The French artist Richard Dumas likes to say, “I am not a portraitist, but a photographer.” After all, the latter comes first, and the former is a mere speciality within the general artform. Regardless, his portraits (or photographs) are recognizable by their strong yet restrained contrasts—his pictures seem out of time, unexpectedly holding onto vibrations of light.
When asked about his initial attraction to the medium, he offered this story: “When I was a child, my father used to shoot many family portraits; I was regularly his model. Even then, I was fascinated by the small, black-and-white prints that he produced. They looked so mysterious: so close yet so far from what I had seen during the shooting. One day, at around ten, he asked me to shoot a picture of the whole family. I was so scared that the photo came out blurred. I was disappointed, but my father liked it and told me I could shoot more in the future. Today, shooting portraits continues to thrills me—dealing with human nature is incomparable.”
Indeed, all the ways in which Dumas engages with the medium are very much rooted in his initial experiences. For example, he continues to shoot his personal work on analog cameras, producing his own prints. Using this work method, he is unable to look back—”it’s always the present.” Furthermore, film doesn’t allow him to check anything as he works, making him more anxious. But for Dumas, this “raises the level of demand.”
At the Photomed Festival 2016, he showed a series of portraits focused on the personalities of cinema: the actors and directors of the Mediterranean, captured at the Cannes Film Festival between 1992 and 2015. His favorite—and by far the most moving—is his sensitive portrayal of the legendary director Michelangelo Antonioni.
As Dumas told us, “Antonioni was one of my masters, I wanted so badly to make a portrait of him. It was a matter of life and death. After many years, I finally made an appointment with him. It was a delicate set-up because he had become partially paralyzed. But I finally succeeded, with the help of his wife. The shooting was one of the most emotional of my entire life.”