Interview d'Olivier Robert pour le magazine B&W Minimalism
Dernière mise à jour : 1 avr. 2021
(En anglais seulement)
Hello Olivier, hope you are well, please briefly tell us about yourself.
Hello and thank you very much for suggesting me this interview for your magazine.
I was born in Belgium in 1970. I left my native country when I was 25 years old and settled in Geneva, Switzerland for professional reasons. I’ve moved several times in this region (in France and Switzerland) but I’ve always staid around Lake Geneva to which I have a real attachment, especially for my photography project about this lake. Professionally speaking, I have 2 occupations; self-employed photographer and landscape architect. I share my time between these 2 activities which are often interconnected.
At the age of 15, I’ve discovered Asia. It has drastically affected my consideration of life and vision of the world. From then on, I’ve read and learned as much as I could about philosophy, arts and culture of China and Japan. Some years later, I’ve started traveling to some different Asian countries including Japan. I’ve now spent almost 20 years around Japan where I met my wife. She works as a professional blogger and photo-reporter. We’ve always worked together with our different but somewhat similar approaches of the Japanese subjects or landscapes. She also knows her country particularly well which is very helpful for me to complete my projects and get in touch with appropriate persons who often helped me reach my goals in specific researches like for my Buddhist statuary and sacred sites project.
What or who got you started or inspired you in your photography ?
I started being fascinated by photography in my childhood, at the age of 8, as far as I can remember. Thanks to my parents who were enthusiastic photographers, I’ve been firstly attracted to the dark room processes before considering cameras. There was something magical in seeing my portraits appear on a sheet of paper once it was poured in a liquid. I’ve always kept black and white memories of this beautiful period of my life. This is probably one of the main reasons why I’ve been attracted to a black and white vision of the world for almost 30 years now. I got my first camera at the age of 15 with which I made my first steps in color photography. I definitely came back to black and white in 1997 when I started my first professional shootings for models in my studio.
The classical Asian landscape painting has also been an important source of inspiration for me. From 2004, I decided to stop working in studio and returned to landscape photography. From then on, I’ve devoted all my time to different projects about waterscapes, winter and landscapes that have a similarity with this traditional Asian landscape painting.
I would like to know how you describe minimal photography and what minimal photography means to you?
For me, minimalism is the perfect expression of emptiness. Whichever the object is, it only exists in a photograph or a painting thanks to the emptiness around. The empty space around a tree, a pole, a stone or any other form provides an existence to these objects. The challenge consists is finding the right balance between the proportions of an object and the empty space to convey what I want to. Minimalist photography is probably more complicated then it may appear. To me, minimalism in photography sounds a bit like the quintessence of landscapes. On the other hand, I’d like to say that minimalism has never been a purpose in my work but a consequence of the way I want to show an object. Like long exposure shots have never been an end in itself or a speciality but just techniques to reach my goal. In some cases, minimalist sceneries are self-evident, in many other cases they are not but it doesn’t mean that I am not attracted to.
What gear do you carry with you on your photo shoots, especially when shooting snowy landscapes?
Whichever the conditions are, snowy, rainy, misty, cold or warm, I always carry the same equipment. Medium format Pentax 645z (and sometimes my good old 67), and a small format camera. I also bring with me the necessary filters depending on the weather conditions (for long exposure or contrast), 2 to 3 lenses per body and obviously my old tripod. This is nothing exceptional and probably similar to most of the landscape photographers. Having spent long periods of time in very snowy and cold conditions, I should say that the most important for me is to have gear that can stand important temperature differences and humidity. Unfortunately, I’ve had some bad experiences in the past and that’s why I’ve narrowed down my gear to efficient and resistant cameras.
What Is your favorite website or blog you visit often?
I don’t have any particular website that I would often visit. I regularly read photography magazines (like B&W Minimalism magazine of course ;-) and some others or some articles that I happen to discover on social networks. I also like to spend time searching for potential inspiration through paintings or work of 19th and 20th centuries photographers who have inspired me. It’s always a pleasure to admire the work of Ansel Adams for example. I’m rather investigating for new places to visit, organizing our next trips and searching for information. That’s what my time on internet consists in, if I’m not working on my own website.
Tell us about your photography techniques and the post processing of your photos. Do you also use manipulation methods?
No, I don’t use any manipulation methods. I don’t know how to since I don’t want to. I’ve never learned about that. I’m always amazed by the work of some specialists in photo manipulation that I discover through photography competitions for example. It seems to be an endless world of creativity.
I have a very slow photography. I’ve always been attracted to slow or long exposure photography. Working with a medium format camera probably requires more time. It helps me convey some features like timelessness or mystery in my photographs. I’ve switch to digital cameras quite late. I spent almost 4 years shooting both films and digital until I could find the appropriate method to process my photos. I really wanted my prints to be as close as possible to the results I could get in the dark room.
My process is very simple actually. I prefer to put lots of time in the preparation of trips or in any photography cessions and on the spots rather then in post processing on computer. After a personal black and white conversion, It consists in a work on density and contrast as I would do in the dark room.
I don’t remove or add anything in the image. I’m also very slow in processing my photos. I usually wait for weeks or months before checking the results after a cession. I need to take some distance with my photographs before considering them. I can’t be in a hurry. It’d be a nonsense. I want to take time for the post processing as well. I need to check a selected photograph several times until I’m fully satisfied. From that moment only, the photograph is added to the project and the related gallery on my website. Occasionally, I dive in my archives and sometimes pick out a forgotten photo that suddenly makes sense in a series. It’s a good way to remember all the great moments I had and it helps me understand the evolution of my work.
Do you have any specific opinions about photography competitions?
I’ve entered a photography competition in 2015 for the first time after being invited to. I’ve never considered competitions before. I thought that we can’t get an opinion about a photographer’s work with only one photograph. I personally need to see a collection of photographs to better understand what an artist want to say. Since we can enter series of photographs in competitions for some years, I’ve decided to take a chance. I don’t know if I have a specific opinion about it since it’s been only 3 years for me, but I feel it is a very nice way to have your work appreciated and judged by others. And I will do that as long as it will bring me happiness and satisfaction. There is no obligation. It’s also a good way to discover many great works and fantastic artists throughout the world.
What is your favorite photograph or series of photographs and why?
For all the reasons I’ve mentioned before, I would say that my Winter in Japan series is my favorite. Probably because, we’ve got so many good memories of these crazy cessions in the deep snow and more seriously because snow sceneries represent in my opinion the most beautiful side of the landscapes. They are naturally so close to a monochrome expression that we don’t need to make big efforts to know how the photographs will look like. It’s like spending time in a natural black and white world.
If you have an upcoming workshop or exhibition, We would appreciate you letting us and our readers know about it.
I don’t have any workshop. We sometimes take friends or people with us in Japan for some days for photography tours or just to have a different experience of the country off the beaten tracks, in temples, to remote places or closer to the traditional way of life.
As for the exhibitions, I just finished a five-month one at the Musée des Arts asiatiques in France (Nice, until May 28), I currently have an exhibition with my representative gallery in Switzerland (Geneva, May 1 - Sept. 1), and I luckily take part in a group exhibition in USA (Middlebury, Vermont, May 30 - June 23).
What are your plans for the future?
I have many! I’m regularly working around Lake Geneva to which I’ve devoted an important part of my life for 25 years. I just can’t stop spending time on the shores of this beautiful lake in any season. In addition to my ongoing projects about lakes, my wife and I are working intensively on the winter season in Japan. We just closed a 10-year chapter of photography in Hokkaido last year. It was a very long work to select and process all our photographs gathered over time. We’re glad we finally made it! We’re also currently writing a book about our experiences in the 47 prefectures of Japan. This book will be about our best memories or anecdotes in each prefecture with a selection of 1 or 2 representative photographs per prefecture. In addition, we continue our researches about the temples through ancient texts to discover some more interesting places to visit and people to meet.
I’m also working on a personal project in China about the landscapes and mountains that fascinated me when I was teenager and somehow where everything started for me. An interesting challenge that I try to take up with a close Chinese friend. It consists in visiting all the spots for which I’ve gathered books and documents for almost 30 years. Many of these places have now drastically changed but their spirit is still untouched and this is what matters for photography. Hopefully, it should be completed this year or in 2019. I’m not in a hurry…
Thank you for your time. If you like to further explain any point for our readers, please go ahead.
Thank you very much for your consideration and for your commitment to promoting black and white photographers around the world in a very consistent way. B&W Minimalism magazine has become a leading one in no time for the quality of its articles and for its gorgeous presentation. Congratulations on this well deserved success. I wish you best of luck for the numerous issues we are all waiting for.