About the artist
started working for the French and international press back in the 1990s. He quickly found editorial work too narrow – the constraints of “one-off” commissions, tight deadlines and menial topics - so in the 2000s he moved on to self-assigned projects. His first major subject was the urban transformation of China, more specifically the city of Beijing in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics. Tézenas found the breathing space he needed: unimpeded by the high-yield requirements of press commissions, he took his time - trial and error, starting over, going back again to grasp the subject better. Beijing, which he shot at night with a large-format camera, became a stage for Tézenas to express both his eagerness to say something about our changing world, and his desire for pictoriality. Pékin, Théâtre du Peuple
won the Leica European Publishers award in 2006 and entered the collections of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Alongside this, he still works for a few papers, among which The New York Times, and his commissions sometimes earn him awards (a Nikon Storyteller Award for his 2009 reportage in Cuba for the NYT).
His latest major personal project, soon to be published, examines the recent phenomenon of “morbid tourism”. Ambroise Tézenas is based in Paris, and often on the road.
You shoot with a large-format view camera: what do you like about this format?
view camera has many constraints: you have to accept a certain distance
with the subject, and I believe that finding the right distance is of
the essence. I work without scouting, as if doing photojournalism. The
view camera is a means of getting in condition, of laying down the
rules: its sheer weight, the fact that you can only obtain very few
images a day, as if you really had to deserve the pleasure of taking
photographs. Working with a view camera puts me on a quest, a state of
attentiveness - the opposite of a leisurely stroll.
A few years ago, you worked in the city of Beijing at night (Pékin: Théâtre du Peuple). What is it you like about the night-time? What are the possibilities for a photographer?
feel a kind of need to escape from the crowd, to be alone, to walk.
Being alone helps with photography. To me, a modern city is like a
theatre set, a set where the lights have stayed on. There’s a kind of
euphoria that comes from exploring that in the dead of night. Time is as
if frozen. The light is fixed – no clouds, no sunshine. I rediscover
the wind that I need to find shelter from. I experience the silence of
To me, the night is not merely a formal exercise, an effect
for the sake of it, but rather it allows a different approach to
reality. Several years in photojournalism have left their mark in my
landscape shots. The aesthetic dimension comes with a desire to
construct a story, to start something that goes beyond the visual shock.
like long exposures. In the heart of a fast-changing Beijing, I liked
the idea that people would sometimes walk past the lens without leaving
an imprint on the film, ghosts of a bygone world. It's nice to
experience photography over a long period of time, to give the light
time to express itself. I sometimes think of Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive
moment”… it’s so restful not to have to watch out for that moment.
The city is one of your favourite subjects. In Pékin: Théâtre du Peuple,
your images reflect - as the title suggests - a sense of strangeness,
of walking around a cinema-set city. The same kind of feeling pervades
the narrow streets of Tangiers. Do you think you could have taken such
pictures in your home town – in other words, does it have something to
do with the fact that you are foreign to these cities?
accept that I am fascinated with the exotic, the other-worldly. Although
I have often attempted photographing Paris, the fact remains that the
state of quest I evoked earlier is very different: I need to discover a
landscape in order to penetrate it. The fact that I am travelling also
confers an added sense of urgency that helps me to concentrate.
Selected shows and awards
I was here, tourisme de la désolation, Les Rencontres d'Arles de la Photographie, France, 2015
I was here, Festival de fotografia, Getxophoto, Spain, 2015
Photographies, Librairie Maupetit, Marseille, France, 2015
France(s) territoire liquide, Tri Postal, Lille, 2014
Pékin, Théâtre du peuple, Philippe Chaume Gallery, Paris, 2009
Night Visions, Young Gallery, Brussels, 2009
Le jour est brutal et bruyant, Le Méjan, Arles, 2008
The hutongs of Beijing, Kunsthal Museum, Rotterdam, 2008
Pékin, Théâtre du peuple, Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie d’Arles, 2007
Beijing, Theatre of the people, Paris-Beijing photo Gallery, Beijing, 2006
Photographies, Galerie Chambre avec vue, Paris, 2006
Nikon Story Teller Award, PDN Photo Annual, USA, 2009
Leica European Publishers Award for Photography, 2006
Public Collections of the French National Library (Beijing, Theatre of the people)
Pékin, Théâtre du peuple, Actes Sud, 2007
Europe, Echelle 27, TransPhotographic Press, 2008