Is there anyone out there still only shooting film? Yes: his name is Jean-Christian Rostagni
19/03/2012 This maverick French-born photographer lives and works in North Carolina, USA. He only shoots film. He’s a committed disciple of award-winning experimental photographer and master printer Denis Brihat, and also of ‘photography with no artificial flavouring’. Hasselblad News tracked him and his 503CX down last week.
Right now Jean-Christian Rostagni has a bit of a problem with ‘she who must be obeyed’. His wife has told him he has a year to make it work as an artist embracing fine art photography – or he must go and get ‘a real job’.
“It’s terrifying really”, he confesses: “My wife says that because it’s not fiction. It is real.
A movie about my work and lifestyle has just been made and it’s doing the festival circuits. I am trying hard to make myself a success in the rarefied atmosphere of the fine art world and quite frankly if the market now doesn’t embrace me I just don’t know what is going to happen.”
Rostagni doesn’t like being told what to do – by anyone. The trailer for his film ‘Monsieur Contraste’ shows a clip of him sitting in his back garden while his wife tries patiently to cut his hair. He refuses to even bend his head forward for her – until she points out that she is the one holding the scissors.
He shoots the occasional wedding and although he offers some unique practical happiness insurance: ‘I have over a 99% non-divorce rate for the weddings I cover’ – he has stopped proactively marketing this element of his business. “I am not the easiest of photographers to work with at a wedding because I have rules the couple and guests must follow if they want me to shoot their big day.”
“I admit I am not particularly humble but you will have a hard time trying to find a photographer willing to work as in-depth with the couple as I do. And if they are willing then they make a full commitment to the photography – and history shows they seem to make exactly the same commitment to the marriage.”
Rostagni believes the strength of photography lies in its intimacy with reality. “If you look at what’s in the galleries in New York and elsewhere you will find a lot of photography that is all just staged and manipulated. Manufactured really. The power of photography is self-evident when it just conveys reality. This is why I offer ‘no artificial flavouring’ with my own work. I don’t manufacture anything. It just exists.
I am just an old world purist struggling to survive in the south of The States and I refuse to compromise my art for the sake of commercialism.”
So what is his personal definition of fine art photography?
“A fine art photographer to me is someone who makes photographs to be printed to an exceptionally high level,” he states. “I have little respect for people who shoot but then don’t print the work themselves. I always compare photography to a piece of music. It is one thing for Chopin to write a concerto but it becomes much better if he actually plays it.
Shooting is the first step but then you must finalise it in the print. My mentor is the great French photographer and printer Denis Brihat – and he always makes sure the final print looks perfect.
The truth is photography is a reasonably poor medium. It’s not like cinematography. There is no music or sound. The image is static. It is just not as rich...so as a photographer I must do everything I can to deliver perfect images.”
And he only shoots film.
“I work mainly with my trusty Hasselblad 503CX. My favourite lens is the 50mm FLE. I love black and white film because there is grain in it. I don’t like the plastic aspect of digital capture.”
“I discovered that I could still capture events like political rallies and other reportage situations with my Hasselblad and make large prints. These cameras just have a knack of producing pictures that are more glamorous!”
The film, directed by award-winning film maker Rodrigo Dorfman, underpins Rostagni’s love of contrast: “I tend to choose light situations that are very contrasty. The human eye favours it. Often when photographers shoot something that is very contrasted it ends up being a dull print because in order to preserve the highlights and the details in the shadow the print just turns out dull. I try to handle the details in highlights and shadows without dulling the contrast.
The truth is I am also in contrast with my own environment. I am always challenging Americans about their way of life, culture and politics. I am just urging the world to see!”
On the Monsieur Contraste film trailer it reads:
‘Jean-Christian pursues fine art photography through a complex assemblage of topics ranging from nature to politically related events. Much of his work challenges the status quo and reflects his commitment to social justice. He blends French and American schools of photography in a unique way that exhibits superb technical mastery and a talent for capturing decisive moments.”
Now if only he’d agree to lower his head so his wife can cut his hair.