Jeff Boudreau lives and works in London. He has worked with Vans, Tank, Aksu, and DROP magazine, among many others. In 2013, he shot and directed a video for Vogue, and, this past year, he was shortlisted for the APA / Lucie Foundation’s prestigious grant for his ongoing personal series.
In this interview, Jeff talks about how he started shooting his friends skateboarding, shares his portrait photography ideas, explains why he gets real close with his frames, and reveals how a shy person like him can make strong and bold work.
I really like your portraits. How did you get your start in photography? How would you describe your work?
Thanks man. I picked up a camera when my friends and I were all crazy about shooting each other’s skateboarding. I had a small Sony camcorder and eventually moved to shooting stills when I was put in crutches after a bad fall. I was always with the same people shooting different tricks, so I got to feel 100% comfortable behind a camera. Through word of mouth and showing my skateboarding images to people, I started to get asked to do portrait work for all kinds of various jobs and that sort of transferred over to fashion when I moved to London. In my head, my work is really simple. It’s usually all-natural light, and the majority of what I post are the images that I feel show a connection between myself and the subject. It’s really important to me to always keep shooting even during the downtimes on a shoot, since a lot of my selects come from moments that aren’t staged. It’s difficult to do in fashion, but I prefer the aesthetic of honesty, so I work that way. Also, I thrive on my subject’s personality, and because I work so frequently with females with strong personalities who have travelled the world for work or have worked in the industry from a very young age, I like capturing confidence and strength. It’s never contrived, undressed, or forced. They really are all very strong, and their faces tell a lot, so I get close and give them the opportunity to show that off. Women are humanity’s soldiers and I like those whom I photograph to have that attitude brought out of them.
Does photography come easily to you? Were you ever unsure of your talents?
I’ve always been very serious about image making. While it started out as more of a cinematography interest, I soon preferred the pace of creating stills vs. moving image. Having grown up most of my life in Florida, I was very lucky to experience variations of light almost all year. The sun has so many faces to understand. Also, more often than not, I am the shy and doesn’t-ever-say-much type, but having a camera in my hands gives me a lot of confidence when it comes to interacting. A lot of things come together for a lot of different reasons. Nothing comes easy though, even a strong natural talent requires consistent practice and, coming from a hard working family has made it important to me to always embrace being a work horse. There is no room for uncertainty. Well, maybe, there is, but that uncertainty needs to be straightened out by trying new things and risk taking.
What was your first – very first – childhood memory? Do you think this first visual memory and its emotional pull might have influenced your work?
That’s a hard question. When I was really young I lived in a rural town in Ontario Canada, and it snowed nearly 6 months out of the year. Things were very white and clean, and I remember the sun hitting the snow and the shapes and shadows it created. I have no idea how old/young I was but it was beautiful. And things were very still and very quiet, which exists as a theme throughout a good majority of my work.
When did you find your visual aesthetic? Was there a single moment you knew you had it?
I think a visual aesthetic is always developing. I know last year I felt like I was close to something that ￼I felt was right. I’ve never been someone who overprocesses or underprocesses their work, and it’s the middle ground I find appealing, so last year when I started to spend less time in post and more time making things right at the start, I saw my visual aesthetic ease up yet keep a sharp sense of reality. I’ve developed a less polished way about everything I do. Last year, I noticed these ‘slightly off’ images stick out more than those that were more ‘contrived’, and I’ve made it a serious goal of mine to hold on to that natural and real aesthetic.
You like tight frames. What’s the attraction of getting close to you?
I have one 50mm lens. It’s all I own and it’s what I like best. The attraction of getting close points back to whom I started photographing with. My best friends liked to be photographed, and the skaters all wanted to be on camera, and because I knew everyone I knew I could get as close as I liked. I noticed that I could take that same approach when I started to get comfortable working with other people, such as models and musicians. It’s simply a preference thing — a face tells a lot. And because you can’t hear what photographs say before they’re made, you have to create what they are saying, and the more focused I am on their expression the stronger the image. People have a huge effect on me. In a way, being close creates a more comfortable environment for the person being photographed because I can pop my head above my camera and not have to shout direction or conversation. I don’t like to raise my voice, and I don’t like the subject to have to feel like they need to shout at me to have a conversation. It’s simply preference that has led to an aesthetic that I find works well for me.
Your adventure section has some great photos. This is one of my favorites. Could you explain how it was made from start to finish? What’s the story behind it?
Thanks man! This shot is of a friend of mine who has family up Montefegatesi, a small village town in northern Tuscany. I went and visited her for the first time during the summer and was so impressed with the culture and the town and the surroundings and just being out of London that I went back in the fall for a short week. This specific mountain in her foreground had been mentioned to me while I was there during the summer, so I made it a point to head there in the fall. It was cold and, as you can see, the low cloud-cover softened all the surroundings. It was mysterious being up in mountains and not being able to see a lot. So she and her friend took me to the foot of the mountain, and we all three went up halfway, but I continued onto the top and just before leaving them halfway I took this. Initially, I was drawn to the tones and was already creating a series of portraits shot from a sort of over the shoulder perspective, so it was just a quick little spurt of energy to capture this before I ran by her up the rest of the mountain.
This woman has a strong gaze. Your portraits are very complimentary to her. Who is she? How did you approach direction with her?
Her name is Misha Hart and she’s a model with VIVA based in London. In terms of direction there was ￼none. This was one of those that was thrown together quickly, a sort of extended “go see”, and her gaze and expression is her being exactly who she is. We were shooting in my house and creating a series of at-home images and she just got it. For me, it was about the light and positioning the sofa on the edge of our conservatory so that she could sit there comfortably and smoke like she was at home and not on a shoot. This was actually in between two different looks we shot, again just another in-between moment that happened to work out.
How do you decide between color and b&w? What usually forces the decision?
My go-to is black and white, so any time I post a colour image it has to be complementary and minimal. I think of those paint cards you get at paint shops that have all the different tones of one colour, some are very soothing while others are all over the place and sporadic and make my head hurt.
Who have been your greatest inspirations? Any artists, poets, ex-lovers? Any last words?
Robert Frost is the only poet I can never forget, The Road Not Taken, always meant a lot. I’ve had a few friends that were and remain constant inspirations as they continue working in creative fields. My family back home in Florida keep me going, and I always like to tell them how much they mean to me. Last words, the first part of a quote from author Aldous Huxley: “In spite of language, in spite of intelligence and intuition and sympathy, one can never really communicate anything to anybody” — so use a camera.
Be sure to check out all of Jeff’s portrait photography ideas on his website!