power of an image is positive. For example, it can raise awareness for a noble cause.
What role does increased citizen camera ownership play in politics, justice, propaganda and global movements that perhaps wasn’t the case 30years ago.
Nowadays nobody is save and everyone can be photographed in a delicate situation. There is always a device on the lurk. This applies mainly for celebrities, yet again you still have to get access to the places they attend. The global movements, propaganda in general, can also embezzle a picture and divert the truth via social network. Many people think that if it’s on the internet that it’s the truth. Except , there is a lot of bullshit on the net.
Smartphones are practical and fun. I take a lot of pictures of my family, and I put that on twitter and on Instagram! It’s a gimmick, nothing more, nothing less.
Were you ever trained? Art school?
My luck, perhaps, is to be self-educated. I went to one of France’s most prestigious drama schools, and that’s it. I played, did staging and I wrote a novel, poetry, haikus, and some plays and short stories. I also played in several French films, and I owned an art gallery … In short, I take my life experience, and all the arts that touch me into my style of work. My vision of the image is often cinematographic.
Art especially street art and pop art have featured in your work. Its now global. How does photography and works of art sit together?
For a few centuries, the important moments in history where painted. Today, we photograph these moments. I like photographing street art because it is part of the street and therefore, life. The beauty of photography is that it gives evidence to all the other disciplines, like film does to. I am an artist before being a photographer, or a former comedian, or a former director (if we can be “former” in the arts … I think I’d still be a comedian, a writer and a director). Regardless of the discipline, art is manifold and it is my eye that creates my work, not my camera.
Tell us a secret or a tip
I like the quote from Don McCullin, the famous photo reporter. It’s on my website. “Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.” That is always where I think about when I walk with my camera… I photograph life, as I see it, and I’m not here to embellish and make people more beautiful than they are. Similarly, I do nothing to make things darker, or the people I photograph ridiculous or ugly. Life, just life, laughing or crying. And I always look for a new perspective, my perspective on things, things that shows something we will not see at first glance.
A movie has changed my way of looking at life and taking photographs and it was maybe the best art school I could hope for: The Dead Poets Society, from Peter Weir. At the beginning of the film, Professor Keating, played by Robin Williams arrives in this literature class, in this college submitted to rigid traditions and he asks his new students to get on top of their tables. They don’t dare, afraid that it is a trap. Robin Williams insists…A few of them listen and climb on their table. Then he asks them to look out the window and watch the landscape they know by heart, they have seen it a thousand times without ever actually seeing it, but this time with a new perspective, a new angle, and rediscover it, to see it in a total different way … That’s what I think every time I go out in the street to take pictures. What will be my approach to life that surrounds me? What will be my perspective? What will my rhyme, as said Professor Keating in the movie, quoting the poet Walt Whitman….