Interview with French Street Photographer Marie Laigneau

Marie, you are a (French) street photographer based in Chicago, tell us a little about you:

I have been in Chicago for 5 years now, and this city has a lot to do with why I fell in love with street photography on the first place! I started doing street photography about 2 years ago, so it’s all very recent. I am obsessed with capturing people within the city – their relationship with the city they belong to is as unique as the city themselves, and I love exploring this! So far, I have focused on Chicago, NYC and San Francisco, doing mostly B&W photography, with a little bit of colours when it is really worth it.

The reader.jpg

What would be the one reason if you had to explain why you shoot street work?

What I see in the streets is so exciting: I see possibilities, I see what could be. I see other worlds. I could never stage the shots that I take: there is a perfection in the coincidental that extends way beyond my capacity for invention. The way elements come together to form a cohesive whole is just too perfect to be imagined. Really, it’s like a drug, there’s no other way to explain it…

The bridge.jpg

I hear you are moving to London? That's quite a change. Do you think it is going to affect your street work a lot?

Absolutely. Chicago is a quiet, magnificent city. Its architecture is mesmerizing, while the city itself sometimes seems asleep. There is a feeling of silence and solitude in Chicago that have been a driving force in my photography. The opposition of soft human elements lost in hard architectural backgrounds is definitely something that only a city like Chicago can provide.

I think that each city connects to its inhabitants in a different way, and for this reason, the way you explore and unveil this relationship will also be different. I am looking forward to seeing what London will be like!

Winter's tale.jpg

Why not live in Paris and shoot there? (I am French so I can't say anything since I'm in London!)

Paris is like a museum: beautiful, but dead. I have never tried to shoot Paris, but I am not particularly excited by the idea. As for living there, the United States and England are more attractive options for me. The culture, notably the working environment, is much more motivating in those countries than it is in France, from my point of view.

Hint of sadness.jpg

There's quite a bit of emotion that comes out of your photography, solitude is the first thing that springs in my mind. Tell us more?

Photography without emotions has no impact, really. To me, what’s most important is to generate emotions in people when they see my pictures. And for this to happen, I have to establish myself a connection with the city, and with its people. I can feel the city beating, and I can imagine the dreams and hopes of its people. So this is what I try to convey in my work: those unconscious feelings that connect them to the city, and to themselves. 

The pink umbrella.jpg

I love the pink umbrella shot. I saw you had it somewhere in black and it one of these hard ones to decide on? (I personally prefer the colour way more)

This image has very unique story in fact! It’s the first picture that I have ever exhibited, in a LA art gallery. I had converted in B&W because the theme of the group exhibition was monochrome...It’s as simple as that. I really love both versions, but they mean something different to me. The colour version expresses a dream or fairytale, while the B&W version is more abstract and graphical.

Do you feel photography is a slightly male dominated world? Dominated may not be the right word sorry. I am asking as in my search for street photographers I (sadly) seem to come across a majority of male photographers.

There are fewer women in street photography than men, this is a fact, but I wouldn’t say that there is domination of a gender over another. In matters of art, gender has no importance. Only the work matters. It is true however that the street photography community is full of old-fashioned male thinkers shamelessly forcing their “street photo” rules over others. You just need to go past that, and create your own rules. I really don’t feel dominated at all :)

Looking up.jpg

You don't seem to favour colour or black & white, but rather adapt depending on the situation/opportunity/your mood?

B&W and colours have distinct purposes to me, even if the large majority of my shots are monochromes. B&W takes away the constraints of time and place – and for this reason, can create very deep connection with people, at a personal level. It is the domain of memories. Colour, on the other hand, is still a work in progress for me: from dreams to striking contrasts, it can have many uses and can deeply impact as well. I choose colours when they create a particular atmosphere, or a complementarity that is hard to refute. In general though, most of my shots will end up in B&W because I can master light more easily with this medium, and I feel that it’s easier to touch people this way.

Any advice for street photographers in the making or anyone wanting to get into photography in general?

Photography is a journey which starts with the willingness to see the world differently. I think that this is a commitment that every artist should do, to him/herself and others. Limiting oneself to following rules and best practices established by others is bound to restrain you to no avail: experiment, go out, fail often and try again. That’s the only way to find who you are.


Thanks Marie!

Visit Marie's website and follow her on Twitter!

All photos © Marie Laigneau