Film photographer Marie Lagabbe (@11hel11) creates dreamy, colorful and artistic images with the help of alternative techniques and color-shifting films such as LomoChome Turquoise, LomoChrome Metropolis and LomoChrome Purple.
Fittingly, she notes that she "loves to play with chance", seeing every unpredictable outcome as a way to come up with something unique, a product of her ability to let go and trust her creative process.
Hi, Marie! Welcome to the magazine. Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself? How and when did you start shooting film?
My name is Marie, I'm 33 years old, and I'm a high school teacher. I started photographing with film when I myself was in high school, when everyone was going digital, and when film was therefore not expensive at all! First it started with a small project for art class, then I signed up for a photography class at my local art center and discovered film enlargement. It was love at first sight.
Why do you choose to still shoot on film now?
I like the unpredictability that comes from working with film. Even when you think you have 100 percent mastery of everything and perfectly control your gear and your technique, anything can still happen. And you have no way of being in immediate control of what you produce while you're shooting. It allows me to let go. I love to play with chance, applying techniques like multiple exposure, film soup etc. Even when you think you master them, they remain unpredictable.
But above all, I love the silver print technique. Spending time in my darkroom and enlarging my photos really is my favorite activity.
You have some pretty imaginative photos and a lot of variety on your LomoHome, especially your album Color Mood! Can you tell us about that album and the inspirations behind it?
I shunned color for a long time. As I especially liked the black and white silver print in the darkroom, I didn't see the point of producing color photos that were going to be 100 percent processed by a lab. But I quickly realized that I could no longer find pleasure in the production of digital photos and that if I wanted to do color portraits, I was going to have to buy color film!
I then started to use old, expired slide films, which I had developed in cross-processing, and I loved it. The grain is just amazing. I also started to use alternative techniques such as double exposure and filmsoup and that immediately gave me a particular interest in color photography. Gradually, I started having fun with color and even shooting for jewelry brands or models who wanted out-of-the-ordinary color portraits.
Are your photos all shot on film or do you also use digital?
I only shoot on film. But sometimes I make collages with my prints, or I draw or write on them. I also like to do collaborative double exposure projects with artists that I photograph. I photograph them, and then I reuse the same film to photograph their works. It’s still analogue photography, but with drawings or paintings in it.
How do you choose your models and do you usually go into the shoot knowing what kind of image you want to get?
At first, I only photographed friends. But I moved seven years ago to another part of France and I lost all my models!
So I started promoting my work on social media to meet people I could photograph in my new city, and I got used to a whole new way of working with people. For the first time I had to shoot with strangers, and strangers with expectations! It was a little scary, but now I like it a lot. People contact me when I say on Instagram that I'm looking for models for a collaborative photo project. Or, people who want photos contact me for their own projects.
We meet for the first time in a café to talk about the project, our ways of working, our availability. And if it goes well, then we work together! I've made a lot of friends in my new city thanks to photography.
The important thing for me in choosing a model is that our inspirations match. I don't necessarily choose the models based on their physique, rather based on what they would like to do. So, we talk about project ideas when we meet, but I never have a precise idea of what I want to do as images when I start shooting, rather a vague idea of atmosphere. Also, I never work with moodboards, because I'm lazy!
I noticed you mostly take photos of women. Is this a personal choice for you?
First of all, there are a lot more cis women and AFAB people who spontaneously ask me to photograph them. But also, very few cis men write to me when I'm looking for models on Instagram. And the more women I photograph, the more people think I only want to photograph women! I think that in our society, cis women are used to putting themselves forward aesthetically and being shown in images, as beautiful photographic objects.
Men surely find it hard to imagine themselves playing this role, and that's a shame. I would like to photograph more men. But also, I'm probably more timid in what I dare to ask male models for now, due to lack of practice. It's a vicious circle.
Is there some sort of philosophy or belief behind the way you choose to portray the women in your photos?
I like to think that any body type can be photographed in an aesthetic way, and through my photos I would like to encourage more people to pose. I want to get my models to not want pretty images of themselves, but to be happy to see a beautiful picture with them in it. I would like them not to focus on this or that thing they don't like, this part of their body, but to see the image as an aesthetic whole that they helped to create.
This is why I try not to make images where the body is shown in a direct and detailed way, and why I use a multitude of techniques to create a mixture of colors, shapes, textures. It is not to hide the body, on the contrary, but to show it as part of a whole.
What’s your post-process like?
For color photography, I trust the lab 100 percent, and I also trust my pre-processing choices: my filters, my soups, my film choices, my lights.
But for black and white photography, I have a whole process: I start by developing my photos with rodinal, generally. I like how this chemistry tends to accentuate the graininess of Kodak film, and I deliberately stir the tank a lot to get even more graininess. Then, I scan my photos, in low resolution with my negative scanner to make me a sort of contact sheet.
From there, I choose the images that I will print using my enlarger in my darkroom. When I do prints, I use tools to do like photoshop's "dodge and burn", except my tools are adhesive paste on a wire and a piece of cardboard with a hole in it...here's my post-processing! Then, when I have the print I want, with the right contrasts etc, I scan it, and it is this final result that I post online.
You’ve also experimented with film soups. Which ingredients have you used and what have you found to be the most effective for your desired aesthetic?
I am not an expert in filmsoup but I have the feeling that the choice of ingredients does not necessarily have a huge impact on the result. Obviously, the more aggressive the ingredients, the more impact they will have, but it is above all the time spent in the soup that will define how damaged the film is. And how strong the results are.
But symbolically, I like to soup in mixtures that are related to the shoot: sea water, alcohol, tea, depending on the mood of the photos! Soup recipes are for me stronger in terms of symbolism than the real effects of the ingredients.
Do you have a favorite among these dreamy photos?
It's so hard to choose, that I'm going to talk about an image a little different from the others. This double exposure photo of my friend Nesrine in the Balearic Islands is an image that I really like. It's a candid photo, taken with a promotional plastic camera found in a drawer of the house we were staying in. The camera had a lot of light-leaks. I had fun rewinding the film slightly here and there, to make random partial double exposures.
At the end of the holiday, I just buried the device in a hole in the sand, occasionally covered by the waves, and left it there for a while. Then I got the film back. It's not my favorite photo in terms of technique, but it's a nice memory of our holidays when we were younger, and of a period of which I'm sometimes nostalgic because I see Nesrine less now than I have moved. It is also the first photo that I sold to a stranger, during my first exhibition in a small bar in Montmartre.
You’ve tried a few Lomography films. What was the experience like? Are there specific environments or instances you find them most suitable for?
The first Lomography film I had the opportunity to shoot was the X-Pro Chrome, in my "cross-processed slide film" era. I loved this film, it produced magnificent, contrasting and strong portraits. In the streets of Paris, it was incredible. I miss this film a lot. Now that I have easier access to nature, I especially love using LomoChrome films. I think my favorite is the LomoChrome Metropolis.
It was marketed as a film to shoot in town, but I think it takes very good photos in the forest. Also, I particularly like using it to photograph music groups, because it gives images a nostalgic feel, a feeling that many musicians inspire through their music.
I really like the LomoChrome Turquoise, I prefer it to Purple. The outdoor skins are really very beautiful and unreal, sometimes almost like marble. But any film that will allow me to have a surprising and special rendering is welcome in my fridge! (just kidding, I don't keep my film in the fridge, chaos rules!)
You also have an album of monochrome photos called B&W Mood. Is there a reason that you prefer to separate your color and black and white photos?
I separate them because as said previously, the image processing is not at all the same. The b&w photos are all taken by me, and I spend a lot more time on them. So I don't have the same approach at all, and for me the two concepts don't necessarily go together, even if it's not obvious for someone from the outside. I also find that they are often much darker in mood than my color photos which are quite positive, but that too I'm not sure is really visible to anyone else.
Is there a reason that you prefer portraits, and what’s your favorite aspect of taking photos of people?
I also take landscape photos but usually it's during my holidays and I keep them for myself. I also have an instagram account dedicated to my somewhat crazy photos taken with a disposable camera, it's a whole different style. But I do not show them here. My main work is about portraits because I love working with other humans. I like exchanging ideas, emulation, and having fun during shoots.
Sometimes it just lets me have a good time with someone I like. The more contemplative and meditative part of my work happens solo in the darkroom. During the shoot, I like to put on music and chat, laugh, have fun. I think the best ideas often come from two people.
Lastly, do you have any projects you’d like to share with the community?
But I also make music, I'm a drummer in a rock band called Recreation, which you can find on Instagram as well, and listen to on YouTube. Most of the visuals are made by me. I really like the idea of creating objects using photography. For example, we released a VHS cassette whose cover was made using my film photos.