Interview: Louis Dazy - A Modern Way of Letting Go
French photographer Louis Dazy’s otherworldly double exposures transport us back to the adventure-filled nights of our youth. Packed with nostalgia, viewing his photographs invoke a deep hypnotizing fascination with reliving the simple and enchanting pleasures we cherished in our adolescence. His work reinforces our memories made up of endless nights driving in no particular direction in our beat-up cars, music blaring, searching for perfect photographic opportunities with our best friends in tow. The atmosphere of the scenes he captures elegantly display our lust for a cinematic lifestyle outside of societies nine-to-five where we subdue our creative passions for the sake of staying alive, instead of for living.
Just as Dazy’s photographs allow us to live vicariously through him, he also uses his photography as a means of exploring the idea of impulsively living in the moment. He consciously ignores societies perceived expectations and allows himself to feel instead of being stuck in a continuous cycle of decision paralysis. He shared with us that: “It’s just that I don’t process my thoughts much, my head’s just a train of constant ideas and feelings, I feel, I don’t think, like at all. When I have to make a decision I don’t put a pros and cons list in my head, I just sit down, dive into my head and ask myself does it feel right”? This mindset combined with his photographic process of shooting spontaneous dark and dreamy double exposures has allowed him to grow as an individual and have deep realizations about how he should begin to fill the perceived holes in his life. He successfully combines the act of living with his art of photography in a seamless fashion that contagiously calls us to live a life of fulfilling spontaneity.
Born in a small town in the east of France, Dazy felt the urge to leave his hometown behind at the age of 18 after dropping out of high school. He says, “I never attended university and I didn’t even graduate high school. I’ve always been really bad in class and I repeated two different years. I was never made for school and I really hated school ever since I can remember”. Equipped with the desire for a different life from his hometown experience, he moved to Paris to pursue the life of a self-made individual. For two years he initially worked various unskilled jobs including a stint at Starbucks, another in a call center, and slowly began to question his choices leading up to this point in his life. He shared with us that “I started to question my life [with an overwhelming amount of thoughts]: what am I doing, where am I going, I hate my job, I have no purpose in life, no skills, no hobbies, nothing”. It was this restlessness that pushed him to pursue creative work by teaching himself Photoshop, Illustrator, and Cinema 4D. And after three and a half years of mastering his craft, landed a job at an art director at an ad agency in Paris, France.
It was here that Dazy’s journey towards photography began. He almost immediately realized that he would ironically need creative relief outside his job. He told us: “When I started on the job, I knew by the end of the first week that it wasn’t gonna be creatively fulfilling, I don’t really know why though, I just knew it, so I bought a film camera on eBay”. With his brand new (to him) Nikon F2 in hand, he began to explore the world of image making via long nights exploring the world with friends, making memories via a photographic diary. He describes his first experience with his new film camera, “The first experience was thrilling, I loved it ever since I got the first film developed - the grain, the feeling, the look of it, man I was hooked”. It was quickly after he had his first roll of film developed that he began to almost exclusively shoot double exposures. On tour with a friends band, he accidentally pushed the rewind button on his F2 while shooting them on stage. After he received the film back he was surprised to find a trippy and complex double exposure that ignited his love for the process.
Since that day, Dazy has been creatively documenting his life, the people he has met, and the places he visits with vibrantly dark double exposures. He is proud to say that he isn’t looking for success in the conventional sense, but is excited to share his creations with his grandkids and tell them, “yeah I’ve been there, I’ve done that - here’s my life”. Though he isn’t looking for this success, his work has taken on a life of its own as he has become known as one of the most prolific photographers using this photographic technique. He has been interviewed and featured in outlets ranging from Lomography and HYLAS Magazine to Pellicola Magazine and Fubiz to name a few. We are confident that has his portfolio grows so will his notoriety as a creative film photographer.
I am pleased to share that I had the opportunity to sit down with Dazy to obtain a deeper understanding of his background, process, and how he sees the world. Our conversation gets deep fast and I am thrilled about how honest and transparent he was about his life, outlook, and photographic work. On that note, I am proud to present to you our interview with Louis Dazy. Before you read on, make sure you connect with him on Website and Instagram!
Michael Behlen: How old are you and at what age did you start shooting?
Louis Dazy: I’m 30 years old and I started shooting when I was 26 years old.
MB: What was your schooling experience like before you moved to Paris at the age of 18?
LD: I never attended university and I didn’t even graduate high school. I’ve always been really bad in class and I repeated two different years. I was never made for school and I really hated school ever since I can remember. So no college for me, I just moved out of my mother’s apartment when I was 18, moved to Paris, and found a job at Starbucks.
MB: After leaving your hometown, did you immediately start working as an art director, and are you still working in that industry? Can you guide us through your career in this industry, where you have worked, and how it sparked your interest in photography?
LD: So when I moved to Paris, I worked full time at Starbucks for a year at the Champs Elysées location, which was hectic. After that I worked 2 years in a call center and that’s when I started to question my life, what am I doing, where am I going and realized I hated my job. I had no purpose in life, no professional skills, no hobbies, nothing. I started to fall into depression for a period of 6 months which resulted in a really rough year. At that time, some friends offered me a job at a local tattoo shop where all I had to do was keep their website up to date and manage some stuff here and there. It was while I was working there that I ended up teaching myself Photoshop and Illustrator. I loved it so much that I actually spent all my free time for the next 8 months just learning these two programs. As I progressed I landed some freelance jobs for graphic design which helped build my portfolio. After I mastered those programs I began to teach myself After Effects and Cinema 4D (motion graphics, basically). In 2013, I put out a demo reel which received some recognition online and my friend was able to assist me in getting a job at an animation studio in Paris where I worked for 5 months working on visual effects for a 3D cartoon series. When my contract was over with the studio, I was offered a job at an advertising agency as an art director, which was a huge step forward. I was able to work with larger clients and on more complex projects which I thought would allow me to find art director jobs anywhere else I decided to move, because it was a prestigious agency.
When I began working at the agency, I knew by the end of the first week that it wasn’t going to be creatively fulfilling. I don’t really know why though, I just knew it. So I bought a film camera on eBay (a Nikon F2) and started to get into the work of photographers such as Theo Gosselin, Tamara Lichtenstein, and Edie Sunday. This process allowed me some creative relief, something that I could do just for me. It was an outlet that allowed me to produce work just for the sake of being creative and make memories with my friends in the meantime.
I worked at that position for a year and a half, and at the end I was really tired of it so decided to move to Melbourne (it’s really easy to get a one year visa for Australia, that’s one of the main reasons). While I was there I worked for a year at different agencies as their art director and when my visa expired, I went on a 3 months trip to Asia and visited Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Bali. After my trip I moved back to Paris for a year while I planned my relocation to Vancouver with a close friend of mine, where I am still currently living; though, I plan to move back to Paris soon. I haven’t done much in Vancouver, but I was able to take a road trip to Los Angeles and back, and made a short film The State of Nothing.
I have realized that I get bored easily, and this has resulted in me constantly moving as much as possible; though, I realize I need to settle down in Paris if I want to start making a career out of my photography. In regards to moving around to different cities: I usually just say yes and take a leap of faith I guess, I like saying yes to things that involve doing something I’ve never done before.
MB: When you took up photography did you try shooting digital first or did you jump headfirst into film? Why did you choose the Nikon F2 as your camera of choice and what was your first experiences shooting film like? Did you discover double exposures early on?
LD: I tried digital a few years back by borrowing a friend’s camera but didn’t really like it though, don’t know why. So yeah, I kinda jumped headfirst into film cause my favorite photographers were using film as well. Nikon F2 cause it appeared to be a solid camera, no electronics. I don’t take care of my stuff so I needed something heavy and unbreakable. The Nikon F2 delivers, dropped it on the concrete a few times, still works perfectly. I think it is the camera photographers used during the Vietnam war cause it is really solid. First experience was thrilling, I loved it ever since I got the first film developed - the grain, the feeling, the look of it - man, I was hooked.
The double exposure thing came quite early. I think it was on the third or forth roll, I was with a friends band on tour, shooting and hanging around, and my first double exposure was accidental. I was shooting them on stage, and what came out looked so trippy I really liked it, then I started shooting 5 to 6 double exposures on each roll. Now I’m mainly shooting double exposures.
MB: What has motivated you to keep shooting double exposures and how has your work evolved since you first began using this process? How do you "know" when and what to shoot to create your work?
LD: I felt like the double exposures I was shooting were 100 times better than my single exposures. At that time, it was a sure fire way of making a foo shot. Sometimes I feel like there is some technique to the process but I often think that I started creating them because [at the time] I was not confident in my photographic abilities and felt quite average. I still feel this way often and I am able to use this technique to take my dull and basic photographs and use double exposures as a second chance to bring them to life. Unfortunately, this process has not evolved a lot since I began and I have started to feel the need to shoot more single exposures moving forward.
When I am photographing I don’t process my thoughts much: my head’s just a train of constant ideas and feelings. I feel, I don’t think almost at all. When I have to make a decision about what to capture I don’t put a pros and cons list in my head. I just sit down, dive into my head and ask myself does it feel right? I believe I rely a lot on intuition. I often feel like I can’t put into words what happens in my head and it’s really frustrating because when I have to explain why I shoot a certain subject I can’t come up with a good explanation except that it feels like it’s the right choice at the time. That’s about it, unfortunately.
MB: Photography seems almost like a means to an end for you. It is not necessarily about the images you create, but the adventures it allows you. Can you share with me some adventures related to specific photographs you have sent us?
LD: Yeah definitely, I’m glad you pointed that out. My photography has always been about the adventures, the people I meet, and the things I see. I just want to document my life and I want it to be exactly how I see it. Here’s some stories for you:
“No Map, No Direction” is from somewhere in Spain. Two months before leaving for Melbourne, two friends and I decided to go on one last road trip together through Spain. We took my friend’s terrible car and headed south to Spain from Paris for 6 days and had enormous problems. At one point we were in rural Spain at dusk on a tiny road near the desert with a flat tire and no spare, cell phone signal, and no other cars in our area. We waited what seems like hours and we thought we were fucked. My friends started to panic when someone finally appeared on the road and stopped to help us. We asked him where and how far the nearest town was and he told us it was 15km away down the highway. So we decided to dangerously drive 10 kilometers an hour with our flat tire all the way there. When we finally arrived in the small town and parked at the first mechanic’s shop we found it was midnight. The town was pitch dark and empty, with no one on the streets and no motel to stay in. With nowhere to go, we walked for an hour and finally found an inn which appeared to be closed at first; however, the guy at the desk opened up and proceeded to charge us an insane amount of money for one night in an empty room with three military beds. We spent the whole night laughing hard at our experience. I guess we needed to relax after what happened!
“High Enough” is my mate Thomas, on the balcony of my apartment in Melbourne. He’s from Paris too and I didn’t know he was in Melbourne as well (which is 17,000km away from Paris). I think it’s really cool to meet people you know from back home in random places around the world. Anyway, he hit me up, and said he was in Melbourne so we went on a night out with two of my coworkers and ended up really drunk. I still can’t remember how the night ended but I had bruises when I woke up. What I do remember is playing this song multiple times through the night while we were talking from place to place: “Delete” by DMA’s.
MB: When conducting research for this interview, we read that as a child you were very scared of the dark and and still have intense dreams though the night; and yet, dusk and nighttime are your favorite times to your dark and mysterious photographs. How has your outlook changed on this from adolescence to adulthood and how has photography aided you in this process?
LD: I remember being really afraid of the dark when I was a kid, especially when sleeping at my father’s. It wasn’t a place I visited often and I didn’t know this dark place. Sometimes I would stay under the blanket and not move for hours (or what felt like hours) afraid of any noise that appeared, afraid of anything really. I was afraid that something or someone was in the room with me, so I wouldn’t make any noise or any movement to make sure it didn’t see me. During the night I was often so scared that the stress would push me to the point of vomiting, which happened usually in the middle of the night. The one thing that has stuck with me through the years is that the fairy lights in my room helped me appreciate colors in the dark and helped build my visual style.
Usually, I don’t remember any of my dreams. I wake up with an intense feeling, sometimes I can tell what it was about, but not in specific details. Double exposures definitely recreate this dreamy vibe and it’s what I am after when I shoot. I like how sometimes you can’t tell what’s the first or the second shot, it’s all mixed up, just like my mind I guess. I enjoy the confusion it brings.
What changed from adolescence to adulthood? I really don’t know, unfortunately. I don’t feel like I’ve changed much over the years and still feel like the same person I was when I was 8 or 9. I do know that I am not afraid of the dark anymore and that I actually enjoy night time a lot more than day time. I’m still trying to find when the switch got hit that changed my feelings about the night. I can’t remember when nocturnal adventures became cool to me and I wasn’t afraid anymore. If I find it I’ll let you know.
MB: How has photography evolved in your life and how has it affected you on a personal level? Since you have a love for music, do you have a song that would be a good representation of this evolution?
LD: Photography has helped me be more open about the world and accept myself the way I am. By people relating to my photography, it means that I’m not the only one feeling what I feel right? I think that for a long time I was missing acceptance, like accepting myself for who I was and not trying to be anything else that I’m not. I’m not sure it made me grow, but it did make me feel better about myself. Since I started shooting I feel less stressed about what people think of me. A good song that represents the hole I was trying to fill with my art is: “Same Logic/Teeth” by Brand New.
MB: You have stated previously that the strongest feelings you feel are loneliness, melancholy, and nostalgia. In "Hit the Switch" by Bright Eyes he sings: "Cause there's this switch that gets hit; And it all stops making sense; And in the middle of drinks; Maybe the fifth or the sixth; I'm completely alone at a table of friends; I feel nothing for them; I feel nothing, nothing." Do you relate to this in any way?
LD: Good song! I love this band. I can say that I have definitely felt this way, but that it doesn’t happen much. Too much drinking usually tends to make me either violent or sad, but it’s nothing close to feeling nothing. However, I do have strong feelings of nothingness when I have been in the same place for a while (by same place I mean haven’t done anything new). I don’t think I have any mental conditions at the moment, though my ex is convinced I have bipolar depression. I think this relates to when I was Paris and worked jobs I didn’t enjoy, while also having no hobbies or skills. It was a really bad time for me. I spent the six months through the autumn and winter of 2009 having panic attacks every night after coming home from work due to this. It got to the point where I was spending all my time at home puking, shaking, and lying on the sofa staring at the ceiling. I had no idea what was happening to me at that point, and almost ended it one night. It was a close call. These six months were absolute hell for me, and the worst moment of that time period was the extreme depersonalization I felt one night. It’s hard to explain; but, it just felt like I was a nobody. Someone in the background that I didn’t know myself. In my mind there was only my body and my presence existing in the room I was in, with the outside world ceasing to exist. I felt like I had no past, no future, and completely trapped. I can still call this the worst night I have ever had. It doesn’t compare to anything else I have endured in my life. It was a 100 times worse than anything I’ve ever felt.
MB: A lot of photographers are influenced by iconic film makers. You cited Stanley Kubrick as someone who has had an impact on your photography. Is there a specific film or style of his that you take from?
LD: When I saw 2001, it was a visual slap in the face. But, to be honest, I am way more into David Lynch. It’s just that my work has been compared to Kubrick’s 2001 often and I get it. However, I more strongly relate to David Lynch’s movies, especially Mulholland Drive and Twin Peaks. I really like the abstract nature of his movies and how he takes his time. For instance, Twin Peaks allows me to take the time to look at every detail presented to me. It’s incredibly smoothing. It’s this feeling that I’d like to see in my photographs; though, I am not sure if it is there or not.
MB: Your images are perfect examples of what double exposures should be: crazy, imaginative - yet framed almost perfectly. Would you say that talent and skill take a backseat to the act of photography or are they just as important?
LD: For me, it’s about the act. It’s about what you see and what your vision is. I like art when it’s raw, and especially when it comes from people that have no skills in the conventional sense. You don’t need skills to convey emotions and feelings. When you focus too much on the technique and on what you want to show you lose the spontaneity that makes good art great. It’s similar to when I hear a band only play with 4 cords and yet, their songs make me feel like nothing else has before. That is true creativity to me.
MB: How would you envision your photography changing over the next year? Do you think you will keep shooting double exposures?
LD: I have no idea. I’m in the process of writing and directing my first short film and I have the drive to make more of these at the moment. Photography wise, I’d like to experiment a bit outside of double exposures and try something different to see how it goes. For the past few months I have felt stuck with my double exposure work and I feel like it’s time to move on. I would feel bad for just doing what would be expected of me.
MB: Any advice for anyone looking to take up film photography and shoot double exposures specifically?
LD: It’s a shit advice for beginners; but, and I mean this for real: just focus on what you feel, make sure when you shoot it feels right and think of what it makes you feel.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michael Behlen is a photography enthusiast from Fresno, CA. He works in finance and spends his free time shooting instant film and backpacking in the California wilderness, usually a combination of the two. He is the founder of Analog Forever Magazine. Connect with Michael Behlen on his Website and on Instagram!