Interview: Claudia Toutain-Dorbec – 2

Episode 2: My creative process

Claudia how would you describe your photography?

Classic, old-fashioned film photography, I look for the soul in a picture (I hope). I prefer black and white, although I love to hand-color them. I have a small collection of cameras, from my old Rolleiflex to my digital Cannon (a new phase for me).



Photos of Monet’s Garden from Claudia’s next book,’The favourite I Come Again to See Giverny’.Credit Claudia Toutain-Dorbec.

What do you strive for as a photographer?

All that we are and what surrounds us is fleeting, changing constantly. Photography freezes a precious moment in time, one that passes so quickly; it’s the blink of an eye, a flash of time that will never again happen in exactly the same way. With the magic of a camera lens, a tiny spark of life is saved and preserved. I always hope I will capture a fragment of time, a single moment that not only provides a visual impression but also carries the feeling of the moment.

What was your journey to specialising in botanical photography?

I was born in Oregon and grew up on a farm in the Willamette Valley. My family grew huge gardens and raised most of our own food. This grounded me with a deep love and curiosity about plants and I became a life-long gardener. Later in life, I spent close to 20 years in a small town on the wild, wind-swept northern Oregon coast surrounded by the majesty of the Pacific Ocean, the coastal mountains and the American Northwest moss-filled forests. With this type of life-experience and love for nature, it is probably a normal progression to find myself directing my camera lens at plants.

Monet_Project_104_1 copy 2

A sample of my work from the book ‘A Season at Monet’s Garden’: ‘Tulip parts and pieces’. Credit Claudia Toutain-Dorbec.

How did you come to have exclusive access to Claude Monet’s gardens and studio for five months last year? Can you describe the experience of creating art there?

I love Monet’s Garden. I’ve visited many times and was slightly obsessed with it, but this visit was special. The Fondation Claude Monet saw my botanical studio portraits of US Southwest plants, and based on that work I was invited to complete a similar project. The Fondation provided a private space for my work (a place where I could completely control the light), located in Monet’s original Giverny studio within the garden grounds that are not open to the public.

DSCN3409 copy

Claudia at Monet’s Garden. Credit Pierre Toutain-Dorbec

There is a strict rule in Monet’s garden; flowers cannot be cut, not a stem. To gather specimens for the studio work, I followed the gardeners as they completed their routine maintenance and took what I could from their buckets and wheelbarrows. If there was nothing, I dug through the dumpsters. Flowers were often covered with dirt and had to be painstakingly washed and dried; petals were scratched; buds smashed and stems often ruined. I became very creative; I armed myself with an entire laundry list of tools and tricks and created my own process. It took up to one day to complete a single portrait.


Claudia at Monet’s Garden. Credit Pierre Toutain-Dorbec.

There were many days when I found nothing and I lost a precious day of work. When there were no specimens to work with, I photographed the garden before the crush of like-minded garden-adoring visitors. I will release a book of Monet’s garden pictures later this year titled I Come Again to See Giverny.

Your artwork is so varied; from plants to paintings of your brother and Japanese collages. What is it about these topics that have inspired you?

The world we are living in is like a puzzle with many pieces, when put together it provides a clearer picture. Often my inspiration grows from something I love or know well or have experienced. I enjoy several artistic processes; sculpture, drawing, painting, photography and collage. Currently my Japanese collage work is being featured on my website, but I’ve completed several different series of collage work, each with a different theme. Each collage is created from photos I take, cut out by hand and glue together. The Japanese theme was specifically inspired by my childhood. My father spent a great deal of time in Japan – I grew up with a household of Japanese furniture, dolls, musical instruments and other oddities – many of which I still own, and I’ve collected much more. As an adult, I studied Japan, the culture and language, and I traveled there.


An example from Claudia’s 2007 collage series: “The Empire”: Teapot Geisha. Credit Claudia Toutain-Dorbec.

CSF Publishing is described as ‘a small press specializing in photography, art, poetry, cooking, and other subjects of artistic and cultural value for a wide international audience.’ What are the challenges and rewards of being co-owner of such a publishing company?

Part of the publishing process is to meet writers, artists, painters, poets – people who create. These experiences sustain and enrich our life and we see those experiences as rewarding opportunities. My husband, Pierre, and I enjoy working and sharing our vision together.


The work is challenging: bookstores are closing across America and technology is changing publishing almost overnight relative to its long history. As the eBook unfolds, final trends will fall into place and the publishing business of the future will reveal itself. At the moment, we are focused on eBooks, although we publish printed books as well. We believe the world needs publishers like us, publishers who still regard poetry, art, and literature as very important to our culture and make the effort for it to be seen.

You strive to give authors an active role in the production of their book. What does that mean and why is it important?

Our authors are allowed to be the guide to their work. We are a small, hands-on publisher and, most importantly, we are artists ourselves. For those who are not visual artists, we bring a lot to the table in design, layout ideas, in-house ability, and we have a professional editor on-staff who has had a long and impressive career. As artists we know how we want our work to be treated, we hope to offer the same to our authors. These are talented people and they deserve respect for what they do.


We’d like to thank Claudia for taking time to do this interview with My French Life™.  


Read more about Claudia Toutain Dorbec…
Part one
Part two – this interview
Part three

About the Contributor

Judy MacMahon

Experience FRANCE beyond the CLICHÉ with MyFrenchLife is for Curious Savvy Francophiles wherever you are. Meet Francophiles in France, online, and/or wherever you live. You’re very welcome to join us - Judy MacMahon -

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!


  1. Virginia Jones Sep 20, 2011 at 12:08 PM - Reply

    What an inspiration you are. I can’t imagine being able to work at Giverny. Your work is amazing. I will look forward to your book when it’s released.

Leave A Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.