Book Tip: Maxime Ballesteros “Les Absents”

French photographer Maxime Ballesteros is publishing his first monography, Les Absents. We met him for an interview on the occasion of his book launch

The documentation photos of (overflowing) parties on Purple Diary have rarely left such an impression on me as the ones by Maxime Ballesteros. Everywhere where it gets wild, where people lose control and succumb to basic instinct, where they dare to take a chance on ecstasy – that’s where you won’t have to look far to find Maxime and his camera. Of course, he also pulls out his camera for civilized events and the 1984-born Frenchman is now showing he can do far more in his new book Les Absent, published by Hatje Cantz Verlag. It is a selection of photographs that he regularly published on his website or across various publications and that are finally getting the acknowledgment they deserve. He always succeeds in impressing me with his very special point of view – a gift for putting the obscure in the right light and making it appear very artistic. We’re pleased that this warm-hearted exceptional talent answered a few questions about his work for us today:

How did you get into photography?

I think I started to lose my memory first, and quite badly. My brain would – and still does – erase almost everything. That was probably the very first trigger.

We had photography lessons back in high school and I only cared about spending time alone in the darkroom – I would shoot pretty much anything just to have images to develop. The smell of the chemistry, the privacy…the whole process was fascinating to me. That’s the one place I would always feel good. I did that for eight years, and experimented quite a lot, both with the technical aspects and with the images. But things really started to get fun in my last black and white years, when I finally bought a flash. That was very liberating. I felt so free and it opened up so many new horizons, like I could shoot anything, freeze it, and I didn’t have to carry a tripod everywhere I went or change the speed and aperture of my camera all the time.

But one day, probably about nine years ago and after moving to Berlin, I bought a cheap camera online and it came with color film. I never thought about shooting color before, or maybe I was just scared of it. But I used that film and things changed a lot from there. I had to re-learn so much, it was really like trying to speak a new, much more complex, subtle, touchy, and rich language. I never went back to black and white.

What role does Berlin as a city play in your work?

My work is very dissociated from Berlin in my mind – even if I do take a lot of photographs there. I can’t see it geographically. The cities and countries I work in are very important, but not in that sense, not geographically. There are important in their diversity.

I love what I found in Berlin, and I find it less and less now. Not because of the city, but because my eyes got used to the landscape over the years. Traveling is essential in my process: I need to feed these eyes with different colors, cultures, and senses of humor. I wouldn’t go anywhere if it wasn’t to take photos. It’s also the only way I can see anything.

When you walk around with a camera glued to your hand, every move you make leads you to the next frame: You go back, you stop, you wait. It’s a very special way of experiencing the world. All your energy and attention forced into one eye and one arm.

How would you describe the perfect night for getting the best shots?

I think there is no recipe. Other than being very attentive…being very close, but almost invisible.

What would be the one thing of your dreams that you would want to take pictures of?

Something very personal, from my past. There was a photo I chose not to take about 13 years ago – it was a mistake that I’ll regret all my life.

Do you have one favorite image of all time? And if so, which one is it?

It might be a very famous and a very hard photo: The one Robert Wiles took of Evelyn McHale in 1947 after she jumped from the Empire State Building’s 86th floor observation deck. I think words can’t really describe it, and only looking at that photograph can translate what is so powerful about it. Somehow that photo will last forever – it simply stops time. But it’s also almost a metaphor for our lives, fast-forwarded and compressed in one single frame. There is something almost surrealist about it, and yet nothing is more real than this picture.

To get further inspiration on Maxime’s photography, visit his website here or his Instagram account (@maximeballesteros) here.
If you are in Berlin don’t miss to pop by his exhibition at Johann König from July 6th 2017 until July 16th 2017.

Johann König
Dessauer Straße 6
10963 Berlin
Thu-Sun: 11am – 6pm

Shop the Book:

Maxime Ballesteros

“Les Absents”, € 35 via Amazon

Images: Maxime Ballesteros

Julia co-founded one of the first fashion blogs in Germany in 2007 and became a freelance consultant for digital strategies after publishing her first book in 2010. After an eventful four years with Condé Nast working mainly in the digital department of Vogue Germany, she decided to launch her own online magazine with her dream partner, Veronika Heilbrunner. She is based in Berlin and loves to read books.