French photographer Grégory Herpe places mankind and our modern society at the heart of his work. He has photographed in numerous countries and exhibits his work worldwide. From Europe to Asia to Africa, the artist takes a closer look at people from around the world as well as organizations in our cities, our societies, and our relationship with customs and traditions. Regardless of the subject he chooses to photograph, Herpe strives to create a unique vision of the modern world whilst focusing on a perspective, a message, and an emotion. We took five minutes with Herpe to learn more about his artistic journey and influences.
Hello Grégory! When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
For me, it was not a choice- being an artist has been a part of me since I was born. When I was a child, I loved to escape into a very creative world. I didn’t have just one imaginary friend, I had 100! I wrote a lot of short stories at a very young age, then I won my first national poetry prize when I was 10. That’s when I took my first pictures, with my grandfather’s Rolleiflex. My uncle, Pierre-Jacques Catoni, was a very great French painter who exhibited in Japan, New York, and Paris. I liked watching him paint in his studio and he was perhaps my first inspiration. I also had another uncle who was a photojournalist.
When did photography become serious for you?
When I was 15, my father gave me an AE1 Canon: the mythical camera of the great reporters of the 80s. I was doing portraits of my friends and graves in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris. Then I put photography aside because I wanted to be an actor. I wrote a play about Lord Byron, and I went to the “Cours Florent”, the famous Parisian theater school. For several years, I acted a lot, but I felt a desire for travel, adventures, and photography, so I stopped everything and went to Africa. That’s when I realized that photography would become my life.
Can you talk about your artistic influences and other artists you are most inspired by?
Strangely, my first influences were not photographers, but rather painters, writers, and composers. Because I come from a background in theater, my photographic inspiration is linked to theatricality. As a teenager, I liked to read Lord Byron, Baudelaire, Racine, Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, then Jim Harrison and Charles Bukowski. Their words gave birth to images in me. I am also inspired by painters like Hieronymus Bosch and Caravaggio, and film directors, like Coppola and Alan Parker. As a photographer, William Eggleston is my source of colorful inspiration, even if I mainly do black and white.
If I had to create my Photo Hall of Fame, I would include Diane Arbus, who influenced me with her portraits of offbeat people. Then Irving Penn, who knows how to extract all the intensity of a soul, and Helmut Newton, for his elegant provocation. These photographers don’t just make images, they touch our souls. That’s what I want to do, too. Strangely, my greatest inspiration was the film Dead Poets Society with Robin Williams. At the beginning of the film, Williams, who plays a literature teacher, arrives at this college full of old traditions. He asks his students to get up on their tables. They don’t dare to move. He insists and finally, some brave students climb onto their tables. Williams then tells them:
“Look out the window…this landscape, which you have seen a thousand times, you are now looking at it from another angle, another perspective, you are rediscovering it, reinventing it…”
I think about this scene every time I take pictures. I wonder what my perspective will be, how I will show the world differently, and how I will reinvent it.
Do you prefer to work alone or collaborate with others? Is there a project you’re currently working on?
I have always preferred to work alone. It is difficult to bring someone else into your inner world! Photography, for me, is a solitary art. However, I am currently working on a collaborative project, and if an artist offers me a good project, I say why not!
My current project is a collaboration with a tattoo artist. I have several tattoos that are very personal- my first camera, for example. I live in the Netherlands and my tattoo artist in Amsterdam is Tim Englisch.
Tim works in one of Europe’s most famous tattoo parlors called Schiffmacher and Veldhoen. Since my first tattoo, I have gotten into the habit of photographing myself before, during, and after the session.
I chose details from beautiful artworks at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and asked Tim to turn it into a unique tattoo. I suggested to the Rijksmuseum to open its doors for Tim to tattoo me in the rooms where the works from which the details are taken are exhibited. I will take pictures of these sessions! This is a real collaborative project between two artists and a museum known all over the world. This motivates and fascinates me!
I am the artist, but also the canvas of the work!
What is the most difficult part of being a photographer?
The most difficult thing is to find the necessary budget for my travels to find new subjects and make new reports. Artists need patrons to work and export. If a patron reads this article and likes my work, I would be happy to talk to them about the projects I have in a drawer and absolutely want to realize!
What do you think you would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
I probably would have died of boredom a long time ago! Art is not a matter of choice for me, and I don’t compromise. Art flows through my veins and makes my heart beat.
Have you found any other artists on Singulart whose work you admire?
What advice could you give to young artists starting out?
To be brave, full of self-sacrifice, and to never give up. But above all, you must work, work, and work again. Having a gift is not enough. You have to know how to communicate and create opportunities. There is no such thing as luck- you create your own luck!