Listen to the conversation between Rosanna and Alex Lesage.

To capture a likeness is but one of the requirements of a photograph – for the photographer Alex Lesage, it is more significant to capture the atmosphere, to recall the timbre and tone of the scene.

Shaped first by skateboarding and countercultures, Lesage saw a life in the creative industries as “a hack in the system. For me, people who work in the creative field, who can make a living from it, that’s something pretty special.” Moving to Montreal from a small town on the outskirts of the city, the path to photography began with Threefold, the Montreal-based creative agency that he established with friends and collaborators, Francis Rudman and Laurent Veilleux.

Working as an Art Director and Creative Director, Lesage learned how to create and shape imagery, how to tell a story without words – a skill that presents itself with force in his later photographic work.

Atzompa - Oaxaca

Parco - Sulptura, Puglia

Studio Fenice - Todos Santos, BCS

Atzompa - Oaxaca

“Most of the time photographers will start with personal photography and then end up doing commercial work, but, for me, it was the other way round,” notes Lesage, who would occasionally take photographs for Threefold’s clients. As an amateur, he had to learn on-the-job, which “created a positive pressure – I had to learn very quickly. Of course, you acquire experience over time, but the basics of photography are very technical, and so it’s not too hard to achieve a good result without a lot of practice – plus, I had already done a lot of art direction and creative direction, which had really refined my eye…”

Oliver Gustav – the Danish interior design studio renowned for its striking use of light and shade, and distinctive matte textures – offered Lesage his first opportunity to shoot interiors, with a commission to document their newly-opened Manhattan gallery. “My photos were kind of moody, and Oliver Gustav is all about this ‘moody’ aesthetic – in fact, I would say that he’s been the most influential person in this niche of interior design…” The resulting images are artfully dark. Purposefully low-lit, the muted photographs describe Gustav’s interiors through tone and texture, eschewing clarity in order to heighten their emotional value.

Diplomatic - Residence by Warren Garret

Studio - Oliver Gustav + Alex Lesage

“When you decide to show less, it can tell more – you can capture more of a mood”

“[Before this shoot] I had never done any interior or architectural photography – but I realised afterwards how much I had enjoyed the process. It sparked my passion for photography; it was the first time that I was [not only] documenting something, but I was capturing the atmosphere, and the feeling it gave me was so strong … I have always loved architecture – the feeling of a building – it’s something I am passionate about.”

A personal interest in interiors, design and architecture has enabled Lesage to capture his subject with sincerity. Through his lens, every object, surface and detail is heightened; beautifully-lit and fully-described, they become tangible, within reach. Whilst Lesage’s textures and tones are poetic, there is a certain rigour to his compositions. The images have a methodical neatness that is intensely pleasing to the eye; he captures the rhythms that are inherent in good design – the symmetries and patterns that combine to create a scene, a room or an interior. Like a composer, he brings together multiple elements to create a harmonious ensemble.

Studio - Oliver Gustav

Studio - Oliver Gustav

“When I’m looking for an angle, it just clicks. I know the exact angle that´s right for me”

As a muse, architecture offers a plenitude of textures and colours, geometries and angles -even in the most simple of scenes. Doorways and openings create depth; bookshelves and panelling bring order and perspective; drapes add fluidity and movement; and furniture creates a sense of scale in the absence of a human figure. “You need to compose with what’s already there,” notes Lesage. “When shooting architecture and interiors it’s all about working around the constraints that are in place. That will dictate the possibilities, but after that, what you decide to do – and not do – is what defines your style.”

Avoiding stark contrasts and vivid colour, Lesage’s work can be characterised by a tonal palette, sensual textures and a palpable sense of depth. Each photograph is a study of surface, patina, grain and polish. Whilst Lesage employs digital technology, his aesthetic is closer to that of analogue photography, where tonality is valued over clarity. “[In analogue photography] everything appears softer or smoother, which creates a sense of calm – which is exactly what I’m trying to achieve in my digital photography. Not to replicate it necessarily, but just to have it look less digital, less crisp. I don’t chase sharpness. A lot of photographers look for sharpness and high resolution, whereas I don’t really care about those things [beyond a certain level]. The photographs I like the most aren’t sharp at all, because they have a much more dreamy atmosphere.”

Restful and serene, Lesage’s images combine the structure of graphic design, the intentionality of Japanese philosophy, and the rich, velvety light of paintings by Vilhelm Hammershøi and Johannes Vermeer. The photographer notes that he aims, “to convey a certain sense of calm. And when you’re chasing this sense of calm, less is more. It’s much easier to understand the subject when you decide exactly what it is, and then get rid of everything that doesn’t enhance it.”

De - L'Esplanade by Ian Nataf

His years working as a Creative Director and Art Director persist, as Lesage continues to curate and compose even in his role as the photographer. Noting that “often, what’s nice in person isn’t necessarily nice in photography,” he will sometimes “remove everything from the space so that we can start with a blank canvas.” The photographer will then bring back elements
one-by-one to create a more refined and photogenic reproduction of the space. It is ironic that through editing and staging Lesage gets closer to capturing the truth, the essence of the space – a contradiction that he embraces to great effect…

Consumed with thoughts of lighting and exposure, composition and framing, the photographer is a technical being, and as such, Lesage might more accurately be described as an image-maker – a storyteller rather than a straightforward documentarian.

Through his lens, objects take on a sculptural quality – each thing is specific and charming in its own right. One wishes to brush a hand along the walls, to rest in the solitary chair, to hear the quiet hum of the empty space for oneself. The human figure rarely makes an appearance in his photographs – there is simply no need, as one can already imagine being there, fully immersed in the colours, textures and light.

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