Sophie Tajan is a French photographer based in Paris. Sophie’s work crosses genres and is as based in colour as it is in colour’s absence; throughout her work Sophie’s voice remains consistent.
JLM: Hi Sophie, could you introduce yourself: tell us where you are based and what you do.
ST: I’m a photographer, I’m 26 and I’m based in Paris. I do mostly fashion and still life photography, for now, but I don’t limit my practice to those two fields.
JLM: What is the creative community like in Paris? Do you find it to be a good place for photography?
ST: I think Paris is a reasonably good place for photography, although it’s commonly said that it’s not as vibrant and creative as London. But it’s a descent place to live of course; there are constantly great exhibitions and events like Offprint for example.
Now I also could say that it’s not great for photography, because you can’t photograph a city like Paris, but I realize that New Yorkers say the same about N.Y. and London photographers are sick of old yellow bricks on photographs. I think it’s the right place for me as a photographer right now, even though I often crave to escape it for a while. The only good solution is to try to travel as much as possible!
“…that’s also the point of photography in the end, to make something interesting with your own vision, and not to completely rely on the city/place/subject.”
JLM: I’ve felt the same way whilst living in New York and London. I’ve always found it harder to photograph where I live: you become so used to the visuals.
ST: Exactly! But, that’s also the point of photography in the end, to make something interesting with your own vision, and not to completely rely on the city/place/subject.
JLM: Do you have a photographic agent at the moment?
ST: I don’t have one for the moment. Several agents in Paris have reached out to me, but I want to be very careful, and I don’t want to rush anything. I don’t want to make a decision I’d regret a month later.
“The school I was in was more like: ‘take a beautiful picture of a teapot.’ Which baffled me because I wanted to do my own thing.”
JLM: You began as a self-taught photographer, could you tell us about your experiences studying? How did you feel this helped your practice and professional output?
ST: Yes, I started taking pictures when I was 15. After high school I spent a while in university and then I came to Paris to study photography. I didn’t love that school that much, but it’s definitely what put me in the right path. Everything is concentrated in Paris.
I learned to use a studio, and to develop my own film. But it wasn’t really the kind of school where you have a tutor that will really challenge you and your vision, so you had to develop it yourself. Which maybe is a good thing somehow? Maybe it’s a good thing not to be too “shaped” by your school and by harsh tutors. The school I was in was more like: “take a beautiful picture of a teapot.” Which baffled me because I wanted to do my own thing.
JLM: You work within a range of photographic genres: shooting fashion, portraiture, still life, and landscape. Is there a particular genre that you prefer to shoot?
ST: Not really, I find a balance between all of those different fields. I’m sometimes more in the mood for fashion, sometimes more into still life. It all completes each other for me.
JLM: How does your personal photography influence your commercial work? Do the two practices intersect?
“…if you don’t create new things enough, people will constantly ask you to do that thing you did in 2013…”
ST: The best is when there’s no difference between your personal and your commercial work of course. Unfortunately, in my experience it’s not that easy. There are many factors that will make it hard to just do your own thing. But I do think it’s possible. The ideal situation is that your vision is so strong that people work with you for that, and respect it. And it’s also simply that sometimes you’re really not that free to do what you want, because there’s the client, the brand’s image, the art director… But there’s a way, I’m still positive about that!
I also think it’s important to do as much personal work as possible, because I realized people pick what they like in that and ask you to recreate the same thing for commercial work. So if you don’t create new things enough,people will constantly ask you to do that thing you did in 2013, which can be boring at some point.
JLM: As well I guess that can be the power of your voice as a photographer to influence what people are interested in and to show that your work is evolving.
You previously stated that you prefer working with film rather than digital photography for the aesthetics and the process, has this changed in any way in the last few years?
ST: I still really do prefer film over digital. You think more about what you’re shooting, and every frame is consciously made. Whereas, with digital sometimes you take 100 shots to only keep one. I also simply love the aesthetic of film more, and I like that it’s a physical object, and not just a file on a computer.
JLM: What cameras do you use?
ST: I use a Mamiya RZ67 pro II, I also have a Canon AE1 that I use for more snapshot pictures, and I still use my Canon 5d MK ii quite a lot. Next thing to buy on my list is a Linhof technika!
JLM: Editing is a crucial part of your work, could you speak a little on your methods? Do you find that you need to see the work printed to edit?
ST: Yes editing is so crucial! I print to edit only when I’m updating my portfolio. It’s just nice to see everything laid out, it’s easier. But to edit for an editorial, personal, or commercial work, I don’t print.
JLM: You work with both colour and black and white photography. Are there certain subject matters or genres of photography that you prefer to shoot in colour or in black and white?
ST: Not really, I think it just depends on the subject and if it has interesting colours or if I want to focus more on the shapes, lines, and light. I do a lot of black and white lately, but I really want to do more colour.
JLM: Based on your portfolio I would assume that your preference would be to shoot with natural light. When shooting commissions do you find that you are able to do so?
ST: Yes, I love to use natural light, and that used to be a constant worry to know whether or not there will be good weather on a specific day. There are ways to recreate sunlight in the studio if you have to. But, now I’m also getting interested in a lot more different kinds of lighting atmospheres.
JLM: Have you been incorporating those interests in new lighting techniques into your personal work as well?
ST: Yes, I usually try those techniques for my own personal work first; I never really experiment on commercial work.
JLM: What has been your favourite shoot for this year?
ST: I think the last one I shot, a few days ago, which was a fashion editorial. Every element was right: the model, the styling, make-up, hair, and I had a lot of ideas, so it worked out well! I’m looking forward to seeing it published.
JLM: Great, where will we be able to see this work?
ST: It’s for vogue.it / talents. It’s a section for young talents: young photographers, stylists, and designers…
JLM: How did you become involved in that commission? Did they approach you?
ST: Through the stylist actually, he approached them, and presented his and my work to the editor, and they liked it.
“I love to research past fashion photography; we’re all spending so much time on Tumblr and Instagram that we’re constantly seeing what other up-and-coming photographers are shooting, and that can be very distracting.”
JLM: I want to ask you a bit about your sources of inspiration. You shared some images with me that all seem very related to your work. Could you speak about works that you find inspiring?
ST: I sent you some pictures of Josef Sudek and Florence Henri, which are still lifes. I love those works and I do think they have an influence on my work, which is not always linked. Same for Weston, it’s a pretty common cliché answer, but I think he’s really my favourite.
ST: For fashion I love to look at late 90’s Craig McDean or David Sims. I love to research past fashion photography; we’re all spending so much time on Tumblr and Instagram that we’re constantly seeing what other up-and-coming photographers are shooting, and that can be very distracting. I also sent you a few pictures of Koto Bolofo, who is a recent ‘crush.’ I didn’t know his work that well until recently; I just bought his book ‘Dreams.’
ST: The Nina Leen picture is something else; I don’t know her that well, but I found this picture on Tumblr and had a massive obsession with it. It inspires me to shoot something similar, maybe a similar ice or glass fabric. Sometimes I find ideas like that, a bit randomly.
JLM: There’s currently a Saul Leiter exhibition at The Photographer’s Gallery, whom I’m a fan of. I had never seen most of his fashion photography, which I think you might like as well—with his use of colour, reflections, and abstractions.
ST: I had no idea he did fashion! I love his abstract work as well indeed.
JLM: If you could pick one moment that changed your career after graduation, what would that moment be?
ST: Good question! I don’t know if there’s a precise key moment that changed something so radically. I think maybe the biggest step was to make a good portfolio a year after I finished school. This time I could see that my work/vision was starting to take shape. But, it’s constantly evolving—I think—so that was just a step among many others. Another answer could be, the time I was contacted by The New York Times Style Magazine to shoot for them, which was quite a huge step for me!
JLM: Lastly, where can we look for your work next?
JLM: Great. Sophie thanks for taking the time to chat with me today it’s been a pleasure!
ST: Great! Thank you for having me!
Jennifer Lauren Martin is a photographer living and working in London. From October 2015 through to March 2016, Jennifer worked with the Wandering Bears team, helping gather and write content for the second instalment of WB Chapters.