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Issue 5 Interview: Christelle Boulé

15 January 2018

While we await the upcoming release of issue Six, it’s nice to look back at our previous features. I spoke to Christelle Boulé, who was featured in the last edition of Loupe, to find out more about her process. Though most stockists will now be out, you can still get a copy of issue Five online here.

Harry Flook: What’s your background in photography?

Christelle Boule: I studied Fine Arts (Minor) and Graphic Design (Bachelor) in Montreal before moving to Switzerland in 2010 to work as a Graphic Designer. In 2014, I decided to go back to school to do a Master in Art Direction in Switzerland. It is then that I really plunged into the photo world, I always was attracted by photography, and I always had fun working with a camera, but I really started to have a more serious photography practice in 2014. My photographic work is nourished by my visual art and graphic design background.

HF: Talk about the process you used in making the images for Drops, and how did you discover it?

CB: It’s quite a unique and experimental process. In a photo lab, one drop of each fragrance is applied directly onto photographic colour paper. Once the perfume has dried, the paper is exposed to light. The final step consists of developing the images in the colour development process, allowing the perfume to appear.
I discovered it because I have been working around the topic of representing perfume visually for about three years now. I tried a few photo projects to see how I might develop a language that could translate something we cannot capture, something that is invisible. It is not an easy task to visually represent something as evanescent and personal as perfume.
It is through multiple projects and experimentation that I arrived at a thought: What if the perfume liquids react on photographic paper? I honestly thought I would not get any results. I was so surprised to see the first perfume appear in front of my eyes. I immediately had to check if every other perfume would react differently. And they did! That night, I remember I went to celebrate, thinking, “I got it!”

Sables, Drops ©Christelle Boulé
Sables, Drops ©Christelle Boulé

HF: You picture scent directly in Drops, as well as more abstractly allude to its connection with memory in Opium, and explore personality and perfume with short written text in Jenny Smells Like Biscuit. To what degree do you think the experience of smell can be accurately represented using image and text?

CB: Oh that is a good question that I have asked myself for the past 3 years. Is it possible to translate a scent through images? Can I photograph something so personal and evanescent as a perfume? I actually think it is the most difficult thing to be accurate since a good scent for me could be the worst for someone else. Scents and smell are perceived totally differently according to people, cultures, eras etc. I guess I enjoy trying to photograph perfume and scents through MY perception, but it would be a crazy challenge to accurately represent a scent with photography.

HF: Where does your interest in perfume stem from?

CB: It started about 7 years ago. I was never really attracted to wearing a perfume until I decided to search my first perfume, around 7 years ago. I could not find ‘mine’ in any of the commercial perfumes, so I went to a small perfume store and discovered super interesting smaller brands of perfume, known as niche perfume houses.
A new world opened up to me! I realised perfumer’s are just like artists, they compose fragrances just like artist composes a painting. I realised perfumes are art pieces in a bottle. I became totally obsessed. I wanted to smell them all, I wanted to know how they were made, I spent nights reading books about it, blogs, interviews, biographies of great perfumers, etc. I even tried to become a perfumer myself. But I soon realised I had a well trained eye, not nose.
So when I started my Masters, it became clear to me that I was passionate about perfume and I had to work around this topic. And honestly, what a wonderful playground it is!

L'AirduTemps, Drops ©Christelle Boulé
L’AirduTemps, Drops ©Christelle Boulé

HF: Are you going to explore the sense of smell further in future projects?

CB: Yes of course, I am already developing new projects around the this amazing topic. I like to try and represent the invisible, the intangible. It is an amazing playground for me to try and do such thing. I really enjoy working around topic such as seeing scent, sound, seeing emotions…

HF: Can you talk about your influences photographically?

CB: Even if there is not an obvious influence in my work, I am a big fan of Walter Pfeiffer’s work. I’m also fascinated with the work of Pierre Cordier, whose work I just discovered. And I really appreciate photographers who use photography as an installation such as Anne de Vries and Rachel de Joode.

HF: What have you read recently that’s affected either your practice directly or your perspective on photography more broadly?

I’m reading a book called Philosophie de l’odorat from Chantal Jaquet and it is fascinating how the sense of smell is such a direct channel to the unconscious and to the emotions. It made me realise photography will probably never be as direct to a person, in order to make us feel as deeply as a scent can.

La Vieest Belle, Drops ©Christelle Boulé
La Vieest Belle, Drops ©Christelle Boulé


HF: You shoot commissioned work as well as your own projects. How do you find this balance?

CB: It is a quite interesting question. I have a lot of fun doing both because they encounter such different aspects of my practice. One is being alone, in the dark room, in total darkness, wearing gloves/mask/suit, developing experimental photos with super toxic chemistry. Then on the other side, it’s walking in the forest to photograph a bunch of people. I enjoy both because they are totally opposite in the way of creating images.

HF: You recently won a PDN Photo Annual award, what impact has this had on your photographic career?

CB: The PDN Photo Annual 2017 was an incredible event in my life. I felt so lucky, and I was incredibly honored to receive that prize. I must admit it is hard for me to say exactly the impact it had on my photo career, because it happened less than a year ago. But it’s positive feedback, some American galleries got in touch, let’s see where this all goes!

HF: Do you have any advice for new photographers?

CB: Open your mind! Play with the camera, experiment with processes, work, work, work, work, and then work harder! It is through tests and practice that something interesting will come out. Oh and accidents will happen, accidents are the best! Let the work surprise you!

Paris, Drops ©Christelle Boulé
Paris, Drops ©Christelle Boulé

HF: Finally, what are you working on now, and any plans for 2018?

CB: I am pursuing the Drops project through a new angle. I am currently searching for a perfumer who would like to collaborate with me on a new photo series — Hello? Anyone out there? I can’t tell you too much but I can say it involves the raw materials used by perfumers to create fragrances. To be continued!
Also, if you are interested in seeing the original scented prints, the Drops series will be presented in Le Grand Musée du Parfum de Paris from February to May 2018. There will be both small and large photos, all original scented prints. Come and see!

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