Those who suffer from any form of severe wanderlust would likely do best to stop reading now. Speaking with the freewheeling French photographer Théo Gosselin, it’s difficult not to fall under the spell of his infectiously bright spirit — discussing road trips, camping, and just spending time in nature with his friends and family, many of whom make appearances in his work. His work, quite simply, transports you – it’s as though you can actually feel the breeze through the open window of his van rustling your hair, the sun warming your skin.
Born in Le Havre, a small harbor city in Normandy, Théo Gosselin grew up under the spell of the ocean and an ingrained love of the outdoors. His love for photography was shaped at an early age, growing up in a house that was filled with his parents’ analog cameras: “I saw [my parents] taking pictures throughout my childhood, and at around 14, I started taking pictures. Shitty ones–of butterflies and the flowers in our garden.” Despite his shaky beginnings, What seemed like simply a hobby became much more than that after studying at an art school in Amiens, France. “My friends and our lives became my principal subject, not as a photographer, but as a teenager who wants to capture memories just like everyone else.”
Along the way, Théo Gosselin took notes from the liberated ways of the American underground culture of the 20th Century. From beatniks like Jack Kerouac and Bob Dylan, to rebel filmmakers like Larry Clark, and the punk movement of the 70s and 80s, the themes that were so prevalent in these influential cultural moments are the same ones motivating Gosselin to pick up his camera. “I think we just love the same things, but at a different period in time,” he says. “Freedom, adventures, friendship, living at 1000 km/h, rocked by the music.” In his mind, these underground cultures sought to promote a world of “young adults trying to find an idea of freedom to make their lives extraordinary.”
He admits that it’s hard to live every day like this, but feels that life on the open road has been an unwavering influence on his work. This zest for travel prompted Gosselin to set out on a three month journey across the United States in 2012, a trip which resulted in the publishing of his first book, Avec le Coeur, meaning “with the heart.” A mixture of photos from 2011-2012 and those from the time spent travelling from New York to Los Angeles, Gosselin describes the book as “everything I love, rallied into 109 pages.” It ranges from landscapes and travel shots to images of intimate moments shared between himself and the four friends he travelled with. “This is my life,” he says. “These are the people I love.”
Gosselin’s approach to photography is very simple: no sets, no staging, just allowing moments to happen—a style which one would think would not be entirely conducive to more commercial work. However, he considers himself lucky as most often, when he is hired for commercials or fashion shoots, they are bringing him in because they want him to do what it is that he does best, something entirely lacking artifice. In fact, often times he is able to work with his own friends as models, producing moments that feel true to him and to the viewer. When working with professional models or actors, Gosselin prefers to meet them in advance, to ensure that same “organic” and familiar environment is maintained on set.
As much as he tries to make these more product-minded shoots his own, the world of commercial photography remains a difficult one for him to feel at home in. “I hate when there are 30 people behind my back, looking at the pictures, drinking coffee,” he says. “When I shoot advertising or commercial, I try to work with a small team to preserve the intimacy of the pictures.” As he so bluntly states — “the clients can stay in the truck or in the tents—a model can’t be true in front of 30 people.”
“I DEVELOP THE FILM WHEN I’M BACK HOME AND .. THE TRIP CONTINUES FOR MONTHS AND MONTHS.”
It’s no surprise that Gosselin’s camera of choice is an analog: “It’s another way of taking pictures, based on the instinct, skills and relationship between the man and the camera, and it’s beautiful.” He has dabbled in digital, and still predominantly uses that when shooting for clients, but when he started travelling, he realized that he lost too much time working in digital. He was taking too many images, loading them on the computer and immediately editing them in order to post online. “That’s why I now only have my film camera, a Nikon F2 with 24, 35 and 50mm film.” With this method, he’s able to see something interesting and feel confident only taking 2 or 3 shots before putting his camera down, as opposed to the 600 photos one might be tempted to taken when equipped with a 32G memory card. “I develop the film when I’m back home and I get to rediscover the trip…The trip continues for months and months.”
His love of film can be a bit conflicting with the fast-paced nature of commercial shoots. “When I’m shooting for clients…they always want the things faster and faster, so I shoot in digital most of the time.” That being said, some clients still allow him to shoot in film as it’s that grainy, nostalgic quality that they’re seeking out when they hire him. In his own words, they’re looking to see ‘the magic of film.”
Despite his love of film and his penchant for the nostalgic, Gosselin is the first to admit that the internet has been a great help to him: “It’s a beautiful tool to create and share, and a great link to connect with the rest of the world.” Not only is he able to share his completed work with people from so many walks of life, but social media plays a large role in shaping his travels. “I’d post something that says, ‘Hey people, we’re in ________, do you want to meet up and show us your life?’ and I met a lot of amazing people like this. We’re still friends, and we stay connected through the internet.” On that same note, Gosselin sees some flaws in the increased focus on social media platforms, as so often the value of an artist’s work is now based around the number of followers they can garner on Instagram or Twitter, making him incredibly grateful for his many loyal followers. “I know a lot of very talented photographers who can’t survive because they don’t have enough of a following to interest clients. That’s why the internet is such a strange place, full of opportunities and beauty, but often very sad at the same time.”
In the future, he hopes to continue to do just the same. “I really want to travel more and more, continue to meet interesting people and see breathtaking places, sharing my experiences with the entire world.” This summer, he’s embarking on another three month journey across the United States, this time accompanied by his girlfriend Maud Chalard — a recurring character in many of his images and a talented art director and photographer in her own right. “It’s new for me to travel with my girlfriend,” he admits. “We want to make a book about the trip and our different visions.” What will come of this trip is hard to say, though if you’re familiar with his work, you’ll know that it’s sure to be filled with beautiful landscapes, equally beautiful faces and a serious dose of FOMO.
Photographs © Théo Gosselin / Article by Amy Michelle Smith on format magazine.