Lucas is a French-born photographer and cinematographer in training. Raised in the Middle East and America, his work is influenced by documentary photorealism and cinema. After finishing school in the United States with a degree in International Relations and Anthropology, Lucas made the jump and moved to London to pursue a career in film. This experience in the film industry has shaped Lucas’ work and interest in fiction with particular attention to cinematic realism. His photography reflects an imaginary world anchored in reality.
What are the rules of your photographic work?
Hi Emiliano! That’s a tough question. The first thing that comes to mind would be film. I only shoot film. I know it can sound cliche but I find it incredible and powerful to limit yourself within a range of possibilities. There’s so much to explore in terms of film stocks, pushing and pulling, etc. that it already feels limitless. For example, I’ve been trying out cinema stocks like Kodak Vision 3 500T that’s been cut and hand-spooled to fit 35mm still cameras. I can’t imagine shooting digital. There are just too many possibilities. So if I had to pin down specific rules I follow I’d start with shooting only film and exploring new techniques within that parameter. I also don’t fire the shutter if I’m not getting a good feeling about the shot I’m about to take–that also goes back to shooting film and being limited to 36 exposures (or 10 on 6×7 medium format). Increasingly I enjoy having control over my environment. I started photography by doing street photography about three years ago. Now I feel like I need to control my subjects and the lightning more to get the results I want. I think it’s a matter of finding what you like and pinning down how to get those results. For me, it’s cinematic imagery, and like films, this requires a certain level of planning sometimes. On the other hand, I’m a big fan of being surprised in the moment and letting yourself take chances by being spontaneous and always having a camera with you.
Is there a particular combination of techniques and tools that you think makes the difference?
Not really. It’s all a matter of personal preference. What I would say is to know your tools. I see too many people wasting potential by shooting mindlessly on their phones or cheap digital cameras. It’s not to say that expensive cameras are better, but you need to understand the limits, potential, and boundaries of each tool. You need to know what gear and what technique to use to achieve a certain look. Not every tool can achieve the look you want. Shooting digital for instance doesn’t give you that flexibility (and nor does film). Know what you’re after and choose the right technique and gear by experimenting over time.
Tell us about an experience that definitely changed the way you work and made you grow.
I think rather than an experience it is a feeling of frustration. I used to draw a lot as a kid and always felt frustrated when I couldn’t get the result I wanted. It didn’t look like the way it did in my mind! I started feeling the same frustration after picking up street photography. I was after ‘cinematic’ images–whatever that means. I think I wanted to capture moments that were powerful and felt suspended in time. Maybe that’s an action, maybe that’s a look someone gives you or someone else in the street. Whatever it is I was looking for I was having trouble getting it in the street. I would walk for 6-7 hours a day, looking for a shot, and would more often than not come back empty-handed. I also felt frustrated with my environment. I grew up in Abu Dhabi, among other places. But this city has impacted my imagination a great deal. I’m always after empty spaces and when I moved back to Europe after living in the UAE and then the United States for over two decades, it felt like the built environment around me didn’t correspond to what I was looking for on a personal and creative level. I hated London and its architecture. I can’t stand Paris. Although it looks nice it just doesn’t match my expectations and imagined reality. I like places that feel empty and lonely while also giving the impression of openness and unlimited possibilities. I want to be able to drive around to find those angles that speak to me. I find that in nature or in cities built with American architecture…European cities felt alienating in a way that couldn’t reconcile my creative and personal needs. I think recognizing this was a huge step and made me realize I needed to live in a place that looked like the shots I wanted to make. We all build imaginary worlds in our minds that are projected versions of our realities. My living environment needs to be as close to this as possible so that I can shape it however I want to create the moods and shots that I have in mind. Unlike my first experiences doing street photography, I don’t want to let the images come to me randomly: I want to create, shape, and control the elements that are part of an image.
Was there ever a difficult situation? How did you react? Tell us.
The most difficult situation I’ve experienced so far and creatively speaking is what I mentioned above–feeling a lack of creativity that’s tied to your mental state and lived environment. It’s tough to step away from that. For me, there’s been one constant element throughout my life and that’s surfing. There’s a very unique aspect to surfing that’s a form of meditation. Whenever I felt a wrenching lack of inspiration and creative drive I would go seek refuge in surfing. Again that sounds pretty cliche! But whatever allows you to step away from your reality for a minute is a positive force that can help regroup and focalize on the things that make you feel inspired. It can be walking, running, working out, hiking–whatever floats your boat.
How do you relate to the environment and the subjects you portray?
Linking this to the previous question, I think for me the biggest source of inspiration and my drive to create images is a need to capture the emotions of a moment that will be gone in an instant. I try to create or re-create moments that have marked my memory. These can be lived experiences, but more often than not, they are projections of a moment that may have never happened. In the same way that I would watch movies that would then impact the way I conceptualized and perceived my experiences as a teenager, I want to recreate moments that help me make sense of what I’ve lost and what I’ve lived that’s gone forever. It sounds pretty bleak but it comes down to photography’s most basic power: to capture time in a single frame. I’m a very nostalgic person and I’ve always used photography to capture moments that I knew I would miss. I moved a lot as a kid and lived in about fifteen cities throughout my life. Few places have marked my mind, and those usually were the places I wanted to keep alive by photographing small and daily moments. Now I use photography in that sense, but also to explore moments that happened years ago and that I want to re-visit. In that sense, the environment and the subjects I portray are projections of my friends and life that I left behind I guess.
I also ask you to share a bonus trick among your secret techniques.
Take your time before you take a shot! I love to let things get a little awkward with my models by not giving too many directions. It’s like an interview, things get good after an awkward silence! Don’t rush with the shutter you won’t regret it (and won’t have a thousand shots to go through haha)
Tell us about your equipment, what kind of cameras do you shoot with?
I use one 35mm camera as my daily driver. It’s an OM2n from the 1970s. I like to stay minimalist and practical. I’ve got a few prime lenses but mostly just use a 50 and a 35mm. When I need to take underwater shots I use my Nikonos IV, and when I want to shoot medium format I’ve got a Pentax 6X7. It’s all I need really and don’t ever feel the need to get more gear. The different stocks to choose from is more important to me, as long as my camera works and the lens is clear.
Are there any books you would recommend?
I’ve actually been trying to get a small collection! But it’s expensive and takes time. Some books on my list are: Painting With Light, Cinematic Storytelling: The 100 Most Powerful Film Conventions Every Filmmaker Must Know, Gordon Parks: The Atmosphere of Crime, Joel Sternfeld: Stranger Passing, Greg Girard: Under Vancouver
What stimulates your creativity, what inspires you?
Experiences 🙂 I’m super nostalgic but also pretty driven I think and am always keen to do stuff, go explore, go on long drives at night, sneak into abandoned buildings, head down to the coast to surf heavy waves, walk at night or race some friends on the beach in cars. I just want to capture those moments and let myself and others relive those moments