From today April 4th to the 9th there will be a photo exhibition & book signing of Fred Mortagne at Bastard in Milano. Opening today at 6pm and skate session in the Bastard Bowl from 8pm with Jacopo Carozzi. Read the interview with Fred we released on a brief glance issue #40.
Fred Mortagne’s black and white photography is based on a constant search for the perfect match between shapes, lines and shadows, where the skateboarder is framed perfectly. This aesthetically-blasting formula has been the solid foundation of Fred’s photographic journey over the last 15 years, now collected in ATTRAPER AU VOL, his very first book. A few weeks ago, we had a conversation with Fred about the end of Cliché, him being a Leica ambassador, his approach to photography and, of course, about his book. Enjoy.
Being from Lyon, you were involved with Cliché Skateboards since the beginning. This week, rumors about the brand going “out of biz” started circulating. Surely and obviously the brand was different from what it used to be… but how did you react to the news?
Yes, I heard about it yesterday, and the first feeling to grow inside of me was sadness. I guess in its recent years it wasn’t evolving on what it was originally based… It’s tough to advance in time and always find the right formula to evolve and adapt to survive. I mean, that’s my everyday challenge, how to always re-invent myself, maintain something strong over the years. David Bowie was excellent at that. He would never be where you expected him to be. Always re-inventing himself, killing a formula that was successful, and starting from scratch again.
In Lyon, it seems like the most iconic spot in the city, Hotel de Ville, is going to be “modified” or maybe just a part of it… you are one of the supporters of the petition to save it… what’s the situation at the moment? With the departure of Cliché, could two symbols of the 2000s skate scene be disappearing together?
We are working hard right now to save it. We don’t exactly know the plans of the city, but they surely want to ban skateboarding from it. It takes a lot of effort to find all the strongest arguments, but we are making good way. We have so much love and passion for that spot and its importance for the local scene, that it gives up tremendous energy. We are very well-connected, with some city officials and the media, our voice will be much stronger than anyone expects. The hardest part is to adapt to how politicians work and speak. Their way of working is so sneaky and anti-democratic… But I have good faith. We have a lot of resources and help from people like Long Live Southbank which is so precious, their experience is huge and so valuable, what they did to save their spot commands true respect.
In your photography, lines and shapes play a very important role, it looks very similar to architectural photography. What do you look for when you are out shooting? What captures your attention? And is there a lot of research to find the right locations to shoot, or is it more, let’s say, random?
It’s stuff I get naturally attracted to when I shoot, although it’s not like that in my everyday life. But as soon as I have the desire to shoot pictures, my eyes focus on those “ingredients” to make my own visual recipe, and the rest disappears. I do research a lot, yes, I mean, just like for skate spots, anyway. Whatever I do or wherever I go, I pay attention to my surroundings, to find skate spots, or shoot spots…
Still concerning the technical aspect of photography… what’s your relationship with these 2 classic tools in skateboarding photography: the fish eye lens and flashes. It seems like they are distant from your approach to photography…
Yeah, I have never been a full-time skate photographer, and the pros excel in that domain, so there was no point for me to do that. Plus, I wanted to express something else, a more personal approach, another facet of skateboarding, not commercial… the opposite of what I was doing with video for the skate companies… Shooting skate pictures in my own way was a manner to not just be focused strictly on the marketing aspect of skateboarding, because it is much more than that, even though it is the general focus.
You are a Leica ambassador, how did the relationship with Leica come about? I mean… it’s every photographer’s dream. Ha ha ha.
In life you need to be patient. Sometimes things happen years after you do some stuff. In 2007 I won the Redbull Illume photo competition. But nothing really came directly out of it. Shooting for Redbull could have been something, but I was not interested at all, plus my photography was too far from their needs. I entered the contest every time, and always placed in the finals, in the top 50. For the 3rd edition, Leica was their partner, and as an important participant, they asked me to use their M Monochrom for a limited time, to enter pictures shot with it. I could keep it if I placed in the top 50 again. I shot great stuff, like the cover of the book, but I only made it to the top 250. As I was supposed to return the camera, I made sure to shoot as much as possible with it, to have material to show to Leica. It was such an opportunity. They were eventually impressed with all of it, and after a few months, told me to keep the camera, then offered me some collaborations… So it was not just about having the connection, I really worked to make it happen, which was great because it was high motivation to go out and shoot a lot, more than I do usually. That’s one reason why there are so many pictures of events in my book.
Last September at Photokina (the main Photo Tradeshow in Europe) in Cologne you took part in this sick photo exhibition called “Masters of Photography “ together with amazing photographers like Ellen von Unwerth, just to name one. What did it feel like to be part of such a project? What feedback did you receive from the public regarding your photography and skateboarding photos in particular?
Of course it’s such an honour. Leica are really supportive and show tremendous love for my photography. The show was huge and my section was right in the middle of it, really well-presented. I didn’t get much feedback directly, but again, with exhibitions in general, I know by experience that it’s better not to expect too much right away. It can be strange to do big shows and sometimes not get any feedback. But that doesn’t mean nothing is happening in people’s minds. You need to let it brew. People need to see your work again, and again, and again, especially nowadays with the thousands of pictures we see all the time. I did get contacted by a few people from photography magazines, and that was rewarding that they noticed and enjoyed my work to the point of contacting me afterwards. That even means more to me when it is non-skateboarders.
But as I said, maybe in 2 or 3 years, or more, I will probably get in touch with someone who will tell me, “I loved your show at Photokina in 2016!”
How long did you work on the book and what was the main challenge while making it? From a photographer’s point of view, the photo selection can sometimes be a nightmare when you have to edit your own photos…
That’s why I did it with Thomas Campbell who has a huge experience, as he had already made so many good books, and was the photo editor for Skateboarder magazine in the nineties. It was still difficult, because I had a lot of strong material, so it was hard to have to let go of some iconic pictures, as we didn’t want to make a 300-page book, and it was really hard to balance it all with less intense pictures, to find the necessary breathing space. Thomas did the layout with his designer Tosh Woods, and I brought some ideas as well.
Making a book is not a joke. Over the years I waited for good conditions to start working on it, and when Thomas offered to publish it, I knew the time had come and it was the best option.
You once told me that one of the hardest things to find was the right title…
Yes, because the best one was already taken: A Brief Glance!!!! We wanted a French title… and I found what the French translation of it was, I was so hyped, then I realised it was ‘A Brief Glance’ in English. I was so jealous!!!! Such a good title! ‘Attraper Au Vol’ has some similarities in a way. It’s about “grabbing” something as it flies by… it could be a butterfly. That is what skateboarding is about when you do tricks, and it applies even better to photography. So I like that it connects to both.
While working on the book, did you put a lot of pressure on yourself to make it the way you wanted? And the day you had it in your hands for the very first time, how did you feel?
Not that much pressure, I think. We took the time to do it right, and put it out only when we were satisfied with it. The whole process took over 2 years. For sure, there was a little stress before finally opening the first box, but then it was all good. I was very happy. But now, most importantly, the feedback I’m getting from people is already truly excellent, so that’s what matters the most.
It seems like photography plays a “less important” role in skateboarding compared to videography nowadays… the new generations prefer to watch a clip than a pic… was it wrong timing for you to switch from videography to photography? Do you agree with that, and how do you feel about it?
Well, I always like to do things with wrong timing! Not following trends. It gives me more chances to stand out, I guess… Sure, nowadays it’s all about video, which gets tiring at a certain point as we are bombarded with so many, all the time. I also believe in the power of printed works, as we are surrounded by screens in our everyday life, so relaxing the eyes with non-electronic stuff is important as well. People still like nice objects, like books, vinyls, crafted objects.
What’s your opinion about everything getting “old” the next day and people’s attention to things fading really quickly? When you put a lot of effort and an amazing amount of energy and work into a project (a photo shooting, a magazine or a video edit), doesn’t it get very frustrating at times?
It’s definitely not easy, it’s hard to still invest so much time when you know what will happen. Indeed, I think it’s the right timing for the book. It’s not going to be outdated in 2 weeks. It will live for years. There is no truth about an era. Taking risks and doing the opposite of what the trends are, usually proves to be more successful. Again, that’s what Bowie was excellent at.
In a recent interview we did with Alex Olson, talking about full length videos he said, “We don’t have four years to wait anymore…” what do you think about the new trend in making skateboard videos: short edits, a lot of lines, raw footage?
Personally, I like to work on smaller projects so I can experiment with more styles and techniques, and have more fun with less routine. It makes my life very diverse. Then again, it contributes to overflowing the web with so many videos. Many factors make it that, yes, it’s hard to make a full length video these days. It shouldn’t take longer than 2 years, so the material doesn’t become outdated. But there are no rules. Look at “Spirit Quest,” an independent video created by Colin Read that took three years to make. It’s totally epic, absolutely original and never seen before, and that’s the perfect example that everything is still possible. It’s just that people are tired of watching the “classic” videos all built up on the same format. That’s the main factor that makes people get tired of them, not the wait.
After shooting more and more photos, what kind of photography attracts you now, outside of skateboarding?
Anything really where I can apply my own style. I’m open to applying it to other subjects, which would be refreshing for me to do also, you know. I need to make my photography evolve. I’ve been shooting much more street photography than before, and working on the book gave me a lot of serious ideas and subjects, so right now I want to focus more on photography and leave video a bit to the side, until I come back to it in the future, that’s for sure. I will always shoot both.
What’s your plan for next year? Are you already working on any new projects? Any anticipation?
I will do some stuff centered around the book… I have a show in San Francisco lined up in March… and as an Element Advocate, I will keep on working on some projects with them. The last one was editing Jarne Verbruggen’s part for Thrasher, and that was a huge success! I love his skateboarding, so unique and creative. He has my vote for 2016 Euro SOTY!
(interview Davide Biondani)