The photos created by Daniel Decot appear straightforward, infused with a naturalistic eroticism that leaps off the page. But as the play of light and dark draws one in, there is a startling effect of intimacy, of a connection being communicated. The photographer himself has a similar effect, claiming simplicity before being inspired into sensual poetic metaphors that begin by being matter of fact. Because of the distance, Decot is based in Belgium, and a slight language barrier, this interview was conducted by email so following up on tantalizing hints and innuendo was difficult. So Decot remains, like his photographs, casual and straightforward but teasing erotic mystery.
Drew Rowsome: What first inspired you to take up photography?
Daniel Decot: When I was 12 years-old there was a photography course at school. Our teacher asked us to choose a subject: flowers, animals, people . . . I chose people.
When did you decide that photography was a viable career option or artistic outlet ?
Some years ago I realized that more and more people, mostly actors/actresses, artists, were asking me to take their publicity shots.
What is the favorite of your photo shoots so far and why ?
I have lots of favorites, but probably all the photoshoots with my friend Ben, a tattooed guy I met at the gym. We began to work together for magazines. I particularly have great souvenirs of a nude shoot at night: we lit a big fire, we shared great moments and then swim in the river.
How do you choose your models?
I don't really like the word "model." The few models I have worked with were really too "professional" for me. I prefer to meet and capture real people in their home environment, so that they feel more at ease as that is where they evolved. I like that more than making pictures with posed supermodels wishfully transformed and enhanced. That's why almost all the guys in my photos are my close friends or men I meet at my friends' homes. I'm very attracted by personality and how their eyes really look into my eyes.
What makes for a good model?
I prefer a release during a session so I give precedence to loosening over acting. Don't do, don't act, don't pose, just do nothing. No dramatic effect but just a look, a presence, the raw drawing of a gesture, a growing thought. An intense yet discreet emotion, nearly mute and blind which tends to reveal a true moment. It's unutterable, subtle and far away from clichés, sensationalism and other perfectly portrayed photos from the fashion world. No showing off, no distortion. No voyeurism. No transgression. The end purpose being to suggest intimacy and not to steal it from the subject.
There is no message, it's a meeting, some shared instants. A caring look from my end. A deeper look on the inside from theirs. My approach is based on a certain neutrality that emphasizes the mystery, creating impressionistic images. Leaving to the audience the possibility to picture its own story.
Your website says that you shoot using natural light. How do you get the eyes so startling vivid in your portraits?
I try, when possible, to have light from windows at my back so that it reflects in the eyes of the people I shoot.
Nudes, boxers, bikers, surfers, miners . . . There is an obvious erotic thread of masculinity in your choice of subjects. How do you decide what you want to explore?
Well, it depends on the people I meet, I'm a naturist, a surfer and a biker. I do lot of sports including boxing, I'm a bearded multi-tattooed guy. I just take photos of people I meet, there's no special credit for that, I guess.
While recognizing the similarities, particularly in many of the boxer photos, how do you see the difference between the more documentary photos of the bikers and surfers vs the poetry/collaboration of the portraits ?
Actually, those two types of photography are very different. The "documentary" photos need from me that I am 100 percent focused in the present moment. When a boxer is throwing a punch or when a biker rides very fast I have to be there that moment. That's why I prefer to shoot during releasing moments, when boxers are in the locker room or in the corner of the ring for instance, I try to highlight intimacy like I do with portraits. But I always have in mind to make some artistic, poetic portraits, even with those exhausted boxers with their broken faces.
The portraits of you done by Cedric Brion are quite extraordinary, coy and slightly imitative of your style. Were they his idea or yours? Was the concept his or yours? What was it like to work on the other side of the camera?
Cédric is a friend and an incredible photographer. He is more specialized in studio photos so we made an experiment, He shot me then I shot him in the same place, his studio, with spotlights for him, none for me, but with all the windows wide open to let natural light come in. Curiously enough, since Cédric made this picture of me, several photographers have asked me to sit for them.
Who would you cite as an influence?
Of course Robert Mapplethorpe for his extraordinary use of light, and incidentally because a lot of my friends are black guys, Richard Avedon: I love all his studio photos with the white backgrounds, particularly the Warhol and Factory photos. And Herb Ritts. And many more.
But, my two major artistic influences are two painters, corresponding with my two types of photos.
Johannes Vermeer and his use of diffuse light from a window influenced my photos of a tainted world, a zone with diffuse and glowing light, where sfumato in the subtle gray scale helps individual shades eventually melt within. And Edward Hopper and his contrasting sunlight illuminating people. I like to create photos with a lot of contrasted between the black and white, like the German expressionism movement that affects space dramatically, some chiaroscuro from which faces and shadow-striped bodies strive to hide or escape.
The quality of the photos, the ambience, reminded me of silver prints like Ansel Adams and George Platt Lynes. How did you discover and come to use that style?
Thank you. They are great photographers but, well, I think my work is a mix of lot of conscious and unconscious influences since my childhood.
What makes a photo erotic?
The way the model look at me. At you. At you looking at them.
There is a wonderful quote on your Facebook page attributed to philosopher Jean Baudrillard: "There are those who photograph naked bodies as of the flesh, others like meat, and those who photograph the animal naked, his skin and his soul." What is it you are trying to capture when you photograph nudes?
Once they have taken their clothes off, peeled off the skin of their social ID, there is just there, in front of us, then, men, exposed in their true essence. As smooth as when photo sensitive paper lets mysteries show in the reddish ambiance of the dark room.
My personae have a link with those of Edward Hopper's paintings, for being solitary, melancholic, mute and wholly-engrossed in their thoughts. Locked within, alone, nude facing a window letting the light float in to suggest the possibility of an infinite world lying beyond on the other side. And like always, wriggling from famous artists to anonymous people, swinging from boxers to geeks, oscillating from straight managers to tattooed bikers, trying to suggest what unites us in our differences, and shedding light on our identities and resemblances through our skin grains, up to the most intimate as I would like the audience to see the humanity beyond the characters.
How do you get your models to be so apparently comfortable when posing nude?
Daniel Decot: Most are my close friends so comfortable when nude. But when I shoot "new friends" I spend the first hour, before taking the first photo, making them comfortable. We talk a lot, have a drink, laugh, etc and then when we've become more intimate, I feel it's time to take out the camera.
Where do you see your style evolving to? What would be your fantasy shoot?
Probably to a "less." As I said before : My approach is based on a certain neutrality, emphasizing the mystery, creating impressionistic images leaving the audience the possibility to picture its own story.