Photography Inspired by Painting
Interview by Jennifer Nelson, WTP Feature Writer
Photographer Sandrine Hermand-Grisel grew up in Paris and London before relocating to the United States. She studied international law, then in 1997 decided to dedicate herself full-time to photography. Influenced by her late mother’s sculptures and her husband’s paintings and films, she worked on several projects before her series Nocturnes was recognized in 2005 by Harry Gruyaert, Bertrand Despres, and John Batho for the Prix Kodak de la Critique Photographique. In 2006, she moved with her family to the United States and began experimenting with landscape photography with her series Somewhere and On the Road.
Her work appears this month in WTP Vol. VI #8.
Nelson: How did growing up in France and England impact your photography, particularly in the series Sea Sketches and Downtown?
Hermand-Grisel: Being able to visit major exhibitions both in Paris and in London opened my mind to art in general and photography in particular. It shaped my taste and awoke my passion. Sea Sketches was inspired by the painting ”Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” by Caspar David Friedrich that I discovered in London, while Downtown, on the other hand, comes from my fascination of getting lost in cities—a taste I most likely developed from living in both capitals.
Nelson: What led you to become a photographer after studying international law?
Hermand-Grisel: I always loved photography. As a teenager, my bedroom was not covered in posters of music bands or films, but with black-and-white images of famous photographers. I just didn’t have the courage when I graduated from high school to tell my parents that I wanted to be a photographer. I had decided to take it slow, to study law in order to be able to transfer to Science Po (a very selective university), to learn how to be a good writer, with the secret idea to become a photojournalist in the end. Life changed my plans. I lost my mother in 1995, and with the support of my husband whom I had just met, I decided to dedicate my life to what I loved sooner rather than later.
Nelson: How did your late mother’s sculptures and husband’s paintings and films influence what and how you photograph?
Hermand-Grisel: Being raised and surrounded by talent and passion inspired me to do the same. Endless discussions about art and projects opened my mind and gave me ideas. My mom’s sculptures inspired my nudes, their sharp contours and the poses of my models. My husband’s paintings and films inspired my search for colors and composition. His advices and critiques made me a better a photographer.
Nelson: What techniques or effects did you use in Nocturnes, which features images of close-up faces in brown colors and shadows, and what other artists or influences might have impacted this series?
Hermand-Grisel: The pictorial elements that inspired me in Nocturnes are undoubtedly paintings with the technique of chiaroscuro used by Rembrandt in the seventeenth century. I took black-and-white film images that I then scanned and colored in Photoshop to get that effect of old paintings.
Nelson: The series Waterlilies, featured in WTP Vol. V #3, resembles paintings, in your documenting the fleeting nature of childhood through images of your children swimming. How did you achieve these effects?
Hermand-Grisel: Waterlilies is an ode to Monet and his famous canvasses of the same name. I took digital color images of my children each time they were in a pool and added multiple layers of stone and concrete textures, to “freeze” their movements in this water ballet.
Nelson: While living in San Francisco for ten years, you took pictures of sailing vessels that became the series On Board. What artists inspired you for these rather nostalgic images, ones that resemble old paintings?
Hermand-Grisel: When you are fortunate enough to live in San Francisco, you are inevitably attracted to the sea, its life and beauty. My husband used to sail a Knarr, a modern version of a Norse merchant ship used by the Vikings, and I often sailed with him. Being on the water, I discovered old ships that I wanted to photograph. The images are indeed nostalgic of the past. I scanned old photographic plates and merged the two images. They are also small images as if they were plates themselves.
Nelson: Why did you launch the website All About Photo, and how has it evolved to include an annual awards competition and print magazine?
Hermand-Grisel: When I arrived in San Francisco with my family from France, I had no idea where to find a professional photo lab, what were the best photo galleries or what photo contest to apply to, so when my husband asked me what would be my dream website, I came up with the idea of All About Photo. I wanted to find on the same website all the information a photographer could wish for. I dreamt it and he did it for me! Thanks to his talent, the website gained more and more exposure. Discovering so many talented artists on a daily basis, I wanted to give photographers another opportunity to showcase their work and gain recognition. That is why we launched All About Photo Awards – The Mind’s Eye. But an annual photo contest was still not enough and we created AAP Magazine with thematic printed issues. The competitions and the magazines are a way to help photographers that we love showcase their talent.
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