October 11, 2021
Peter Dench talks to the French photographer Pauline Petit about her graphic and carefully crafted black and white portraits, which were awarded second place and the audience award in the EISA Maestro 2021 photo competition on the subject of faces
The saying goes, if you are trilingual you speak three languages, bilingual two languages, one language, you are English and I am very, very English. I tried to learn; Hundreds of hours of Rosetta Stone Russian, countless meals with German, Spanish and Italian friends; didn’t get stuck much. Of course, being English, I expect everyone else in the world to speak it. The French photographer and artist Pauline Petit does not.
I learned French at school. I could tell her my name and ask her what’s on the table or through the window, that’s it. I spent hours watching their YouTube videos, their energy is contagious. I mention all of this in case something is lost in the google translation.
I am confident that Pauline was born in 1986 and lives in Doudeville, a small town in Normandy, France. Doudeville is the flax capital of the region, where a linen festival is held every June during the blue flower season.
If that sounds like a picture book setting, you’re right. After working at the local tourist office for four years explaining flax to tourists, Pauline wrote and illustrated three books about Linette, a little girl born with flax on her head instead of hair.
“When I was young, I dreamed of becoming an artist, a singer, a painter, and a writer. I was already creative. As the only girl, I spent a lot of time alone and had to take care of myself. So I created little universes with my toys. Later I wanted to become an interior designer, but didn’t pass the entrance exam for the art school.
So I gave up the idea of being an artist and then started taking photos, ”explains Pauline. Her first camera was a Fujifilm bridge model that her mother received as a gift in 2004. “Then I lost everything in 2013! My job, my partner, my self-confidence and since I had nothing to lose, I started my own business as a professional photographer. Over time, the photos took up more and more space in my life. I didn’t choose to become a photographer. Photography forced itself on me. ‘
Pauline started out with landscape photography (too scared to work with people) and then grew her business by adding wedding photography, family and baby portraits. Her confidence has grown to the point that she becomes a photography trainer and starts the YouTube channel Apprendre La Photo De Portrait (learn portrait photography) before falling in love with portraits and refining her now inimitable style.
Your series, The graphic portrait and Figures de style are inspired by the world of childhood and adolescent illustration. The aesthetic is humorous and crazy – like nothing I’ve seen before. “You don’t see it, but I’m really shy and to hide my shyness I make people laugh.
It’s a strategy like any other and then there are so many sad and dramatic images on TV, in the newspapers and even in photo competitions. I’m sick of seeing serious pictures. I think the world has to be positive to get better, so I want to create happy pictures! ‘ Pauline’s images are cheerful, approachable and challenging: there are faces of a black Lisa Simpson, Chapeaux puzzles, Minion, a René Magritte style and a Wikipedia-inspired face.
In a third series, Woman who collects men, Pauline wanted to express an injustice that one encounters as a woman in photography. “It’s difficult to be an artist-photographer, but I think it’s even more difficult to be a female artist-photographer. For example, one day someone said to me: “Your work is very original, for a woman.”
I wanted to express this injustice by counterbalancing the stereotype of the male photographer taking pictures of women. I decided to put myself in the opposite position of a woman photographer who photographs men. ‘ The men in the collection are included in profile to highlight differences – face shapes, noses, mouths, skin textures, etc.
Uniforms, hats, accessories, and hairstyles are used to create a representation of people through the centuries: gentleman, firefighter, biker, king, sailor, soldier and Royal Air Force commander. Pauline paints each face black to make the look homogeneous.
“After all, I work on faces the fashion photographer’s style: smooth skin, perfect facial features, flawless hairstyles, techniques that are generally reserved for women’s beauty retouching. I post-process all of my photos in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop, using split-frequency and dodge-and-burn techniques.
I work at 300 to 500% zoom and spend about ten hours per photo. I’m a perfectionist and if I listened to myself I would spend even more time on it! ‘ she betrays. Pauline sketches ideas for her portraits and then buys or makes the necessary accessories. She does makeup and hair. Once prepared, each portrait sitting in their Normandy studio takes around 15 minutes to produce 10-20 photos with a Nikon D750 and a 70-200mm f / 2.8 lens.
An Elinchrom flash is positioned on the model’s face with a beauty cup. A second flash is positioned behind the model to create an even background. A flash meter is used to calculate +1.3 EV overexposure. “When it comes to choosing black and white, people often ask me why? And I answer them: Because I’ve always done paint and I had to mark a break, develop myself, had to keep going. “
Pauline is often a role model. The Graphic Portrait series are self-portraits, reaching the Audience award and 2nd place overall at the Expert Imaging and Sound Association Maestro Awards 2021 competition on the subject of faces. “I really want my work as a photographer to be recognized.
It’s a goal, a dream for me So I take part in a lot of competitions, contact a lot of magazines and work a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot, a lot! The recognition of my work is good for me. It gives me confidence. It’s my little revenge for missing my degree as an interior designer! ‘
New photo series, Hat heads, with characters with atypical hats, and My beloved owner, 16: 9 theatrical portraits of women and their dog have been included in Pauline’s collection. Her first artist book is picking up speed. Pauline’s universe is passionate and childlike, humorous and graphic, rigorous and precise. “My life has not always been easy, but in recent years I’ve had the chance to live a dream with photography.” And it’s dream photography that is translated into all languages.
About Pauline Petit
Pauline Petit started out as a social photographer and is a photography trainer. Since 2019, her personal photographic work has focused on bizarre and humorous black and white portraits.
Pauline Petit was born in 1986. She comes from Normandy in France, where she lives and works in her studio called Studio 22. Since childhood, Pauline has been interested in an artistic career. So she wrote and illustrated a collection of children’s books before becoming a professional photographer in 2007.
In 2019 Pauline developed a multidisciplinary approach to her personal work, combining illustration and painting with photography. She produces humorous scenes with an aesthetic strongly influenced by graphic design.
This series, The graphic portrait, consists of several dozen closely framed monochrome portraits presented in a square format on a white background. It shows imaginary, humorous and surprising characters that challenge and question us and at the same time make children and adults laugh.
It is designed to be simple and accessible so that it can be appreciated by everyone. Pauline’s inspirations come from children’s literature and her love for painting and drawing. She presents a childlike and light, but also rigorous and precise universe and has intelligently combined these two passions to create images that are halfway between photography and drawing.
In addition to make-up and hairstyling, she creates the various accessories herself, photographs and then processes them in her studio. And a little revelation: the eight pictures presented here are all self-portraits. A great example of anything that can be made from a single face! See pauline-petit.fr, Instagram: @paulinepetitphotographie
International winner of the EISA Maestro 2021 announced
EISA Maestro 2021 UK winners announced