French born, Richard Vantielcke counts the great surrealist Rene Magritte as an inspiration and indeed an ongoing compass in terms of his photographic creativity. That said it would be reductionist to align the 41-year old French man’s creativity to one source.
A self-confessed cinephile with a passion for giants in the field like; Brian De Palma, Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock the cinematic gaze is clear to see in his images. Instead of a focus on technical beauty, Vantielcke urges us to be immersed and stirred by his stark occasionally desolate images of the urban world while engaging our minds in the thought provoking layers he creates.
Your passion for images comes out in all your work. Chart that journey from a passion to a career and a love.
I have loved photography since I was young. I have had no formal photographic education to speak of but I developed my own way to look at things, thanks to my passion for cinema legends like; Stanley Kubrick, Sergio Leone, Brian De Palma. I made several short films when I was younger but I did not have the technical rigor, nor the patience to persist. Photography for me now, is a passion for me but I do not want to get out from my comfort zone for a career in photography. I like the art too much to be bound by money. I see too many photographers around me who are too busy creating images for living-that’s not what I want.
Is there something about your character which suits photography?
Photography is my medium for creative self-expression-my photography says more about me than years of psychotherapy! It is above all an outlet, my oxygen to survive intellectually speaking. I need to create something and photography is the only area where I find a singularity.
You state that everything that you do is based or uses Rene Magritte as a foundation-firstly why was Magritte so important and indeed why is he still such an important name in the creative world?
I discovered Magritte’s painting during an exhibition a few months after I arrived in Paris. It was the first time I have felt such an emotional shock from a still image. I saw at the same time an incredible formal beauty and a playful visual enigma, full of mystery and hidden meanings. A perfect marriage between form and substance. The painting of Magritte fuels the eyes, the brain and the guts!
Sounds like we all need a bit of Magritte in our lives?
Today, in a world overloaded with images, Magritte is needed. Throughout his life, he never ceased to question the relation of images to reality. This is what our daily life is made of now-we are only an image today. In the eyes of others, we are often reduced to a Facebook or Instagram account, we are a lie in the form of beautiful stories and beautiful pictures-that’s why advertising keeps plundering Magritte’s graphic universe. It is all about selling a dream… or lies.
You explain it on your site but discuss his influence more on your ideas regarding your own creativity.
The paintings of Magritte had a fundamental importance on my way of looking at the world, of reinterpreting it through photography. I like to transform simple everyday life, into something singular, extraordinary, mysterious. Two paintings by Magritte have never ceased to intrigue and inspire my photographic universe: The Empire Of Lights and The Son Of Man. At the level of the formal intention, my Urban Oasis series on night groceries in Paris is a result from this desire to sublimate the daily life, to make it something else. Relatively speaking, it’s a bit my own Empire Of Lights.
On the conceptual level, there is a bit of The Treachery Of The Images in my series Watching Big Brother in which my character is confronted with bellicose, comical, surreal messages on advertising displays of the city. For me my Cardboard Box Head series is the most indebted to the influence of Magritte. This man, wearing a cardboard box on his head, wandering around the city in his work, sleep, eat routine is my Son of Man. He is the man in the street, that anonymous white collar at the centre of the picture who no one sees-he is nobody, hence he is everybody.
We love your bias towards substance rather than clinical photographic technique.
I know that any photographer can reproduce without too much difficulty the plastic of my photographs. There is nothing technically demanding and my post-production is very light. On the other hand, I think that my themes and my way of telling stories are very personal. I have rarely reached this perfection, when substance and form become one. It was in the Cardboard Box Head series where I came close to that ideal. There are pictures where I see nothing but defects but a large part of the series is almost perfect in my eyes. The graphics, the concept and the narration are in total adequation and this creates something quite unique.
Much of your work embraces shadows and darkness building dystopian like worlds.
I am rather critical of our contemporary society but I am not so good at putting my thoughts into words. Photography is my best creative medium of expression to deliver a message, without the excessive heaviness that usually accompanies my words. I am mainly inspired by the cinema-films such as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Don Siegel and Philip Kaufman’s version) or the Romero’s Evil Dead Trilogy tell more about the evils and fears of our societies than many serious works. With artificial lights of the night and the ambient darkness, I try to get out from reality (which bores me). I like to project fantasy, mystery, ingredients of cinema genre in my photographs to snatch them from reality. They thus gain in evocative force. In all humility, I see myself, as a B-photograph craftsman (like a “B-movie” director) who likes to think he has things to tell.
In your work at night there is a strong theme of solitude.
In my practice of urban night photography, I am the; screenwriter, the director, the chief operator, the actor, the editor – I do everything alone, without having to share my desires and ideas with others. For me night photography is a solitary practice, a dialogue with my subconscious that takes control of my camera as the night goes by.
There is the presence of your ‘alter-ego’-Waldo?
His name is not Waldo-I named it for that photograph in which he is hidden in the frame as the character of Waldo (or Wally in the UK) in famous children’s books. I refer to him more often as “my shadow character”. He began to intervene in my photographs because I (or him) was the only character available on the location. I decided to step through to the other side of the lens. Once you want to integrate narrative elements into a photograph I feel you need a character to help the audience’s own imagination. One never sees his face (Magritte’s Son of Man again) or he is seen from behind. Over time ‘he’ has taken shape and I think my pictures speak much more about me than I want to admit and this character has become my alter ego, my other me, my share of shadow, my evil twin.
Die and Retry love some of the ideas you point to.
This photograph was for the moment and it is the last piece of the conceptual and narrative series entitled Watching Big Brother. It was inspired by two essential masterpieces of science fiction anticipation: from a literary perspective, 1984 (1949) by George Orwell and the cinematic marvel They Live (1988) by John Carpenter. As any French guy, I’ve got Revolution in my blood! A part of me has always wanted to ruin advertising displays on subway platforms or in the streets with large shock sentences written with a permanent marker but at the end, I am a bit coward so I make the images on photoshop. In terms of the name of the image, it refers to a video game where the principle gameplay requires you to die repeatedly to progress. Before knowing the movements, the actions or the choices to be made to complete the level, your character must pass from life to death.
Talk a bit about ‘space’ and ‘emptiness’ in your work?
I really like to fill my photographs with emptiness. I am often told that the framing of my photographs is too large, but that is exactly what I am looking for. My characters are often lost in pure clarity (my narrative self-portraits) or isolated in the frame thanks to darkness (my urban night photography). This emptiness has several reasons for being: I love vignettes and I especially like how the darkness will naturally define the frame of an image and erase the parasite elements in the periphery of the composition to force the audience’s gaze to fall on what I want them to see. This emptiness is also an element of anguish, the state of mind in the ‘people’ in my images-it’s a powerful and atmosphere tool in cinematic genres like; fantasy and horror-it is the monster that will swallow my shadow character.
Are your works a mix of spontaneity and thought out compositions?
In general, I think that my shots are very spontaneous. I will go out for long walks into town, trying to lose myself, with my camera and shoot literally everything that inspires me. Sometimes, I think my subconscious takes over during shooting and the rational brain lets go but the reptilian brain sees something and is not going to give up until the work is done. It is much later in post-production, looking for a name to illustrate the photography that I understand what my “other me” wanted to frame when shooting. On other bigger projects or more complex photographic projects, I write down ideas and spend a lot of time conceptualizing what I want to say and the story I want to tell. The images making up my narrative and conceptual series Cardboard Box Head have been precisely storyboarded but the spontaneity is there anyway, it always comes when you do not expect it. The more you prepare a project, the more you leave room for spontaneity when shooting.
Discuss ‘absurdity’ what does it mean to you?
I have developed a taste for the absurd in my photographs. I like absurd situations, people who are wide of the mark or a little crazy. They do not do what is expected from them. With the city, the rules that govern it are often genuine territories of absurdity for one who takes a little time and perspective to look. My character often finds himself in conflict with the city… I like to play with road signs or road markings to create visual jokes.
Lastly you are a self-confessed cinephile and your work shows that-can you name a scene that embodies what you deem powerful cinema.
Here is a difficult question …but if I had to quote only one sequence, it would be the key scene of Dressed To Kill (1980) by Brian de Palma. A woman, supposedly the heroine of the film (the audience has been following every act and gesture of her for more than 30 minutes) has just been savagely murdered in an elevator. A change of atmosphere, a luxury prostitute in discussion with her client before leaving home, the elevator arrives on her floor, the door opens and she sees the victim who is about to succumb…she is asking for help. But the killer is with her, hidden in the corner of the elevator-all the visual mastery of De Palma is deployed in this sequence without any dialogue. Time is almost suspended with an excessive slow motion. The game of glances between the two women becomes a game of mirror when the heroine sees the reflection of the killer’s razor and guesses that she is also in danger. Like Hitchcock, De Palma films this tension sequence as a sex scene. That gives something particularly striking, even if we find it a bit grandiloquent, or even squarely kitsch-personally, this sequence gives me the spin.