Leonard Cohen, Hydra, 1983
Coming up in the December issue, Digital Photo Pro interviews Paris-based fashion photographer Dominique Issermann. Cinema has inspired this photographer’s sensual visual style, who lives to frame, whether she’s shooting stills or video.
Cinema has played a major role in the life and career of the photographer. This year’s recipient of the Lucie Award for Achievement in Fashion was majoring in literature at the Sorbonne when she moved to Rome with Daniel Cohn-Bendit, a student leader of the May 1968 protests in Paris, and French New Wave filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard to work on films. In the Italian capital, she co-directed the avant-garde films Tamaout and Elettra with Marc’O.
Here’s an excerpt from the interview, where Dominique discusses her approach to lighting.
DPP: Do you typically try to shoot using ambient light?
Issermann: I love to shoot with the ambient light. If I shoot with lights, I shoot in the studio with a black or gray background and usually one light, maximum two lights. I like one source of light, and that light is doing everything, lighting the background and the person in a beautiful way. If I’m indoors somewhere on location, I don’t want to have to light it.
DPP: You’re able to get the exposures you need at locations sans lights?
Issermann: We go where the light is. There’s always a beautiful light somewhere. You just have to look for it and be patient. I’m working with a Canon 5D Mark IV, so I can shoot at high ISOs, if needed. For example, there is a picture of Susie Bick, the wife of Nick Cave, that looks like an old-fashioned photograph. It has sort of an eternal femininity. She has plastic rollers in her hair, since she’s getting ready for a shoot. She’s looking in a mirror. That was in a plastic shower booth that was probably 60 by 60 centimeters. I’m glued to the wall, trying to be as flat as a sole. I saw the light in this plastic shower booth. It looks like something luxurious, while in reality it was just something very modest.
DPP: Who are your visual inspirations?
Issermann: I was 17 or 18 the first time I saw a picture that really struck me. I was in MOMA in New York, and there was a photograph of a cauliflower leaf by Edward Weston. I thought it was incredible. If he could do such a beautiful picture with a cauliflower leaf that had been abandoned in a kitchen to make a soup or something, the possibilities were endless. The other day I went to an Irving Penn exhibition from the Met that’s now in Paris. I love his images of cigarette butts. Just to make those beautiful, it’s so strong.
DPP: He, of course, was also an amazing portraitist. What are some of your portraits that that you’ve done that you particularly feel close to?
Issermann: I did a lot of portraits of Leonard Cohen. We were together for eight or nine years and friends to the very end. They were not usually organized photo sessions except for when we did videos. I didn’t say, “Let’s do a photo now. How are you going to dress?” I was taking the picture because I thought the moment looked incredible as it was. It was more about being in the intimacy of real life. They were exceptional moments with an exceptional man. They weren’t organized moments. We would be in Greece for the holidays, Paris, Montreal, New York or L.A.
I shot his first two music videos for the songs “Dance Me to the End of Love” and “First We Take Manhattan.” My photos were used for the covers of his book Stranger Music and his album “More Best of Leonard Cohen” and for the inside booklet of “I’m Your Man,” which he dedicated to me.
One of the last things I did with Leonard were 12 short video clips for his album “Old Ideas.” I did them all by myself with my iPhone 5. It wasn’t the iPhone we have now. It was Leonard’s idea, and he was very happy with the job.
Look for the full article by Mark Edward Harris when the December issue of Digital Photo Pro goes on newsstands December 5, 2017. See more of Dominique Issermann’s photography on her website at dominiqueissermann.com and follow her on Instagram @dominiqueissermann