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Retro Kolkata Exclusive : Interview with Fine Art Photographer Jean Robert Longhi from France

© Jean Robert Longhi
I am always happiest when I am able to stay open to what surrounds me and obey to how I feel. To listen to music or the noise of water, the birds tweeting, the slight crisp noise of the trees, to feel the bitter coolness of winter or the warmth of the sun. To make one with the nature that surrounds me.

RK : First of all, thank you for accepting our invitation for an interview. Can you please tell us a bit about yourself? What made you want to pursue photography ?

Jean Robert Longhi : I would like to thank you for the interest you have shown towards my work, I am truly honoured. I am very happy to be able to talk about my photographic artwork in your magazine. It makes mewant to reach even further !

I am a full time ER doctor in a hospital in Eastern France and recently turned 55. I have been

interested in photography since I was a teenager. I was then surrounded by my grandfather’s

pictures that he took between WW1 and WW2. My current job meant I had to put photography

aside for quite some time. But in the last few years, I have been going back to photography as it

helps me breathe, it relieves the pressure of my job and washes my soul. Slowly but surely,

photography has become a vital part of my life. For me, it is a quest towards beauty and

harmony with the world that surrounds us. I think that for me, it is a way to save the image that

I have of our very fragile world.

© Jean Robert Longhi

RK : How would you define your style ? How did you set about developing your own style ?

Jean Robert Longhi : I am not quite sure how I would define my style. I would like it to be sincere and spontaneous. What is essential for me is to translate as best as possible the emotions that I feel towards the subject. I don’t want to make it look pretty for the sake of it. I don’t want free prettiness. The other side to my work is to show how short-lived we all are. And that’s probably why human beings are quite often not part of my pictures. Originally, photography is the art to play with the light. It is an art that sets what is short-lived or what is in the past. What I am trying to show in my work is something else, how important it is to grab time as it goes on. Time that has to come but also time that is no more. The necessity to find humility towards the world that surrounds us, the quest towards a balanced connection with the world that surrounds us.

© Jean Robert Longhi

RK :How much preparation do you put into taking a photograph or series of photographs? Do you have any preferences regarding cameras and format ?

Jean Robert Longhi : That is a difficult question that brings to mind a multitude of answers. When I am out, it canonly take a few seconds to take a free hand picture depending on how I feel. What I usually do isthat I walk around, letting my eyes wonder and stop when something catches my attention,whether it is the light, a shadow, a slight move, the wind in the trees, a reflection, a simplefeeling of beauty, a feeling that I want to translate without always knowing which one. When Istop in a spot that inspires me, I have lots of possible images that appear in front of my eyes.When I decide to work in long exposure, I can stay up to 2 hours in the same spot. I settle down,look around and feel the place, I try and feel its soul. I can even stay 12 hours with my subjectwhen I am near the « Loue » or the « Areuse » rivers that I love so much, only moving a fewmeters where my eyes and feelings take me. My job as a doctor means I don’t get much freetime to plan things in advance and there are so much places that I would like to discover yet and that is the key for me. Discover, let yourself wonder wherever your feelings take you, yourinnocence. Even in places that I have seen many times like Venice that I visited once againrecently. Keep this attitude, this look without losing your soul, even if knowing the place you aretaking the picture of is important of course.

In terms of material, I work in digital photography and have been working for the past 18 months

with a reflex case, full format Canon EOS 6D Mark 2, after having worked for over a year with an EOS 6D. Maybe I would like to work with a 5D but for now, I will carry on working with my old

friend ! In terms of optic view, I mostly work with a 16-35mm Canon f2, 8L zoom but also in landscape view, I use a Canon 85mm f1, 4L that is usually dedicated to portrait.

© Jean Robert Longhi

RK : Which artists and/or photographers inspire you ?

Jean Robert Longhi :Amongst the various photographers that I admire, Lucien Clergue is definitely the first one. Robert Doisneau also for knowing how to catch time that passes by. Henri Cartier Bresson is another one. Vivian Maier for her warmth that sadly was only recognized after her death. I can mention also Imogen Cunningham. And Mario Giacomelli for the simple and instant perfection of his composition, his light but profound use of photography. His disregard towards the material and his portraits of humanity that are so direct but lacking sophistication. And MimmoJodice for his long shots, his ICM pictures and the intensity of his portraits whether they were of human beings or not, his perfect management of shadow and light. And Sebastiao Salgado for his portraits with no fuss and his fight for the safety of our planet. I can also mention Michael Kenna and LaetitiaBattaglia that I have discovered recently. Man Ray and Lee Miller. And many more but I cannot name them all ! In fact all that celebrate black and white !

Other artists have inspired me. Sculptors like Auguste Rodin, Alberto Giacometti, Pablo Picasso, mainly for his sculptures rather than his paintings. Painters like Pierre Soulage, his outline of black and his art philosophy and Vincent Can Gogh. Claude Monet, EgonSchiele, Gutav Klimt, JanVermeer and many more.

© Jean Robert Longhi

RK :What tools do you use for your post processing ? Explain your workflow.

Jean Robert Longhi : I am afraid I may disappoint you with this question. But I will stay simple. And honest. Unlike most photographers, I do not have any editing tools like Photoshop or Lightroom. Even if I come across as ignorant, old fashioned or amateur. I work in RAW files of course. But I do the vast majority of my editing work at the time of the shot itself, in pre-processing, by playing with the contrast, the balance, the under or over exposition of my pictures. Whether it is in long shot or not.With a particular attention given to the histogram of the light. In long shot, I work with the theoretical time shot by shortening or enlarging purposely my time shot in order to get what I am looking for. And finally I work with degraded filters. I do not work in HDR with fusion on Photoshop. For processing my pictures, I work with the Canon Digital Pro software which allows me to wipe away the colour fringing or dust on the lens and a minimal work with the light. I only retouch my pictures as little as possible and I never reframe them as I consider that my composition must be definite at the time of shooting, a little bit like a painter that makes up his painting. It is probably not a typical method but I find what I am looking for this way. It makes me feel that I have stayed truthful to what I have seen and felt.

© Jean Robert Longhi

RK :If you were told that you could only keep one camera and lens combination, what would it be?

Jean Robert Longhi : Without any hesitation, I would keep my EOS 6D Mk 2 with my 16-35 f2,8. Or… may be I would keep my 85mm, because I like to use it for landscape shooting.

RK :How did your interest in Fine Art Photography has begun ?

Jean Robert Longhi :Step by step I guess. When ? I couldn’t really say. As time progressed, it has paved my progression, I opened a door and then another. But it has become the central theme of my photographic work. It is what gives it some sense. Making photography is not enough in itself.

© Jean Robert Longhi

RK :What is the most special aspect of Fine Art photography for you ?

It is difficult for me to answer this question. As it is to answer to that of the nature of Fine Art

photography. My answer is linked to the choices I made when I decided to register as a professional. When I did so, I chose author and picture creator and not professional photographer. Which makes sense to me.

Fine art photography is by nature a process where creation is key, an expression of the world vision and the reality owned by the photographer. Maybe that my pictures are part of this. In this

matter, I am never as happy as when my pictures bring emotion in the eyes and heart of those

who see them, an emotion that is part of what I was trying to translate.

© Jean Robert Longhi

RK :Why have you had the preference for black and white for so long ?

Jean Robert Longhi : When I started photography in my teenage years, I was already attracted to black & white and nowadays, I work more and more in black & white. Because it stems in the roots of photography, because black & white let us be free of colour and all the artefacts of Photoshop that we see too often. Because black & white is graphic, because it gives more space to the composition of the picture. Black & white glorifies the contrast between the shadow and the light. It enables to refine the picture and to leave more space for the prime meaning and maybe also because it reflects better my rather pessimistic view of our times.

RK : How does black and white vscolour play into your work? Do you find them to be totally separate beasts—or complementary ?

Jean Robert Longhi :Black & white and colour are complementary. Black and white is precious to me because it expresses better my belief of the upmost necessity to change our connection to the world.

Colour appears when I wave towards a rather more positive and soft vision of our future. But

clearly, it is safe to say that at the moment, black & white takes the lead over colour in my


© Jean Robert Longhi

RK : When you are out shooting—how much of it is instinctual versus planned ?

Jean Robert Longhi :When I am out shooting, I sometimes have a general idea of what I am looking for, other times I simply just go out looking for a place of interest. But I am always happiest when I am able to stay open to what surrounds me and obey to how I feel. To listen to music or the noise of water, the birds tweeting, the slight crisp noise of the trees, to feel the bitter coolness of winter or the warmth of the sun. To make one with the nature that surrounds me.

RK : What have been your top 3 places to photograph so far and why?

Jean Robert Longhi :

· The swamp close to where I live because it is where I found the first leads in my path towards photography.

· The « Loue » river, its gorge and valley because I still find there a continuous source of

· inspiration and great inner peace every time I go.

· Venice for its unique beauty.

© Jean Robert Longhi

RK : You’ve taken thousands of photos over the years, but do you have a favorite?

Jean Robert Longhi :I have one, ten, a hundred and much more ! I wouldn’t be able to choose one amongst all ofthem. Of course there are some that I no longer look at in the same way but so many that are my favorites ! They are close tome at different times of my life on the path of photography and there will be plenty more until I can no longer hold a camera without knowing where I am going.

Here I quote Pierre Soulage :“ Each painting is at the same time a finished painting and also,

and that is what’s more important to me, a step, a moment of something wider, that is the

series of my paintings that I cannot predict “.

RK : What are a few tips you would give someone who wants to pursue photography professionally?

Jean Robert Longhi :I am not sure I am the best person to give this kind of advice. I do not consider myself a s a professional photographer. I sell a few pictures every year. I lack time in order to give more life to this activity. And even if each of my previous exhibitions has been welcomed with positive comments, not many people seem interested in my art in France.

Therefore, here is what I would say to those wanting to pursue photography professionally :

· Have faith and never stop doubting, with always keeping in mind that doubting is vital

and is key to building who you are.

· Find your own way, be genuine. As an example, I would quote again Pierre Soulage : “ I

paint for those who look at my paintings, me like anybody else, can face it, alone with

himself “.

· Know that the road is a long one.

· Find a professional path and a meaning to it.

· Make yourself known.

· Spend as much time as possible making photography. And being able to afford it.

· If possible start as a young age.

· Be aware that it may not lead anywhere professionally but that photography is a passion

and one can carry on as much as one want as a side hobby, and that maybe, one will

· Follow the footsteps of Vivian Maier.

© Jean Robert Longhi

RK : We (Retro Kolkata) are trying to build one single stage for all the artists, because we believe that artists are the most beautiful creation of God and geographical boundary can never break their unity and harmony. Please say something about our initiative and any special message for your followers.

Jean Robert Longhi :I am an atheist but I definitely share your point of view about the fact that art is global. And I can verify this via the various sharing I have on social media with other artists located worldwide, from South America to Asia. I strongly support you and admire your desire to defend this vision. I am truly honored by your invitation to talk about my Fine-Art photographic work in your magazine and very happy to be read in India, country that I only know from what I have seen and read in the media but would love to discover one day. I would be very happy to meet you all and share with you this passion for Fine-Art that brings us together.

*We would like to thank Miss Claire – Noele Divet from Retro Kolkata Magazine and on behalf of Mr. Jean Robert Longhi.


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