Interview, Henri Prestes -
Breathing a Cinematic Reality
Henri! Is strangeness profound to you?
I would say yes, I’ve always been attracted to strangeness, most of my favorite artists’ works are out of the ordinary and the eerieness and darkness is a recurring theme in their creations and that has been a major influence in my own aesthetic.
How do you find a relativity in psychologically oversaturated moments to engage the viewers in photographic or cinematic reality?
What I’m really interested in, is trying to create these cinematic moments that are mostly grounded in reality except a little detail or two that don’t look quite right, like when you’re having a nightmare, and that makes the viewer uncomfortable and feeling like something is about to happen.
..does it become overwhelming for you to always see through cinematic eyes?
That’s actually something that I have to consciously pursuit, it doesn’t come easy but I try to be surrounded with pictures, films or books that inspire me and I feel that helps me prepare myself and visualize better when I’m trying to come up with these narrative moments in my pictures.
There must be more to how you create visual imagery, can you talk to us about your process with your approach towards scenography and colors?
Usually, my process is going to shoot whenever there’s the harsh weather outside. I really enjoy driving around while it is raining, snowing or even when there’s dense fog, usually at night or early morning. I feel that the fog creates an almost alternate universe and even the most boring place can look haunting and mysterious with the right weather conditions and light.
When I’m out shooting I always try to find some kind of artificial light to guide my pictures. Sometimes a little ambient light in the distance is enough to completely alter the look of a shot during long exposures and I really like exploring that. Other times I’m shooting handheld and a vehicle passing by gives me the cinematic feel I’m looking for. I also always use an diffusion filter on the lens called Black Pro-Mist so the light sources get a more hazy look. I feel this helps me convey a more surreal aesthetic to the images.
..what about editing the colors?
In the editing, the main thing I’m concerned is what is the tone I want the picture to have. If it’s moody, more otherworldly, etc. I then base my color choices on the light sources available. I don’t have a set workflow, every picture is different but I try to not go overboard and make it look too fabricated, although I do enjoy a more painterly look than realistic. I then spend some time doing several versions with different color palettes, until I get one that I feel is right. It’s the part of the process that I enjoy the most.
One thing that there is in your work is that you seem to explore unexplored spaces, almost virgin lands - that perhaps no one has ever been there. Is there a longing to find yourself in isolated places?
Yes, most of my pictures were taken near isolated villages or at times when there’s no one around. I love exploring these kinds of places, when it’s just me, a lantern and my camera. Being alone, in the middle of nowhere and at night, is when I feel the most comfortable, even if sometimes it can be a bit stressful, especially if that’s the first time I’m in that place. Also visually I feel it’s easier to create the mood or atmosphere that I’m looking for my pictures in these kinds of settings.
Can you talk about the experiences that come to you from the subconscious mind, and how do they inspire or affect you?
I grew up in a small town, and has a kid I would go out exploring abandoned places and forests, and when I picked up a stills camera those kind of settings were the ones that felt natural to me and I probably subconsciously draw from those experiences. And like I said in the beginning, I’m also heavily inspired by other artists work, there are some directors, cinematographers, photographers, and writers that have been hugely influential to me.
What would be the most pivotal element to your work, whether it’s a collaboration or a self-project?
I only started my photography work last year so I still don’t have a first project or a series completed, just a couple of ongoing ones, that I keep experimenting with, and that hopefully will become something more palpable in the near future.
Also, can you talk to us about the stories that have deeply moved you?
There have been many stories that have moved me, but If I had to choose it would be a little book called Knockemstiff, by Donald Ray Pollock. It’s a collection of stories that take place in a Midwestern American town, which reminded me a bit of my own childhood town. The stories are violent and dark, sometimes funny, and it’s written with such cinematic quality that I was deeply impacted while reading and I knew that was exactly the type of narratives that I wanted to create with my photography and cinematography. I carry around that book everywhere and try to read it while I’m lacking inspiration. It really is a somewhat hidden gem.
Lastly, What would you like to suggest or share with other cinematographers?
The only thing I would like to say is to just trust your guts when making creative decisions, even if sometimes that will lead you to failures but I think that sooner or later it will contribute to the developing of your own voice. That’s something that I have to constantly remind myself of..
Interview with Henri Prestes