INTERVIEW WITH CÉSAR ANCELLE HANSEN
Keen Surfer Photographer
César, can you tell me a little bit about yourself ? Where are you from ? Where do you live ?
I grew up in the North of France, in Lambersat, a small town in the suburbs of Lille. Not a lot of surfing around there ! In 2001, I moved to Biarritz to enjoy the climate, the waves, surfing, and naturally to live there.
How did you discover surfing by the way ?
There used to be specialized magasines laying around my friend Alex’s dad’s place. Lucien, his dad, was a lifeguard in Anglet growing up. We was absolutely crazy about the ocean, surfing and bodyboarding. In the North, no one knew about surfing. I discovered this universe in the magazines and I have to say that it hit me hard. I told myself : “I want to live that too” looking at shots from that time of Tom Curren, Mike Stewart, Tom Carroll. Coincidence, a few months later my dad took me to Corsica. We found ourselves in Algajola, a little village known for it Mediterranean waves. I was 14, walking to the beach the first morning to discover what I had always seen only on prints : surfers venturing on the beach, looking for a good spot, with the warm early morning light, off shore waves, the ocean’s lines, the waves’ sound, the sight of a barrel. I instantly found my future. It became an obsession and more importantly a huge frustration, especially when I had to go back to the grey rainy North, polluted and mostly waveless.
Your jump to photograph, can you tell us about it?
I was immersed in pictures growing up. My mother, a former artistic director, taught me the art of selection and the insignificance of compromise. She was extremely demanding when it came to work. I even think that her coworkers feared her a little because she couldn’t stand mediocrity. In the end, it’s ironic because she is the most caring person I know. She would tell me that she sometimes wanted to rip the camera off some photographers’ hands and shoot the pictures herself given how bad the shots were. When selecting the frames, I remember her, complaining about hundreds of photographs : “bad”, “wrong frame”, “what kind of stance is this”... Granted we had hundreds of photography books, fashion, art and photography reporting magazines at home, and one day she got me my first camera. I was barely 11 years old. I thus dove in head first in this creative environment.
Can you tell us about your trips ? What scenic environment do you like to shoot the most ?
I’ve travelled quite a bit and at the end of the day the type of environment I’m in doesn’t matter. Before, I would have said a spot with a specific light, a specific architecture or a specific environment but I’ve realized with time that what matters is the emotion. It’s the focal point. I want to capture an atmosphere, a feeling that speaks more than the subject or the location. So I barely mind what’s on the other side of my lens. All I need is freedom of time and movement to track what we call the perfect shot.
What equipment do you use ?
I have numerous cameras : a dozen instant shot cameras, lm and digital reflex cameras with a few lenses and a medium shot from Hasselbald. I mostly use my digital reflex and instant shots.
How do you choose between digital and lm ?
I actually use both at the same time usually... the cloud stresses me out, hard drives, digital warehousing. Five years ago I lost over a thousand shots. And there is a philosophy to film photography. When you go out with two extra sets of 8 lm tapes, it definitely is a different feeling than carrying a memory card holding two thousand frames. You have to be diligent before pulling the trigger.
If you only had one camera housing and one lens for a long trip ?
My film Nikon reflex and a good 50mm lens : it’s light, no dust in the shutter, it’s unbreakable and subtle. You have to know how to work simply and have subtle yet reliable equipment.
The ocean ? From the water or with a tele-photo ?
Dilemma !! Ah Ah ! Both actually, but magic usually happens when I am in the water.
How does it feel to photograph people surfing when you could be catching waves yourself ?
It’s very thrilling. You don’t have that pressure to perform. You don’t fear the sets. You just observe the elements around you, you go underwater. At the end of the day, you feel free. I have to admit that I do bring a surfboard with me, so I usually do both. I hide my stuff and I go surfing afterwards. Good trade off don’t you think ?
Can you tell us more about the Los Angeles/ Biarritz frames ?
A few years ago I met Alain who had enjoyed my work with the city of Biarritz as a my playground. Alain and March LA.B became my benefactors. We started collaborating in order to illustrate March LA.B’s history between the South West and the City of Angels. Alain then offered to put together a book. He had been wanting to set up a common project for a long time. He gave me my assignment, sent me to L.A to gather content. I asked him : “what do you even want me to photograph ?”. He just replied : “Go with the ow. I want something that looks like you and that speaks a thousand words”. Ok ! It seemed simple and enjoyable enough. I was able to be hosted by a friend, a local who knows the city like the back of his hand. He took me everywhere. I photographed everything I wanted in perfect conditions, without restrictions of movement and freedom. In the end it was a terrific experience !!!
How do you feel about both cities ?
They have a lot in common but the major one is hedonism. Their inhabitants share this pursuit of pleasure. speaking of, there are a lot bridges being built between our two coastlines.
When you mess up a shot because of the camera, how do you x it ?
I order one or two pints of beer ! Ah Ah ! Realistically, I always try to have the right camera with me. It’s paramount to always have your tools in close range, it’s the one rule to remember. If you have to ask yourself whether or not to bring your camera, you’re doing it wrong. I also voluntarily shut off from time to time so I can enjoy things truly and not through a lens. You just can’t consistently analyze life, observe it. You also have to be an actor and live. It is precisely the decision I took for the latest Burning Man where I went a little while ago.
Black and white or color ? How do you choose ?
Actually color... I have worked a lot in black and white and I am now in my color “chapter”. I work according to what I feel like doing.
What are your influences ?
All the picture serial killers ! I want to say Raymond Depardon, Todd Hido, Guy Bourdin, Martin Parr, William Klein, Bernard Plossu, Joel Meyerowitz, William Eggleston, Henri Cartier Bresson, Elliott Erwitt, Michael Mann, Quentin Tarantino, Jacques Audiard or Ethan Joel Cohen... There is easily about a hundred artists that I admire and who inspire me.
Can you tell us about your future projects ?
There will be a book about a Burning Man camp, a collab with a custom made surfing wetsuit brand, an exhibition in San Francisco with the Anyon gallery and nally the restoration and artistic direction of a peculiar site in Cannes... In short, a good amount of stuff on the way. As I was saying, time is sometimes an enemy in order to bring everything that I want to fruition. You have to live life to the fullest and try out all the experiences that you can. It’s my motto at least. It allows me to fight against the fear of time slipping away. We could really use 36-hour days and live for 150 years.