MGT cover photographer Olivier Valsecchi's art and inspiration - Spotlight - MyGayToronto

MGT cover photographer Olivier Valsecchi's art and inspiration

By DREW Rowsome

01 March 2018

The photos of Olivier Valsecchi have surfaced in dramatic series of photos, each distinct, each stunningly beautiful, but all containing a timeless mystical beauty and sumptuous eroticism. They are also meticulous yet joyful, delivering an intimate impact. The fusion of artistic impulses make sense when Valsecchi explains his circuitous route to becoming a master photographer. "I wanted to be a musician," he says, "but I wasn't gifted with a singing voice. I took some theatre classes but I was so nervous to talk in front of people it would paralyze me and no sound would come out of my mouth."

Undaunted his muse kept him searching. "I wrote some novels by the age of 20 because I enjoyed making up stories and some things needed to be told, but then again, I thought that the road would be very long for me to be fulfill myself and I was easily discouraged. If I could turn back time I would really work to be a professional dancer, because man I was gifted for the dance! What I usually say is that I'm using all these interests, telling stories, making music, dancing, to make photos and that's why my work is what it is."

Valsecchi began creating promotional images for the music he was producing and used himself as a model. For many years the self portraits were his only photographic works. But his ambitions were growing. "Some ideas can't be done all by yourself," he says. "When I came up with the 'Dust' series concept, I knew I would have to take a step back from the stage and really look at what is happening and how it's all working. That's the first reason. Second reason is that, from a single idea you can get many different images just using different models, only because they bring their own personal story and they inject variations in the project that you may not have thought about before. A series is often a collaborative work, and you as the narrator of the story have to improvise with the vibes and the magic that emerge from the models and the light you have created for them."

Expanding into collaboration, expressing through others was an evolution but Valsecchi doesn't discount more introspection. "I haven't taken a picture of myself for a long time," he says. "I think the last time was that yoga position I practiced with a contortionist friend of mine, and that was almost four years ago. I think I'm back into that type of energy right now. Very 'stretch your body and find your inner whatsoever.' Self-portraits are related to moods, and what you're living through. And also, it often happens that a portrait of someone else is telling a more personal story than if you are actually on the picture as a model."

The "Dust" and "Time of War" series are distinct and instantly recognizable. "I started the process in late 2008," says Valsecchi, "trying things with different materials such as spices, with the idea of organic decomposition that I wanted the work to hold. I was at my parents' house for Christmas and we were around the fireplace, and then I was looking at these logs of wood burning into ashes and it was like hearing the sound of a key turning in the doorlock, it was like 'Eureka!' that dust was telling the story by itself. So I made bags of ashes and experimented showering models with it. I was still a student in a photographic school at that time. I ruined the studio, it was like walking on the moon, there was dust everywhere on every inch of that room."

Valsecchi became even more ambitious with the multiple models it took to create the iconic "Klecksography" series. "Man," he says. "'Klecksography' was a nightmare to work on. Sure it was fun to stand among this group of naked people, but the work was so hard. Most of the pictures were planned. We worked as a team of about 20 people. We had drawings, or rather photomontages I had crafted out of pictures of myself striking different poses, and we were trying our best to make them work live. I had to let go some ideas because it was impossible to make them happen."

However Valsecchi's vision, if not always easy to realize, turned out to, with teamwork, be possible. "King and Minotaur were rehearsed twice with a different cast because they were made on two different levels and it was really a challenge to make it look good. There was hard work on symmetry and on the casting because models had to look alike as they were working in pairs. In the behind the scenes video you can really feel the mess, the tension, and the work as a team. So obviously it was about sculpting bodies live, like a performance, and not digital manipulation at all."

Valsecchi's inspiration is a wonderfully expressed dialogue about life, death and the beauty of the human form. "It's more about finding your language and way to communicate, with visuals instead of words.  I do remember looking at Pierre et Gilles' gay-friendly, erotic images when I was a teenager, but did they really inspired me to become a photographer myself?" Inspiration is everywhere. When I suggest that his "Amazon," "Boys in the Attic" and "Drifting" series have a timeless vintage patina, he replies, "I'm nostalgic. That's crazy that you can tell that from my pictures. I'm a nostalgic and that's probably the reason why renaissance and classic paintings inspire me more than contemporary art. I am uncomfortable living in the present."

But Valsecchi is very comfortable creating contemporary commissioned portraits (though they too have that timeless mysterious flavour) or discovering a new inspiration. "Being a fine art photographer, as I see it, is pushing the limits of portrait photography further," he says. "There are models everywhere, I can find them either on the street, or on the internet or friends' recommendations. I need to be seduced by the magic and sensibility of a model and I need to know that he or she is going to facilitate the shooting by listening very carefully to what I want to express, and make that idea their own, and incarnate it very naturally. You know the expression 'He's a natural?' Well that's we photographers are looking for. Some people are just inspiring by being who they are. Those who overplay can ruin a photo."

Valsecchi's admiration for, and familiarity with, the art of dance stands him in good stead when choosing models. "Dancers can be good models but not always," he says. "Dancers master their bodies and it's very hard for them to let go and abandon themselves. They are control freaks of every muscle. So yes they are perfect to achieve a movement, but sometimes you just want to photograph someone falling apart, or being confused, at least that's the type of emotion I was looking for while working on the "Dust" series, and random people were perfect for that because they were like modeling clay. I would shoot them for hours just in order to exhaust them - you can't exhaust a dancer - and give them the feeling they didn't know where they were. Today I work more and more with dancers because what I'm looking for is different. I'm in a more choreographic mood."

Valsecchi's choreography accentuates the lines and beauty of the human form in motion or stasis. As such there is frequently nudity involved. "You don't need much more than simplicity, honesty and spontaneity to help someone take off their clothes," says Valsecchi. "Natural behaviour does all the work. The most important thing is how you look at someone. What I often say is that I never look at someone under the belt, I'm most importantly interested in the light, how it's working on them. I know I look like a crazy person when I take photos because my look is different, my eyes are so focussed on the light that sometimes after a shooting session I can't even say what the model looks like. Because I only saw the light."

Which also explains Valsecchi's nonchalant attitude regarding nudity. "I think erotic is less about flesh and more about vibes and attitude," he says. "Dressed people can be more erotic and sexy than nude people. I think it's a question of what kind of energy you're holding. And the story you're telling." Sadly the mainstream doesn't always concur. "Unfortunately my work has been deleted so many times from social media that it became impossible for me to post anything without censoring it myself. Sad times we're living in, when a pubis is considered more offensive than a bloody massacre."

The intellectual rigour and craftsmanship Valsecchi utilizes to create his work makes any thoughts of censorship particularly galling and destroys any arguments that art and eroticism are two different things. "My personal point of view is that art requires a vision, and the technique to achieve this vision," he says. "If you have a very bad and annoying voice, you don't choose singing as a career. If you're illiterate, you don't write novels. If you want to make art, you have to strongly believe in your ideas, yes, but don't neglect your technique. Some people will say that art is just having ideas and everyone can have ideas but sorry, I'm not buying that. Art has a mission: to make people dream, make people think. When people look at a piece of art and feel nothing and think nothing, well, I think we can agree that this is something other than a piece of art."

More of Olivier Valsecchi's work can be can be found in our latest MGT Issue #54 or viewed on his website or the websites of the galleries that represent him:
Opiom gallery in Cannes (France)
Art 22 gallery in Brussels (Belgium)
and AFK Gallery in Lisbon (Portugal)