Drawing inspirations from New York and cinema I Am an Actor by Franck Bohbot

Franck Bohbot (born November 12, 1980 in France) is a New York-based photographer and filmmaker known for his portraits and color photographs of public spaces and urban scenes. He shares with us below “I Am An Actor”, a collection of images that depict the daily lives and struggles of an artist living in New York City.

Please share the settings and background for I am an actor. Aside of being used as images for their own portafolios presumably, what else draws you to document about their daily lives, struggles living in NY, and cost associated with this?

I Am An Actor is a project that we plan to publish as a book with my friend interviewer Philippe Ungar. When I arrived in New York City in 2013, I discovered what everybody sees, most aspiring artists and actors or actresses have an additional part-time and sometimes full-time job as a means of income due to the high cost of living in New York City. Rent in NY is more expensive than in London right now. I asked myself why not come to those places where they work and make a portrait of them and bringing the light directly inside their place of daily work instead of a studio, on set or on stage. With a shared vision my friend the French author and interviewer Philippe joined the project and we decided to make this series together. Interviews and Portraits.

They work as waiters, baristas, dog-walkers, delivery men, preschool teachers, babysitter, production assistants, lawyers or even private eyes etc. and often learn something essential from these survival jobs for their own acting.I feel that sometimes a photo tells a story if you really believe in it and at the end you let the audience develop their own opinions and stories as well. This is poetry.

New York City is definitely a big inspiration for you. Can you share some details about your book, Light on New York City? What equipment did you use and what was the objective?

New York City has always inspired me since the beginning and still does. Some people say New York is not a city, it is a country, I would say, New York City is a continent. Light On New York City was for me a challenge and phantasm to do. Publishing a book about New York is not so easy, because I am not the only one doing so! Light On is an nocturnal exploration of New York. This one is more focused on Manhattan, I wanted to reserve a book in the future dedicated to Brooklyn which deserves a entire artwork.

Here you the see the quiet nights of the city, the dreamers who built the city, the scene that happened in front of me late at night, from the ordinary deli to the landmark. It is the perfect synergy between Street Photography and Architecture Photography. I like to explore new ways of photography, to create a new language using color and lights. I used different cameras for the project because it was shot between 2013 and 2016: Hasselblad H4D, Leica M, Leica Q, Mamiya 7II and others.

In addition to NY, you also have a strong cinematographic influence, in the lines of Stanley Kubrick among others. How do you feel this is portrayed in your work?

Yes I have a very strong influence with cinema, more than New York. I have a fascination with cinematographic iconography. My series “Cinema” and “I Am An Actor” are different in form but similar in content and they are the 2 projects where I explore the field of my influences and passions. Directors and Cinematographers have entertained me since I was a child and now continue to inspire me, as well as writers and painters. I could talk about movies all day long!

Why is the Leica M ( Typ 240) your go-to camera for doing these types of intimate portraits? 

Honestly, it is hard to explain, it is very rare to have both the intimate relationship with the model in front of you and the camera you are shooting with. It’s a synergy. The Leica M ( Typ 240) and the 35 mm Summicron lens are a very beautiful little combo to work with. I feel that there is a closer relationship with the protagonist I shoot with this than a big DSLR camera. I also use for 5 of the portraits a Mamiya 7II (medium format telemetric) so some photos are film.

You mention you use only one light, do you still do a lot of processing after the shoots? Can you be a bit specific about your creative process?

For I Am An Actor, yes. I used one light for all the actors except for 1 portrait. I wanted something simple. The actor, the light and myself, where each actor works. I did the series without an assistant, so I wanted also to be lightweight to carry my equipment and the option to play with one light is very interesting because you work with what you have, and it was enough for me to create this atmosphere. 

The post-production (color correcting) is an important process for me and very creative as well, but still in the “Keep It Simple” Way. I want the audience to recognize my identity. The most important part is still the shooting itself.

Several of these images have an air to the 70’s with a mix of modern. Take the image with the girl among the old TV sets with a very elegant, yet vintage dress. Is this also a particular style you like to implement in your photos?

I would say yes, my work is between the future and the past. Not really documentary. I am trying to have a timeless body of work. I am not looking for a vintage look but for something that I’ve never seen before. In 10 years, it will be interesting to look at the photos. It’s not photojournalism, but between reality and dream. It is hard to explain. Also, I just have fun with what I do, I play with the light, the color and the look of the people and places that I photograph. You, my friends, my family, the audiences, the critiques will appropriate themselves of the photographs and give their own opinion. I’m here to question something and expose it with a fixed image. How do you feel with this photography ?! …

How do you think Leica has helped you achieve what you once set out to do: Return to NY and make it as a professional photographer?

Shooting with Leica is a unique way of shooting specially with the Leica M and the Leica Q. You can achieve a sharp image, being mobile, and have the best lenses in the world in the pocket. I am now working on a new photo series of portraits with Leica Q, which is maybe one of the best cameras in the market today in my opinion. I shot a cover story with a Leica Q recently. 

Would you share three tips for young aspiring photographers who want to pursue this craft?

Never let someone try to tell you what to do. Learn by yourself and by the masters. Keep listening to music, read books, go to museums, learn with your family and friends, meet people from different religions and origins and talk, be open minded and shoot. Be focused on your personal work and the assignments will come later. Do not think about money, think first about your art, but be wise, and smart in your decision. Try to create your own world; your own identity. Be yourself.

Thank you Franck!

To know more about Franck Bohbot, please visit his official website and follow him on Instagram and on Facebook.

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