A Conversation with Carine Magescas

Editor’s Note: Last year I was looking for a photographer when a Google search returned a body of work from Carine Magescas titled “La Plage Blanche”. Not what I was looking for, but it proved to be serendipity at its most elegant. While researching Magescas’ work, I discovered that in 2015 I was within a few yards of one of her exhibitions in Chelsea, the gallery district of NYC.
What I did not know at the time was that she had a solo exhibition in the Aperture Building on 27th St., just a few steps away.

I was struck by Magescas’ high-key style. You can immediately see she has chosen to only leave in her photographs what is necessary. Creating scenes that challenge us to see beaches in a new light. Whether you are looking at surfers waiting for the next wave or chairs lined up and hinting of the ocean just beyond our sight, her photographs compel you to lean in and look a little deeper at what she has chosen to share with the viewer.

I need to share one more thing: In the emails, she and I have shared, she has been very warm and personable. That is a hard thing to accomplish in an email.

PH: To begin our interview, can you share with us who you are and  when you first discovered photography?

I am a French photographer. I came from Paris to the US in 1998 and lived in California for 15 years before moving to New York City a few years ago. It’s hard to say when I first discovered photography. I don’t remember a distinct moment. Strangely enough, I re-discovered recently that my father, whom I never knew, was a photographer. I found some of his photographs – mostly black and white of celebrities in the 60’s and they are quite beautiful. There is soul in them. There are a few photos he took of my mother in the South of France, before I was born, where she looks like a stunningly beautiful young Claudia Cardinale.

PH: Knowing that you have moved from France to California and then to NYC; I would like to ask how does where you live or your sense of place influence your photography? Or does it?

I find America extremely inspiring. The sheer scale of landscape is so powerful here; the sense of freedom is palpable and being able to gaze at the horizon with no interruption is amazing. This is something you rarely see in France. But I do find inspiration pretty much everywhere I go, and often in places that are overlooked. A derelict building taken over by wild grasses in the middle of nowhere makes me very happy… What comes first? Your vision or what your eye sees? I think you see things differently depending on your state of mind. In California, the beach is ever present and an obvious source of inspiration. Since I moved to the East coast, I am drawn to snow scenery … still a “white” state of mind …

PH: When did you start to share your work with the public? Was it a conscious effort on your part or were you encouraged by others first?

It all happened quite organically. In 2010, I launched a collaborative photo blog called 2Filles2Villes. I have a friend in France who takes beautiful photos of her travels. I suggested we create this visual diary of diptychs; her in France me in the US. We still do it to this day, seven years later. Every Sunday she or I start with an image and the other one answers with another image, it’s also accompanied by a few words. The result is a diptych that has its own dynamic. It challenged me and helped me tremendously to improve my photography. It’s also how I started to get a lot of interest from people I knew and were asking if they could buy my photographs. But things became really serious after I moved to New York, where I was approached by a gallery, and soon after by a few others. Strangely enough, I never had to pitch a gallery so far. It happened quite serendipitously.

PH: Can you briefly describe your process for creating your images?

I relate to what Patti Smith says “ In art and dream, proceed with abandon…” . I like the unexpected and how wandering or reverie can lead you to something you would never have discovered otherwise. I never stage a photograph or plan it. I let a moment dictate a picture. I see something and have to take out my camera – I always have a camera with me, always – and take a picture. It often happens when I drive or am doing something totally different and I can easily get lost in the moment when I see something I want to photograph. I tend to stop here and there and just shoot.

PH: Do you see your images in your mind’s eye before you start to create? Or is each image a surprise?

I do have a strong sense of what I want to accomplish and the end-result I have in mind but I enjoy being surprised and discovery is part of the process for me. I instantly know when there is something I see and want to photograph. It keeps surprising my husband and my son when they are with me because they rarely see what I see, although my son (who is now 11) is developing quite an interesting eye.

But as much as I do have a strong sense of what I want to accomplish and the end-result I have in mind, I also really enjoy a dash of unexpected. This sometimes happens in the digital darkroom when I bring back contrast and exposure to the images I shoot in over-exposure, which is not unlike the process of burning and dogging part of a print back in the day. This is how I proceeded for “One Wave”, “One Wave II” and “Bikini” in particular. The images were almost completely white when I first shot them, and by bringing back exposure and contrast, there is often a detail I might not have noticed and makes all the difference to me. Like an ankle bracelet on the young woman in Bikini”, or a touch of color popping out in “The Surge #1”. In “Camargue #2”, there is a tiny kite with a Union Jack flag that made my day!

PH: Have any photographers impacted you — in style or inspiration?

Inspiration is important, but it is also a limitation – with the constant flow of images it’s easy to question the need for more and why yours. So I actually spend very little time looking at other people’s photography even though it’s by far my favorite medium – I don’t want it to influence me, to change my vision. That said, I am always attracted by photography with a certain degree of abstraction, I enjoy photographs that could seem simple at first but have more layers than what you see at first glance. I find you never get tired of those pictures and you can keep seeing different things in them. It’s something I instinctively seek in my work. I also find a lot of inspiration in my travels and in architecture. I spent last August in Portugal and look forward to going to Japan this summer.

PH: If we came to your studio what would we see?

I work in a bright white room in our New York home. A light filled bright white space with all white furniture except for a copper chair, a Mac desktop, a large format Epson printer, several Fujifilm cameras and my former favorite Olympus, a bunch of lenses of course, and a lot of proofs on the walls. Looking out the window I am lucky to gaze at the New York roofs and those wonderful water towers. – I cannot get enough of them. We don’t have those in Europe.

PH: What memorable responses have you had to your work?

A funny thing happened to me a couple of years ago as I was shooting on a beach in Italy. My gear is quite small and discreet and usually people don’t notice me too much when I shoot. As I was shooting the beach from afar, particularly inspired by a few colorful parasols and lanky silhouettes under a glaring sun, I see growing in my visor 2 silhouettes, all of the sudden on me, angrily asking why I was photographing them. I explained who I was, showed them how overexposed my images were on my camera – which triggered a lot of perplexity – and told them they would only be far silhouettes in the picture.

A few weeks later they reached out to me, apologizing and saying now that they had seen my work, they were hoping to be included in it. Positive energy is something I care about, it’s important for me to capture something I feel good about, because every time you look at the picture you are transported back in the moment. I could not resolve myself to use those photos so far… 

But mostly response to my work has been overwhelmingly positive and I am very grateful for it. I try to instill in my images that element of layered simplicity that will allow a piece to never get tiring yet reveal itself more with time. I have received the most touching testimonies over time, from a client’s young daughters growing up with “The Surge #1”, to a couple of beautiful verses in prose, from a client, friend and collector who had found solace in my work after a loss. I am very happy and grateful that people find a certain sense of peace and serenity in my work.

PH: I have noticed that some of your works are printed on “Plex”; could you explain what that is and why you selected it for your photographs?

It’s actually not directly printed on plexiglass but face mounted to plexiglass after the photograph is printed to a professional archival photo paper (pigment or digital C print). Once the print is adhered to the acrylic, a backing material is adhered to the back of the print.

I like the floating effect of the finished product off the wall and its modernity and that it allows me to have control over what the finished product will look like. A frame can sometimes distract from an image. I also feel that a plex mount particularly suits the “wet quality” of the images of “La Plage Blanche”.

PH: You had mentioned to me in an email that you are working on a photobook; is it too early to ask about details? When might our readers be able to purchase a copy?

For my first solo exhibition in NYC I published a small catalog featuring a slightly larger collection than the exhibited photos and anecdotes. There is a digital version of it on my web site. The new book is a more mature version with higher quality paper and accurate color printing, with over 60 images, more anecdotes and hopefully a thumbnail poster. It is entitled “La Plage Blanche”, as was my last exhibition and I hope I can release it by the end of the summer.

PH: Do you know of an overlooked or under-appreciated Photographer we should know about?

He’s a lot more known now but I discovered Saul Leiter at Paris Photo 7 or 8 years ago. He was still alive then and I felt an immediate connection to his work. His use of negative space, how he was not afraid to be unconventional, by not respecting conventional composition rules, even in the 50’s…. With the first money I made with my work, I bought one of his photographs, that luckily he was able to sign a few months before he died. It’s one of my favorite possession and I never get tired of it. It is hard to believe he only gained recognition so late in his life.

PH: What are your photographic guilty pleasures? Do you have a favorite genre/style?

I enjoy old archive-type family photos. I am fascinated by the human psyche and people stories. I love looking at a photograph: and imagining who the person was and what her thoughts were at the time of the picture. Even though I purposively do not prominently feature people in my work, the human story is very much at the center of everything I do. I also really like street photography, little stolen instants or when suddenly there is a dash of poetry where you expect it the least. I find Harry Gruayert’s images extremely poetic and I discovered some work by Wim Wenders that have that slight melancholy I enjoy seeing in photographs.

PH: What subjects other than photography are you interested in?

Too many! I struggle for time! I love architecture and design and building houses. I have remodeled and designed all our homes – we move a lot – and it’s something I really enjoy – Traveling is very important to me, even though it becomes difficult to find places that are undiscovered. I also have a passion for cinema and literature.

PH: Do you have any regrets with regards to your photography especially when starting out? What would you do differently?

Deciding on sizes for my work was a complicated process for me. The same image in a different size can make a drastically different impression.

PH: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

Edit. Edit. Edit more.

PH: What advice would you give to an aspiring photographer?

Find your style. A lot of photographers tend to put too much emphasis on technique. While it is obviously important, I think finding your signature style, what will define you as an artist is critical. Take a lot of photos and study them with a critical eye: is there a subject that comes back often? Do you tend to shoot close ups vs wide angles? Find what you enjoy shooting and are good at shooting and go deeper on that style, refining  it over and over.

PH: What is something unexpected that we don’t know about you?

I lead two very distinctly different lives, which can be slightly schizophrenic sometimes. I am a Fine Art Photographer as well as an Early Stage Startup Investor – I have invested in over 150 tech startups to date and was nominated “Angel Investor of The Year” in 2017. Many people in the art world don’t know about my work as an investor and people in the startup world have no idea that I am a “pretty serious” photographer.

PH: Thank you for this wonderful interview, we can not wait to see your next exhibition. If someone reading this interview wants to purchase a print, how may they do so?

My photographs are sold through galleries in the US and Europe; my gallery representation can be found on my website www.carinemagescas.com. There is also a contact form if people want to drop me a line (always nice to get!).