Viewing an image by Parisian photographer and video artist Camille Vivier is like taking a tumble down the rabbit hole, only to find that wonderland has gone steam punk. Gorgeous and unsettling, displaying her celebrated deftness with light and shadows, her compositions take on classic fairy tales and iconography that have been rendered with a very modern edge. Having drawn early inspiration from her mother’s art books—with particular favorites including those by Paul Outerbridge, Robert Mapplethorpe and Guy Bourdin—and the many museum outings her parents organized for her, she studied fine arts in Paris and at Central St. Martins in London. She has since honed her talents while shooting advertising campaigns for Stella McCartney, Isabel Marant and Callaghan and while producing work for publications including Dazed & Confused, i-D, Liberation and Purple, where she got her start as an editorial assistant. She lives in Paris with her husband, artist Sanghon Kim, and their two children.
Many of your images have a fantastical quality. Do you feel drawn to represent an alternate reality? How do you come up with your vision for your photographic reality and then make a plan for bringing it to life?
My work is more a vision than a testimony, something shown through the prism of fantasy. I’ve always been interested in surrealism, their taste for the inner life: psychism, dreams, eroticism.
There’s also a literary aspect to my work: I do just as if I was writing a story, with a character, a plot, a background. And when it comes [time] to concretize what I have in mind, I just listen to myself.
Can you talk about a particular fairy tale or story that has influenced a photograph, and how the inspiration played out in the image?
I’ve always been fascinated by fantastic landscapes and places. In French, we called some of these 17th century Baroque gardens: Follies. There is this famous one in Italy called Bomarzo, the monster park, because it’s full of huge and fantastic creatures made of stone. The legend says that the count, Orsini, built it to scare the woman he loved and to keep her by his side. I wanted to give my own vision of a woman surrounded by monsters, just like I did with a woman standing in a cabinet of curios.
So I’ve found this amazing place with a rock that looks like a gigantic hand, a bit like King Kong’s hand. It looks like a cinematic scene, but even more like an old movie set picture.
I like this idea of confronting the female body with objects or natural elements, the idea of a female character in a strange situation. A projection of my own fantasies. I’ve recently pushed this idea by taking the picture of a woman naked in a concrete dinosaurs garden.
One of my greatest inspirations ever is André Pieyre de Mandiargues, a French writer who wrote kind of erotic fairy tales. But David Lynch, of course, and his very modern and peculiar vision of fairy tale, is also a big influence.
When you do a fashion shoot, what are you trying to communicate through your photos about the designer and clothes?
I’m trying to play with their style, but the idea is more to do a good picture.
How is your process for creating moving images similar or different from your process for still photos?
It was different before, as I wasn’t comfortable with movement and the directing aspect of film. I feel more free now to do film as I want, like an extension of my photographic work.
How do you think you finally became more comfortable directing film? Was their a breakthrough project or moment?
I think that I haven’t any hang-ups with the idea of doing film, and I went back to my early inspirations in experimental film: Kenneth Anger, Man Ray, Maya Deren. For now, I feel that I haven’t been able to express exactly what I want in film. It’s a next step.
Do you feel a part of a larger community of artists, designers and thinkers in Paris right now? If so, how do you inform each other’s work?
There are lots of interesting photographers in Paris and good independent publishers too, lots of emerging artists. A good friend of mine is Estelle Hanania, who is a talented photographer. My husband, Sanghon Kim, is a graphic designer and a film director. I would say that it’s something familiar and natural to be with creative people. Otherwise I’m more of a solitary person, at least in my work.
What’s next for you?
A book, Veronesi Rose, published by Shelter Press, a personal exhibition at Galerie fur Moderne Fotografie in Berlin, next January.