An exercise in simplicity: A brief interview with Frédéric Lecloux

Frédéric Lecloux, a Belgian-French photographer, first came to Nepal in 1994 to trek. He took many pictures as well, mostly landscape photographs of the Himalayas. Back then, he didn’t have anything concrete to say about the country – so the pictures were postcard snapshots to take back home. It was also an exercise to see if he could replicate the works of photographers like Eric Valli and Steve McCurry, both of whom he admired. But in the next five years, his photographic vision sharpened and the scope of his narrative widened. Here is an extract of a conversation with Lecloux, regarding his journey through photography, in Nepal.

As a documentary photographer, when did you first find that you had a story to tell?

It took me quite some time to find my photographic vision. Initially, I didn’t have the skills to express my feelings. Then I attended a workshop with Lisa Sarfati, a former Magnum photographer. Her workshop taught me to understand people as subjects and perfect the techniques of capturing a moment. Since then, my work in Nepal has mostly hinged on trying to understand what it is to be a young person here.

Your pictures are very static. There is an element of silence and of being solitary. How did this style develop?

I don’t like taking pictures where lots of things are happening. I like my pictures to be simple, centered and straight. This static frame must have been Lisa Sarfati’s influence. But in the past decade, I have added to it and made it my own. This style has helped me maintain a distance from the subjects, while also exploring their depths.

How has your craft evolved since 2001?

In 2001, when I started the ‘Everyday Epiphanies’ series, I was only interested in photographing people in the intimate spaces of their homes and rooms. I didn’t photograph landscapes or objects. Now I have started taking pictures of my subjects in the open spaces in villages and the countryside. This shift has been gradual. I began by photographing simple objects like the ubiquitous plastic jug that is seemingly found in all small Nepali restaurants. I feel simple objects like these are symbolic of life in contemporary Nepal.

What has been the most difficult thing for you while taking a photograph?

When I was in Ilam, a young man approached me to practice his English. Noticing my camera, he and some of his friends also agreed for a picture. We went to a nearby tea plantation, where they started posing like a boy-band. This was not something I was interested in but still, I took their photographs. After a while, when they lost interest in posing, two of them peacefully held each other and meditatively looked out at the plantation. This was a very natural shot and is still easily one of my favorites. This is something I have learnt during these years as a photographer, that sometimes the greatest obstacle between the photographer and reality is his camera. These days, I have been playing with this idea of reality using my daughter’s toy camera, as it might be less of an obstacle to the flow of life. Nowadays, I am trying to photograph moments without any interruption. I don’t want my camera to influence reality but it still does, to a small extent.

Finally, are you excited about Photo Kathmandu and how your work is going to be displayed to the public in the alleyways of Patan?

After the earthquake, I am happy to see how photo.circle had the courage to move forward with the festival. I am also happy and excited to showcase my work. I have always received a positive response from the Nepali people, which reconfirms my belief that I am working in the right place. Regarding the public exhibition, I hope that whatever the background of the viewers, they will be able to feel and see something intimately Nepali in the photographs. They are not on the walls yet, but we will see what happens.

Frédéric Lecloux’s series ‘Everyday Epiphanies’ is being exhibited in Dhaugal- South Wall. He will also be teaching a workshop ‘Photographing the Everyday’ from 30th October- 2nd November 2015.