I think the pictures do all of the talking, but I am so excited to introduce you all to the breathtaking world of Paul de Luna. I caught up with him via email a few weeks ago, pestering him with all sorts of questions about these stunning pictures, and he was so happy to let all you in for a sneak peek of a photographer’s mind.
The three shoots here are each so different and lovely that I had to include them all. The last one you may recognize from my Fallen Angel post in September, and I was so excited to learn of the story behind the lens.
Now sit back and enjoy!
For some reason, Yeats’ “The Stolen Child” comes strongly to mind here, mixed with a little bit of “Ever After” and Hans Christian Anderson. Who is this girl, and what’s her story?
The Stolen Child is an excellent reference, although it wasn’t part of my inspiration. That poem, however, is rather similar to Baudelaire’s “L’Invitation Au Voyage,” which was. There are a lot of elements and subplots at work in this story. Our relationship with nature plays a huge part in all my work, and here I used the metaphor of the Meliae (ash-tree nymph) mourning the impending loss of her world by unknown destructive forces. She, being a descendant of Gaia, is tasting one last time the beauty of the world around her knowing that it – and consequently she – will soon disappear. She implores us to save her knowing full well that we will not. This is her swan song. It’s easy to extend that metaphor to encompass of lot of things in our lives, and that is my intention.
Did you style the outfit as well? I notice there is a lot of layering going on, all with different textures and colors. It seems like there is a lot of thought put into the composition of the outfits.
There is definitely a lot of thought put into the styling in all my shoots as that is an essential element of the narrative. Plots, subplots, counter-harmonies and alter-themes are all prevalent in my work and the layering helps to express that. I work closely with my stylists, but they know how to style way better than me. To be cheeky I will quote Oscar Wilde who quipped, “Fashion is a form of ugliness so intolerable that we have to alter it every six months.”
Angels We Were
The voice-over in this vignette really tied the whole story together. It wasn’t until I watched the video that I connected the “wings” on the model’s clothes with the idea of angels the title references. Are these angels fallen from grace? Fallen from love? Fallen from innocence?
I don’t believe that the artist and audience necessarily have to be in agreement on a work’s meaning. I envision and then create both the universe and the characters who live and breathe and dream in that universe; and then I set them free for you to speak with them, to let their universe to collide with yours. Essentially, it’s not important what I think. Having said that, for me this story is about the impending loss of innocence as told by someone looking back at themselves – knowing what was to come, but unable to prevent the fall.
They also wish to recapture or remember that sense of freedom they once had before becoming aware of the sense of judgement associated with the knowledge of good and evil – essentially, angels on the edge of falling from grace. On that note, I’m aware that most people see my work as romantic to the point of sweetness but the truth is there is an extremely dark and melancholic undercurrent running just beneath the surface. For me, my work is extremely tragic, and I can’t look at it too long without getting depressed.
Many people go for a sunny, light-infused theme when they’re at the beach. I was particularly drawn to this shoot because it wasn’t like that; instead, it was misty and overcast. Why did you choose to do this?
Most of my creative decisions by now are visceral and intuitive, and images just suddenly appear in my head – often at the oddest of moments. I was recently telling someone that I constantly have about 10 movies and 5 soundtracks of my own design constantly playing in my head; it’s really quite a cacophony in there. While creating the universe of Angels We Were, I felt that things shouldn’t be too clear – they are in a place lost in time and space where there is no reference point beyond the hazy memory of a dream.
This is one of my favorite of your shoots; in fact, I featured it a few weeks ago on our blog. Obviously, it’s shot in Paris – my guess is the banks of the Seine? Is there a reason you shot it in Paris, or were you lucky enough to be there for something else?
That was an extremely challenging shoot as nothing seemed to want to cooperate for us. It was indeed mostly shot near the Seine, and I was in Paris both for this and other reasons. Paris is phenomenally inspiring both aesthetically and culturally, and the Parisians (French in general) have a profound comprehension and tolerance of and respect for the creative process and all the eccentricity it entails.
Our culture tends to belittle art as an unnecessary luxury while they view it as an essential – and sublime – part of being human. Knowing French is a huge plus – not only because the French are reluctant to speak English – but because if you do not you will be missing out on a wealth of knowledge and inspiration which can only be found through being a part of and eavesdropping in on their conversations.
There is something very tragically beautiful about this whole shoot (I keep hearing Lara’s Theme in the background), especially when culminating with her lying on the ground. What’s the story?
Loss of innocence obviously seems to be a recurring theme in my work. I suppose I often capture that brief moment just before oblivion, where eternity exists in a moment and all things are understood. Beauty, ugliness, joy, pain, love, hate, good and evil unite and the character is whole again, for an instant. And then disappears.
Also, why the feathers? They’re gorgeous and they add something I didn’t expect at all; what’s their significance?
Again, angels or ghosts of angels constantly appear in my work, and here the feathers represent her wings ripped away during her tragic plunge to earth and now their remnants fall around her and back onto her stripped arms, flightless, while she lays dying on the banks of the Styx trapped between heaven and hell. While pictures supposedly capture a only moment, in mine I often try to interject distinct echoes of the past and the approaching roar of that which is to come.
In all of your shoots, there seems to be an underlying theme of either quiet melancholia, or a really deep-seated peacefulness.
Melancholia and peacefulness are unlikely twins and they both live simultaneously in my work. There is little more painfully beautiful than the peacefulness of melancholic solitude. I am definitely aware of a constant emotional and ontological thread running through all my creative work. In a way, all these girls are variations of the same archetype. The refrain from Baudelaire’s L’Invitation Au Voyage is very prevalent in my work: “Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté, Luxe, calme et volupté” – “There far away, is nothing but order and beauty, Luxury, calmness, and voluptuousness.”
Do you choose specific models for specific shoots?
Absolutely. To the point of being exigently tedious in my castings. Each one must be a muse through and through.
In all of your photos here, there are layers of wispy light – usually a misty grey or white, rarely sunlight – or pale leaves or other shapes added on top of the photos. What’s the purpose for that, and do you consider it a trademark style?
I’m profoundly influenced by the Impressionist painters – Matisse, Monet, Manet, Morissot, Renoir, Pisarro, Degas … the list goes on. If anything, I consider myself to be an Impressionist photographer; and I follow much of their techniques very closely, from composition to the color palette and mixing of natural light to the emphasis of emotional impact over detail. Another important factor in my work is that the effects are done optically at the time I take the picture and not in Photoshop via various physical filters and vignettes that I create. The word “photography” translated from the original Greek means “drawing with light,” and essentially I approach photography as if I am a painter, light is paint, and the camera my brush.
How did you get started with photography?
I was heading off on a 5-week backpacking trip through China many years ago and the night before my father gave me his old Canon AE-1 film camera. I read the manual on the plane, put some film in, and crossed my fingers. Putting the camera up to my eye, I felt alive …
Do you have any future ambitions in photography? Anybody you’d really love to photograph?
I would love to just be able to travel the world with my only possessions being just a backpack and a camera to preserve life and our world that is constantly disappearing, and in between come home to my family on the beach and surf and appreciate them all day, every day. In the future I will be making more films. I would love to photograph Nelson Mandela and my grandfather who passed before I became a photographer.
If you’d like to see more of Paul’s work, check out his site at pauldeluna.com.