Melchior Tersen is a 24 year old photographer based in Paris. According to him, his photographs are “strange or unhealthy.” Tersen is often inspired by music and “esotericism.” He follows an impulsive process, with no premeditation and a hint of voyeurism.
Tell us a little about how you got started taking photographs. Are there any photographers who inspired you when you were first starting out?
I do not remember a time when I said I wanted to be a photographer. I bought my first camera when I was about 16 years old. A friend had bought one and I did the same thing. We took pictures in the classroom, doing stupid things. That was my first real experience with photography. It was a small compact camera that I took with me to concerts. At that time I was listening to metal and hardcore, and my friends and I took pictures of the musicians at the exit. I also went to film premieres, photographing stars alongside the paparazzi. I was the only one there with a compact camera. I stayed “amateur” until about four or five years ago, when I discovered my digital silver camera and pictures by Ryan McGinley, Tim Barber and Terry Richardson via Vice magazine. From that moment on, I gradually found a kind of logic that is implemented alone.
What’s your camera of choice, and why?
I use several cameras; small compact, a 6×7 and a 6×4,5, and I recently used my old digital to do a series on jackets patches. I like the silver, I started in digital but all of a sudden I stopped taking pleasure in it because there was no surprise element to it, it was boring. From the moment I entered the world of film photography and managed to capture moments which are almost missed, it completely changed the way I work.
How would you sum up your photos to someone who had never seen them before?
Is there some element you think all of your photos have in common? I try not to be boring; I try to make pictures that can speak to the multitude while keeping specific references. I photograph a realm of passion a lot; I love people who live in the background, who are obsessed with certain things. It can be a passion for their dogs, for a metal band, for clothes, for bird watching. I love passionate sincerity.
You photograph a lot of people from metal, goth and other subcultures. Do you identify with any particular subculture yourself? And what is it that draws you to taking photographs of people that do?
I photograph different backgrounds, different “communities”. The common factor between my subjects is that they are close to me. I make do with the means at my disposal and I adapt: I only speak French, I do not have a license, I’ve always lived in the same place and I have limited resources. It’s not bad to limit your scope. I’m heading towards easier subjects that are close to me, more accessible to me. I photograph subjects that touch me. I’m not necessarily involved as a participant, but I know the codes. What unites all these themes is passion. I love passionate people who live fully for what they like and do not pretend otherwise. The visual appearance is important, of course, but for me, it is the background that prevails in my approach.
You recently did a shoot for Nike Air Max Paris, which fused elements of fashion editorials and your own preferred shooting style. Have you ever considered yourself a fashion photographer?
Is that a field which interests you? I try to do a little fashion because I love clothes and a photographic point of view, it is a completely different world. There are codes, methods of photography that you can try to apply to different styles; fashion is often very boring and repetitive. It forces me to take pictures I usually wouldn’t do and that are sometimes not the obvious choice.
You’ve taken a lot of photographs outside shows and events. Why are you drawn to event photography? What would be your dream event to photograph?
I hate making people uncomfortable, so most of the time I try to take pictures in favourable contexts; concerts, conventions, theme evenings, events. People feel more comfortable in an environment where they are prepared to be seen, or where they are even taking pictures themselves. I think we can all shoot, we can all find the right angle, the right moment. If you’re in the right context, it will work, while 5 minutes later and 100 meters away, it would be impossible and inappropriate. There are plenty of events that I dream about! I have a lot of recurring themes, animals, extreme music, nature, sex. There are wolves in the Pyrenees, I would love to go and shoot. Then I would also love to do the gay pride parade in San Francisco.
Some of those events which you’ve photographed have been erotic expos and sex shows. Would you describe those photos as voyeuristic? Do the subjects enjoy being photographed in those cases?
Yes, there is a great deal of voyeurism. I love going to these events, but as I’m never actively participating, I’m just watching to take pictures. It’s not easy all the time because, like in all media advertised events, many people do not want to be photographed. I have learned to anticipate reactions and do what it takes to feel confident. Above all you should always be prepared, and you must know the codes and the limits.
You’re quite a prolific photographer and you have a thing for capturing unexpected moments involving people. Do your friends ever get annoyed when you take their photos like that, or feel as though they’re being watched?
In fact, I take very few photos of my friends. This would actually be a problem, but I never broadcast a picture in which the person is completely at their disadvantage.
Interview: Alexandros Mastroyiannis