Photography Book Review of Landscape Artist Extraordinaire: Alexandre Deschaumes - Voyage Éthéré

Photography Book Review of Landscape Artist Extraordinaire: Alexandre Deschaumes - Voyage Éthéré

The rain washes heavily onto the window, and I’m sitting in the candle-lit windowsill with a pint of inky black ale and a good book. That book is Alexandre Deschaumes’ forthcoming Voyage Éthéré (Ethereal Journey); a collection of his work over the past years. Following the release of his Blu-Ray documentary, “La Quête d'Inspiration” (The Quest for Inspiration) by Mathieu le Lay, Alexandre looks to be on the path to becoming increasingly known for his work. And with good reason.

This coffee table book, chock full of Deschaumes’ fine-art landscape photography, starts with dark atmospheres, gradually evolving into more colors and more light. At the end, the photos really open up; almost like inversions of his darker work. The stylistic changes of photography in the book beg the question if there’s anything changing within the French photographer himself.

Book signed by Alexandre Deschaumes

Signed and everything.

It’s a French book, but there isn’t a great deal of textual narrative to be found, save for the opening page. My French is rudimentoir at best, so the preface by Daniel Grévoz unfortunately went over my head. Turning the page, we are greeted with a heavily vignetted mono that honestly looks like pin-hole photography. “It starts chaotic and personal; like being born,” Alexandre Deschaumes tells me when I contact him about the book through email.

Forms of Art

In the six or seven emails that follow, we talked about art. Mostly about how post- and atmospheric metal music is inspirational to both of us in photography. That’s certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, I know, but the influence of other art forms shapes your photography more than anyone could care to admit. Deschaumes was a musician himself for 10 years and is still inspired and affected by music.

Landscape Photography book preview by Alexandre Deschaumes

The writing, albeit in French, is more abstract poetry than anything else.

Apart from music, Deschaumes is inspired by many other great photographers. But where Art Wolfe’s and Marc Adamus’ styles of landscape photography sit on either end of the teeter, Deschaumes finds it really hard right now to find the perfect balance in their widely different approaches to processing images. He wants to tell us that the style of popular landscape images on social media right now is all about an amount of fantasy. Fully saturated and contrasty, almost videogame-like photography, stands in the way of true emotion, he recons. The dreamy, soft look is vastly becoming mainstream and Deschaumes became bored of that style as soon as it did. Photography should never really be about style or following a certain recipe and a couple of Photoshop actions just for the hell of it.

For me, the true sense of the image has to go beyond the effect.

Landscape Photography book preview by Alexandre Deschaumes

Ominous and brooding; the title of the book is very fitting.

Equilibrium

Alexandre Deschaumes is still charmed by moody and fantastic imagery, whatever post-processing was involved, as long as the images themselves keep surprising him. “Marc Adamus, in particular, is very good at that,” he points out. But the majority of generally well-respected images nowadays feel too polished for Deschaumes. Nature isn’t perfect you know. Even if that whole discussion about natural or fine-art photography will never find definitive answers, his future plans for stylistic approaches are unsure. For Alexandre, it’s difficult to see two steps ahead in photography. Will his art continue to be melancholic, dramatic, and fantastical? Or will we see more natural looking images? Well, “finding that equilibrium is hard work,” to put it into his words.

The magic remains when it's still new and mysterious. As soon as photography becomes common or usual, I lose my inspiration.

Landscape Photography book preview by Alexandre Deschaumes

It's not all gloom. Verdant forest imagery is followed by fresh fallen snow, so there's enough variety to get inspired through various landscapes.

The Struggle

A third of the way into the book, we’re greeted with the verdant presence of forest photography. After a small dozen pages of the woods in a wide range of colors, we slowly but surely return to a brooding, even depressive atmosphere. There’s an artistic struggle here, much like there is at the start of the book. The phases of joy and sadness connect with me through Deschaumes photography. It’s part of the reason I am a longtime admirer of his landscape work: You can actually feel his emotion speaking through the pages of the book.

Landscape Photography book preview by Alexandre Deschaumes

The photographer's emotion is palpable.

At times, the emotion is subtle. Like autumn leaves twirling in a gentle breeze. But for the most part, it’s like a freight train coming at you with grand speed and determination, regardless of its message. This is particularly true for the blazing sunsets in the Patagonian mountains, where the images look nothing short of jaw dropping. In other emotionally charged photographs, where fleeting wisps of clouds are found dancing among razor-sharp mountain summits across the globe, we get taken aboard the train, not knowing what its destination will be.

Unfurl

Throughout the Deschaumes’ voyage, there’s the odd appearance of birds. I don’t mean that birds have no place in this though. On the contrary. About half-way, we stare at a silhouetted bird of prey, sat in a tree overlooking the ominous-looking landscape and cheer cliffs of Torres Del Paine, Patagonia. While a bird did make a cameo earlier in the book, this time it feels like something is about to unfurl in the work of Alexandre Deschaumes. There’s a reference to music in there one last time, I promise.

Adorn the Sky by ALEXANDRE DESCHAUMES via 500px

Through the teal-tinted ice of his “backyard” in the French Alps and Iceland, we briefly visit Patagonia again; starting at night with a spread of two images that are potentially a stargazer’s dream. But this does not feel like the end of a day, if you will. This night is for sure the start of something new, because when we flick on through the finely crafted pages of “Voyage Éthéré”, we see the same extreme focal length style of mountain imagery, but we are left with new energy. An awakening; like acknowledging the depression; now ready to part from it.

Landscape Photography book preview by Alexandre Deschaumes

The book is finely crafted and contains a wide range of Deschaumes' portfolio.

There are abstract mountainscapes, most of them devoid of a sky. Iceland’s Landmannalaugar is well represented here, but the author’s home turf of France too. Suddenly it starts to snow. With the white come fresh-looking images. I can best describe the look of the last spreads as fresh snow crunching underfoot; unspoiled and crisp. Particularly combined with the autumn colors portrayed so beautifully, the alien-looking landscapes almost have me booking a one-way ticket to Patagonia.

Speaking of flight; it’s not only snowflakes that we see flying here. Gradually, on through the final pages of the book, you get sense that Deschaumes’ photography took a turn somewhere, but you’re not sure where that happened exactly. In his own words, Alexandre describes the end of the book as a sort of “deliverance,” of finally being free. It is here that the birds take for the skies.

Landscape Photography book preview by Alexandre Deschaumes

The birds are a recurring subject, but it's not until the final part of the book that they truly convey a sense of airiness.

Verdict

It’s almost too bad that there’s that language barrier. Not being versed in the French language, I really can only describe the texts in the book as abstract poetry, so I get what Alexandre Deschaumes means by him not understanding me completely in our emails in English. These complex and often philosophically tinged talks can be hard to grasp, even in your native language. But don’t let that hold you back in the purchase of this book. It’s a true piece of art that would sit well on your coffee table and there aren’t even that many texts to be found. The images themselves do all the talking, whether philosophical or deeply inspirational.

Meet Alexandre

Some prints in the book are much better viewed in high resolutions; preferably on huge prints. Deschaumes does feature his work at exhibitions, and there’s a big one coming up. Alexandre Deschaumes will expose at the Montier en Der festival in France from the 17th, until the 20th of November and he would love to meet you there.

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5 Comments

Kyle Medina's picture

I'm curious who he printed the book through. I'm looking for a finish on the cover like that and one that lets me put lettering on the binding. Author is there a publishing company anywhere in the book?

Daniel Laan's picture

Hi Kyle, thanks. Yeah, it's published by Escourbiac l'imprimeur, based in Graulhet, France.

Kyle Medina's picture

Thank you! Well being France I don't believe I could order and also be feasible to ship to the US.

They have a contact sheet, You can ask. Escourbiac is a green printer based in Graulhet and Paris.

Alexandre Deschaumes is one of the best lanscape french photographer and good job Daniel, now I need that book and I don't know that alexandre are a "metalleux" like we say in France.

Daniel Laan's picture

Haha, Thanks Nathan. Some behind the scenes right there. :)
Definitely get the book before they are all gone. ;)