All images by Benoit Lapray. Used with permission.
“I think my Monuments series is the most successful and impactful project I have done so far,” says Benoit Lapray. He adds, “It’s the one that gives me the greatest sense of pride.” Lapray’s unique series is a large scale project. Not working alone, he built a team of creatives to help execute his concept. Shot in Paris, Monuments adds a splash of character to the well-known monuments around the French capital. It’s a concept that first came to his mind five years ago, however, it’s only recently he has been able to bring it to life. We caught up with Lapray to find out what it was like working with a team and how he feels about the series so far.
Benoit Lapray’s Essential Gear
As far as the photographic equipment is concerned, I used two medium format film cameras to make this series. An old Horseman folding 6×9 and a Pentax 67II perfect for freehand pictures (as it is forbidden to put a tripod in Parisian parks, I had to find a solution.
When I started the series, I used digital cameras, but I didn’t like it. I thought the images were too clean and a bit too smooth. The whole thing lacked character. Using film allowed me to get more interesting renderings and add a few things to the story I wanted to tell.— Benoit Lapray
Phoblographer: You first had the idea for Momentums in 2015. You didn’t start it until 2018. What were the reasons for the three-year wait?
Benoit Lapray: It took me a few years before I could start this series because I didn’t have the financial means to make it. I set up as a freelance photographer in Paris in 2014, and it took me four years before I had the resources to be able to produce this kind of work.
It’s a very expensive series to create. Between the purchase of the specific photographic equipment for this series (two medium format film cameras, as well as my lenses,) the purchase of the figurines, and some service providers that I had to pay (notably for the CGI modelling, and the High Res scans of films,) the cost starts to build up. That’s why it all took so long. It’s not all about having ideas. You still need to have the means to make them come true.
Phoblographer: There are many characters to choose from in Pop Culture. Please tell us how you selected which ones you wanted to add to your images.
Benoit Lapray: Indeed there are many emblematic characters of Pop Culture, and choices had to be made. It hasn’t been easy. And that was probably the longest part of the job. First, I had to find the figurines of the characters I wanted to represent. That allowed me to make the first selection. Some of the characters are indeed untraceable. The figurines are no longer published. So I had to fall back on characters I could find.
Then I had to make sure that the figurines, especially the characters’ position, would match the set photos I had taken. All this made me choose some characters and not others. But the series is far from over, and I will try to make the list of these cult characters as long as possible. There are so many others that I would like to direct.
Phoblographer: What process do you enjoy more, making the original photos or editing them for the final version?
Benoit Lapray: For this kind of work, the most interesting part of the job is clearly the field shooting. When we arrive on the spot, when we take out all the equipment, when we see that the light is good, that’s when we really enjoy it. And making photographs with film adds to the pleasure.
Phoblographer: This was a collaborative project. Please tell us who else was involved, how you met them, and what it was like working as a team.
BL: It’s the first time I’ve made a series in collaboration with other people and it’s been a real experience for me. I’m used to doing everything myself, because I like to control my images from A to Z (I’m a photographer and a photo retoucher). Still, in this case, I had to call on CGI specialists. I couldn’t do this project without them, so I asked for contacts from my professional entourage, and that’s how I found a team to work with me. It was difficult for me initially, but I must say that I really enjoyed working with others once things were in place. It’s actually a real plus. It allowed me to explore techniques that I hadn’t dared to use before. It opened up a whole field of possibilities for me. And I believe that today I will only work in a team to carry out large-scale projects.
Phoblographer: You use CGI. Some purists may argue CGI isn’t good for photography. What’s your response to them?
BL: It is clear that CGI does a lot of harm to photography. I am thinking in particular of advertising, where we will soon no longer need to take photos. CGI is becoming so realistic that it will no longer be useful to make real images with real people in real places. And we can quite consider that this is not photography. But for me, it is simply a technique like any other that allows you to go further in what it is possible to do. When you’re creative like me, and it’s hard to simply be satisfied with reality, CGI is a great tool for telling other stories and showing impossible things. And all this makes photography much more interesting, in my opinion.
Phoblographer: What response would you like to evoke from people who view the series?
BL: Honestly, I’m not really trying to get anything from the public. What I mean by that is that it’s not what I look for first when I make a new series. I just express the ideas I have in my head, and I hope that they will be understood by as many people as possible. Afterward, I’m certainly touched when I receive messages from people who have been impacted by my images. It’s a real joy.
Phoblographer: How do you feel about your final selection of images?
BL: I am really happy with this final selection. If it were up to me, I would have liked to make many more pictures. I had started with about twenty at the beginning. But the process is very long, and we had to make do with 13 images at first.
You can see more of Benoit’s work by visiting his website.