In his The Stranger series, fashion photographer Tuan Anh LE focusses on people’s presence in nature. Using fantastical, surreal compositions, the photographer is, at the same time, looking for his own self.
Your series is titled The Stranger. Who exactly is the stranger?
The title, The Stranger, was inspired by one of my favourite books: L’étranger by Albert Camus; but in my series the stranger represents two perspectives. On the one hand, there is nature, and on the other, myself, the photographer. There were moments in my life where I felt like a stranger to my own self. So I decided to head out into the wilderness. I asked myself, “How can we define nature today? What in fact is nature? In the future will we only know nature in the form of National Parks or Nature Reserves?” My answer was to take a break for a moment and consider all this!
What do your pictures focus on – people or nature?
Landscapes without people have no meaning for me, and vice-versa. The emphasis of my work is on the relationship between both subjects.
Just like the spaces, your models have structures in their clothing. Do you adapt to the surroundings, or is this a stylistic means for your work as a fashion photographer?
Even though I work as a fashion photographer, fashion was never an important factor in my photos. Materials, structures, patterns on the clothes, and even the models themselves are just the means I use to convey a message. Even so, I am quite particular about choosing the right models, as much as the right outfits.
You once said that your pictures are there to tell a story. What exactly is this story about?
For many years I suffered under a lot of pressure. The jobs I did sucked me into a whirlpool of routine, where humanistic values were lost and it all became just labour; the restricting aesthetic standards that existed had completely estranged the outcome from the creator. This is precisely the type of alienation Albert Camus describes for his main character in L’étranger. Mersault had recognised that he was no longer himself. He had turned into a stranger on the edges of society, who now refused to continue “performing”. In the same manner, my series is also the product of a sense of alienation. It reveals my rejection of the type of studio imagery that is prevalent, and of the aesthetic principles dictated by society. I wanted to lose myself in nature, observe it, feel it, and allow myself to be surprised by things.
The fascinating thing about your pictures is the precise composition combined with the beauty of all the objects. Dream or reality?
I would really like to continue walking the thin line between dream and reality, the real and the surreal.
What equipment did you use for the series?
I photographed this series with both a Leica S and an SL. It has been my best experience ever; I was completely happy. Post production doesn’t play a big role in my work, especially not when the pictures are taken outdoors
Natural scientists have a saying along the lines of “Whoever understands light will understand the universe”. Virtually all your pictures have a reference to light, often artificially produced.
For me being a photographer means writing with light. In my opinion, the lighting is the toughest, but also most interesting aspect of a photograph. However, working outdoors with complex lighting equipment can mean that I lose a feeling for the surroundings; without mentioning the fact that it costs time and effort. Instead, I like to experiment with different mixtures of natural and artificial light. At the same time, working without a complex lighting set-up is also a challenge, because I need to react quickly and adapt to the situation, so as to achieve what I’m aiming for. Spontaneity, however, can give rise to magic.
In addition to light and structure, what means do you consider important for your photographic work?
Space. Whether indoors or outdoors.
Trees play a bit role in your pictures. Why?
I see them as a symbol of life. To see a tree grow helps me to really consider the value of things.
Tuan Anh Le, 35, completed his studies at the EFET Photography School in Paris with distinction. He has been a creative director, a free-lance photographer, and a photography teacher, and has created his own studio. He works for various international magazines such as ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar, Dep and Citizen K. His commercial clients include Toyota, Lexus, Audi and Samsung. His The Stranger series was presented in a solo exhibition last year at the Deutschen Haus in Ho Chi Minh City.
To see more of the photographer’s work visit his website.