Interview with Fabrice Cilpa,


With 909.263 posts on Instagram (or probably quite a few more by the time you read this), the hashtag life_is_street is probably one of the ones you’re using if you’re into street photography, and if you’re not, you should be since Fabrice Cilpa, founder of the famous street photography “feature” account, is one of the best photographic editors of this social network. With his brilliant selection of 3 photographs per author and more that 66,000 followers, if you’re chosen you might just get the attention you are looking for and probably gain a few followers in the process (not that anyone’s counting ;).

In this interview you’ll get to know a little more about the French photographer’s work and trajectory and who knows, perhaps even discover what you need to have to be featured life_is_street.

Fabrice cilpa

© Fabrice Cilpa

The Raw Society: What was your first experience doing street photography like?

Fabrice Cilpa:  Originally, I come from the world of alternative cinema in which I have self-produced several short and feature films. Having said that, photography, in the broad sense, has always been more or less present in my life. About 4 years ago some friends were looking to buy photos of Lyon and weren’t really finding anything that took their fancy. They didn’t have any specific ideas in mind about what they wanted, architecture, street…so I offered to take some shots for them, they agreed, and that’s how my first experience doing street came about.

TRS: Have you ever had any confrontations whilst shooting?

Fabrice Cilpa: Not really. The few times that it has happened, it involved shopkeepers who wondered why I was taking photos of their shop-windows. Some thought I worked in health or safety services and others thought that I was scouting their place in order to rob them later on.

TRS: What’s the strangest thing that’s ever happened to you whilst doing street photography?

Fabrice Cilpa: Unfortunately, or luckily (smiling), nothing strange has ever really happened to me. My street sessions are quite calm and unobtrusive in general.

© Fabrice Cilpa

TRS: You mention on your website that two big influences in your work are Edward Hopper: for his sensibility when it comes to depicting individuals in their daily environment, and Saul Leiter: because of the way in which he uses colour and light in his compositions. You also talk about the fact that you share with them a taste for melancholy, can you tell us a little more about this?

Fabrice Cilpa: I’ve always been attracted to melancholy. It’s an emotion that I find beautiful and elegant. Elegant perhaps because of Wong Kar Wai who sublimates this emotion with an aesthetic and crazy elegance in his films (laughing). As for its beauty, I find it pleasant to feel and its expression is beautiful when it appears on the faces of people who experience it. It can also be seen in people’s gestures and attitudes and it’s something that gives them a special presence. I find melancholy very photographic and cinematographic.

In music, artists like Massive Attack and Porstishead lead me to understand music differently; they provided access to a feeling of melancholy that I had never known before. And when I look at Hopper’s paintings or Leiter’s photos, I feel this same intense melancholy. My admiration for these two artists is therefore both emotional and aesthetic. That’s why I love them so much.

TRS: Which other photographers inspire you?

Fabrice Cilpa: I really like Harry Gruyaert for his work on colour and composition. Henri Cartier-Bresson for his ability to compose images that seem, at first sight simple, and yet become more complex as the eye lingers on them. It’s something that I miss in Alex Webb’s work for example, in which in my opinion, the viewer is able to feel and see the intentions very quickly. I think that he’s a great photographer and one that has a huge influence on the new generation of street photographers, however my preference remains with Cartier-Bresson’s sobriety. I also really like Vivian Meier, Ernst Haas, William Eggleston, Raymond Depardon, William Klein … Gregory Crewdson … and so many others.

TRS: From what we see you also like to experiment with different styles and occasionally switch to black & white. What drives you to do this?

Fabrice Cilpa: By nature, I am someone who prefers to work within an aesthetic universe because I really like the idea of ​​having a recognisable artistic personality. But more broadly, in life, one of the things that is closest to my heart is to be me as much as I can. This implies to free oneself from one’s education, from the dominant moral and cultural values ​​and from one’s past experiences. And to be the most oneself is ultimately to be different from the others, because no one is the same.

In my photos, I like to work on this difference as well. For some time, I had a universe and a style: one of colour, pronounced contrasts and involving games of shadows, light and wandering silhouettes. I loved working in this way. However, over time, I began to reconsider my way of photographing because it was getting too easy and I was going around in circles. I was in my comfort-zone, neither taking risks nor growing as a photographer. So eventually I decided to approach photography differently and to work more on the storytelling aspect. I now work on mini-series of 10-12 photos that involve 1 particular situation or group of people. This method has forced me to change my style regularly, depending on the situations I encounter and as a result of wanting to reflect as closely as possible, what is happening and what I am experiencing at that particular moment.

My style is now less recognisable, but the pleasure I get is greater, and the work I produce, I believe, more surprising.

Fabrice Cilpa

© Fabrice Cilpa

Fabrice Cilpa

© Fabrice Cilpa

TRS: You founded the Instagram feature page life_is_street a year and a half ago when feature hubs hardly existed. How did you come up with the idea?

Fabrice Cilpa: Some feature accounts already existed and that was sufficient for the idea to develop quickly in me. At the time, I had only been on Instagram for three or four months and the energy that emanated from these accounts was very stimulating for me as a photographer. It gave me the feeling that various and varied things were happening and I felt the urge to be a part of it. Furthermore, I always liked to highlight artists that I liked through lists of movies, albums or others, and interact with people who shared the same passions as me.

I think that when you are passionate about one thing or another, there is always this desire to contrast these preferences or opinions with others. It’s these passionate and stimulating exchanges that make art live beyond the work, which finally becomes immobile once created by the artist and consumed by the public. Thus my desire to live photography other than just as a photographer.

TRS: One of the things that we think makes life_is_street great is your skill as an editor, something that is extremely difficult to do and that many photographers don’t know how to do. Can you tell us about your process when selecting and editing?

Fabrice Cilpa: I select the work based on emotion. But I must admit that although the selections may seem arbitrary, they aren’t, because in reality they are the result of several years of critical work on cinema, music and art in general, as someone passionate in those areas and as an artist. I never considered art as a disposable product, external to me, but as something that influenced my life and therefore shaped my personality to a certain extent. For this reason, I’ve always had a critical eye with regards to art, sorting out what I considered nourishing and good for me and what not. Over time this critical ability has sharpened and improved. I think I can say that today I can detect what is interesting artistically, and at the same time attractive to a large number of people.

Fabrice Cilpa
Fabrice Cilpa
Fabrice CIlpa

© Fabrice Cilpa

TRS: What does a photographer have to have to catch your attention and get featured in life_is_street?

Fabrice Cilpa: It simply needs to be a beautiful photograph in my eyes.

TRS: Do you have any future projects planned?

Fabrice Cilpa: Yes. I have just created a collective of photographers form Lyon specialising in street photography called “Collectif Polygone”. Some exhibitions are planned for 2018 and other projects are being put into place. I’m also setting up a company with another photographer, but that’s something I can’t talk about too much. All I can say is that it’s going to be a beautiful and ambitious project.

To know more about Fabrice and his work, check out his Instagram page.

We also recommend checking out the @Life_is_street and @Collectif_polygone accounts to get your daily dose of great street photography.

Upcoming photography workshops

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