Oxford School of Photography

insights into photography

Harry Gruyaert: ‘I discovered how to see’

From The Telegraph photography pages by  Lucy Davies

In Paris, in his early 20s, Harry Gruyaert would go to the cinema five or six times a week. Having been desperate to leave his hometown of Antwerp, where – in his words – “there was nothing to learn”, he had relocated to the French capital in the hope of becoming a photographer. “It could have been London or New York, but Paris was nearer and Paris had some photographers I had heard of,” he says. “But Paris also had better movies, and I learnt everything at the movies.”

The year was 1962, and in between screenings of Truffaut’s Jules et Jimand Antonioni’s L’Avventura – he watched the latter more than 10 times – Gruyaert would sit in his tatty little apartment and telephone the hippest fashion photographers of the day, hoping for an “in”.

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Paris, 1985 CREDIT: HARRY GRUYAERT / MAGNUM PHOTOS

“I started with William Klein and Jeanloup Sieff and I asked if I could show them my work,” he tells me, when we meet in London. “Klein said: ‘Maybe, but can you charge a camera battery?’ I was so excited, but all I could think when I met him was ‘Jeez, this guy looks and behaves exactly like his photographs.’ It was the most important lesson I learnt, because it showed me right away that photography is all about personality.”…………………”Gruyaert was particularly taken with colour, and began using it in the way other photographers use light, to add a structure and depth. He was way ahead of the curve. At that time, colour photography was relegated to advertising work. “Very few people got involved in colour in a personal way,” he says. “But then I went to New York for the first time and I experienced Pop Art. These paintings by Warhol and Lichtenstein helped me to look at colour in a different way, to stop being a snob and to use its vulgarity.”

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We’re here to discuss Gruyaert’s book, a retrospective of his career featuring pictures taken from the Seventies through to the present day and all over the world. Now 73 and a member of the illustrious Magnum photo agency, Gruyaert has finally settled in Paris…READ the full article here

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