Interview: Agnès Samour – My French life through the lens
Meet Agnès Samour: a French photographer and writer finding inspiration through her travels and the people she meets along the way.
Her photographic series ‘Paris Twenty’ explores the French capital in Black & White, one arrondissement at a time. Here, Agnès shares her passions, memories and inspiration with Ma Vie Française™.
Agnès, what were your first impressions of Paris?
I didn’t spend much time there during my childhood hence my project ‘Paris Twenty’ last year. However, my first impression of Paris was that it was a very musical city, with a lot of possibilities. I had several piano competitions in beautiful old theatres and went to amazing concerts (at the Olympia and Salle Pleyel). So Paris gave me a broader access to art and culture, compared to my lovely tiny village in Burgundy.
Did growing up in a newsagent – around books, magazines and newspapers – encourage your interests in writing and photography? How?
Growing up surrounded by books has definitely influenced my creative endeavours. I started to read from a young age and had already devoured most books from Flaubert, Balzac & Zola, just to name a few, before going to college. So I’ve always had this ‘dreamer’ personality and the will to invent my own reality.
Writing and photography came during my twenties though, when I started to travel. After having played the piano for over 15 years, I had to find another way to express myself when I was on the road.
How have your travels influenced your work? Was there a particular place that inspired you most?
People more than places have inspired me and helped me to become a better person I believe: the kids in Cambodia, someone in Guyana, locals in Peru and recently another expat in Sydney.
There are probably three or four people who I have met during the past decade who have given me a different perspective and have influenced my work today. So there isn’t really one place in particular that’s had an impact on me.
Cultural differences and other points of view more than pretty beaches are what I am after when I travel and they make my work evolve.
Who is your favourite writer? And photographer?
Writer: Frederic Beigbeder – I really enjoy his wit and arrogance.
Photographer: One of the books I always open when I need inspiration is ‘An Uncertain Grace’ by Sebastiao Salgado. But the list of photographers I admire could go on and my collection of photography books is spread between Sydney and mum’s house, in France.
Do you go out with a purpose to take photos of something in particular, or do you wait for something to catch your eye? Why?
I try to be free from any limitations and themes, especially for documentary or street photography. The purpose is really to find original characters and interesting settings, and that’s not something you can really plan. This is what I enjoy the most, compared to fashion photography, for example, where everything has to be set up in a certain way. It really tests your patience and your capacity to adapt to different situations.
Why did you choose to depict Paris in black and white rather than colour for ‘Paris Twenty’?
Most of my personal work during the past two or three years has mainly been in black and white (in the US, Eastern Europe, etc.). It seems more personal to me, it brings more details, the grain is a lot more interesting, to the point where you can ‘feel’ the place or the person in the image. You can bring a lot more contrasts with black and white film. I do have some photographs in colour but I don’t necessarily like to mix the two in a series.
What draws you to film photography, as opposed to digital?
My dad, who collected vintage cameras and photography books for years, has been the initiator. He showed me a magazine with Willy Ronis three years ago when I had a few days off in France and I literally thought: “I need to try it (analog photography)”. I haven’t looked back since and don’t particularly enjoy the use of digital cameras. Film photography is also very European so it’s another way to stay connected with my heritage when I am 22,000 kms away!
Place to eat…
In local markets: Enfants Rouges – 3ème arrondissement, Mouffetard – 5ème arrondissement.
Place to drink…
I don’t drink much these days so it would have to be a really good wine bar, probably in the 17ème arrondissement.
Place to shop…
Near St. Paul – 4ème arrondissement or St Michel – 6ème arrondissement (for books).
Place to play…
You will find me in photography galleries: Le Jeu de Paume – 8ème arrondissement, Agathe Gaillard – 4ème arrondissement.
Day trip location…
In various marchés aux puces & vintage fairs or Buttes-Chaumont park – 19ème arrondissement.
Thank you Agnès for taking the time to speak to us at Ma Vie Française™. We’ve enjoyed getting to know more about you, your writing and photography.