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Shadows and Secret Shredders: The Unique Photography of Guillaume Le Guillou

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As North Americans we’re used to a certain aesthetic in mountain photography. Moreover, we’re used to certain conventions when it comes to action shots and the ways in which we interact with mountains. But the ways people move through mountains all over the world vary according to the conditions, scope, and traditions of those particular mountains. So when I spent last season shredding in France, I had to develop a whole new lens to see the mountains through. One of the things that helped me out throughout that joureny was the actual lens of one particularly talented French photographer — Guillaume Le Guillou.

Based out of La Grave, Guillaume (or Gui Gui as he’s more often called) stunned my senses last season when I was first introduced to his images. I’d never seen motion, landscape, and contrast used quite the way it is in his shots. Having a bit of a background in visual art, what impresses me about Gui Gui’s images (particularly the black and white ones) is that if you took the skiers and snowboarders out of them, many would still look like they could be hanging from gallery walls.

Gui Gui’s particular vision of the massive landscape within which he resides is at the core of almost every image. There’s a unique fusion going on in his photographs that brings together a deep tradition of both big mountains and visual art.

I caught up with him recently to ask a bit more about this:

Jean-Louis Saint Arnault: La Grave, France

MC: How long have you been taking photos?

GG: I started taking photos: when I was about 14, my grandfather gave me a Minolta 300x… still using it! I began taking photos more seriously about 10 years ago when I arrived in La Grave.

MC: Were you formally trained?

GG: I learned by myself by looking at what the others were doing, trying to analyze their shots. 

Chad Sayers: La Grave, France

MC: Who are some photographers that might have influenced you?

GG: Yeah, mostly mountain sport and skate and bmx photographers: Jordan Manley, Will Wissman, Sterling Lorence, Tristan Shu, Giles Bonugli, Bashi Bender, Jerome Tanon are my top photographers for sure.

MC: Place, and expressing a subject’s relationship to a place, seems to play an important role in the way you take your shots. What kind of role has La Grave and the mountains of the Southern Alps played in developing your interests and style?

GG: La Grave is different, the skiing here is different, and the people who ski here are different—really inspiring and motivating. For sure it would be way different in another place. Ten years ago I just wanted to be able to keep up with the best riders, doing the best lines around. After a few years, I realized that I had to capture this evolution of the riding. We've been pushing the way we ski (and ride) in La Grave and big mountains with the local scene. For me it's a great experience to interpret, in my way, this evolution of the sport.

Dylan Florit: La Grave France

Bruno Florit: La Grave, France

MC: You spend a lot of time shooting with Aurelien Routens (who finished second on the freeride world tour as a snowboarder this year) as well as some other high end athletes around La Grave, but you seem to spend almost as much time with 40 and 50 year old local shredders who just make good turns. Amazingly, the images you get from pro athletes and plain old soul skiers are equally engaging. Can you explain how that works and how you developed that approach?

GG: I don't really know if I'll say it’s my approach to shoot “plain old soul skiers” as you say. The older guys know how to ski the terrain, sometimes with more style than the young kids. It's all about the terrain and the snow here. Big mountain riding takes time to learn and to understand the mountain. There are no jib kids up above 3500 metres! (That’s 11,550 fee for us North Americans)

Aurelien Routens: La Grave, France

MC: Tell me a little bit about why black and white works so well for you?

GG: La Grave is mostly north facing, so no light until March and later in some places. My raws can look flat so I have to find ways to enhance this. Nowadays editing is an important part of the job. I have developed my own style of editing (LR + PS and sometimes photomatix and dxo). So I guess it’s because I like BW and love to spend time editing with a few different softwares.

Uknown Rider: La Grave, France

La Meije: La Grave, France

Mont Blanc: Chamonix, France

MC: You get published in several reputable magazines, but you told me once that you are somewhat limited because you still shoot a lot of people who don’t necessarily have big names. Would you change that if you could or is it something you’ve chosen?

GG: No, never! The places I like to ride and shoot are the secret gardens of locals and unknown ski bums. And that's a good thing.

Lars-ake Krantz: La Grave, France

Jean-Louis Saint Arnault: La Grave, France

Franck: La Grave, France

Dylan Florit: La Grave, France

MC: Do you think there’s a difference between European and North American aesthetics in mountain photography? Do you feel like you’re part of a particular tradition or that you’re really trying to achieve something of your own?

GG: I don't think so, we've got the same ski culture. But in another way pillows in BC, spines in AK, and all the Japow shots have set the standards in ski photography. For me, there is no “real” tradition of the sport, and the way to shoot it is a perpetual evolution. And yes, I'm trying to achieve something of my own, I guess every photographer tries to do it. If one day I realized that I was just doing the same as the others, it wouldn't make any more sense… no?

Aurelien Routens: La Grave, France

Jean-Louis Saint Arnault: La Grave, France

MC: Rumour has it you’re interested in spending some time in Canada. Where do you think you might visit?

GG: Well that could happen. Running a hut deep in BC with my girlfriend is on our list. Don't really know where, but with nice and big mountains! We've got many plans so perhaps that might happen.

Bruno Florit: La Grave, France

Lars-ake Krantz: La Grave, France

MC: Anybody you’d like to give a shout out to?

GG: My girlfriend Anne, first sunshine of my life, my family, friends, the riders and all the people that help me in my quest: Druid, Peter-Paul, Sin at F-Stop Gear, Totti at Powderguide, Jan at Evoc, Picture, David at TGM, and Bruno at Ski Extreme Original La Grave.

-To see more of Gui Gui’s images check out his website here:

http://www.glg-photo.com/

Follow him on facebook to peruse his busy albums as they grow:

https://www.facebook.com/guillaumeleguillouphotography?fref=ts

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