(Photo above: Sammy Winter, switch flip. Paris, France.)
French Fred aka Fred Mortagne is about to release his first official photo book chronicling his life’s work as a photographer. Initially known for his legendary videos—from Menikmati and Sorry to Bon Appétit and Freedom Fries—Attraper Au Vol loosely translated as ‘Caught on the Fly’ showcases Fred’s 35mm skate photography spanning 2000 through 2015—and documents the development of his signature style in a hefty hard cover book co-created and published by the ever-talented Thomas Campbell. With a foreword from world-renowned photographer Anton Corbijn (a childhood hero of Fred’s) and an essay by none other than Geoff Rowley, I caught up with Fred this morning in Paris to discuss how it all came about.
How did this book come to be?
Well, it’s my first major book. We didn’t even really have to talk about it but it was obvious we would just go dig through my whole photo library. So I dug out a lot of things. Obviously all the famous stuff—the golden oldies. And then actually there’s also a lot of new material—stuff that I shot over the last three years that makes up almost half the book too.
What was Thomas Campbell’s roll in this? Did he hit you up to do it?
Yeah. For a long time I felt like I needed to make a book. I didn’t want to do it myself. Then I had a few people propose it to me but not really anyone that I knew well enough personally. So I wasn’t sure. I’ve been waiting I guess, I didn’t really know what for but when Thomas proposed to publish it like three years ago I felt like that was what I had waited for. Doing it with Thomas was, for me, the best option. I’ve worked with him before and I know all his stuff, his sensitivities and his approach. He’s published his own books so I knew all of those. Then he did the one for Ed Templeton and Deanna. So I fully trusted him. I knew that he had really good experience as an editor, having been the photo editor for Skateboarder. I knew he was the right guy.
I think most people probably know your story—from Video Magazines (Puzzle, 411) to Menikmati, Sorry, and then into the Cliché videos (Freedom Fries, Bon Appétit, Hello Jojo). But when did your interest in photography really begin to take up as much time as your videography? We ran a kickflip photo of yours in Skateboarder at one point and I think that was the first time I saw an actual photo shot by you.
Yeah. I think that was 2001. That one’s in the book. It’s the [Mark] Appleyard kickflip into the bank, right? Yeah, I’ve been messing around with photography since back in the ‘90s. Really quickly and then my whole focus just went to video. But there were two things that really lured me in to shooting photos on the side while filming. First, it was my first time traveling the world. I was like, “Fuck, I’m just bringing back video footage… I should at least shoot some photos.” Tourist photos for the memories. So I started shooting snapshots like that. Then the other major motivation was I would have ideas for pictures while we were filming. We would be at spots on a session and I would picture in my mind like a way of shooting something. I couldn’t do it, because I was filming or didn’t have a camera. And then I would look at the other photographers and they would not shoot it the way maybe I thought. They would shoot their own thing. So I started to think maybe there was some potential there. Maybe I was seeing something they didn’t see. I didn’t see what they were seeing either. It was just a personal thing. So I thought maybe I would mess around with it.
When was the starting point?
I think that was during Menikmati (’00). But I think I really bought a camera and started during the making of Sorry (’02).
Are there things you can capture with photography that maybe you can’t capture in the same way with video?
Yeah. Absolutely. And that’s always been my thing. I can’t choose between photo and video. I always did both because they’re complementary, but they both bring you different ways of catching things.
Favorite photographers, skate and non-skate?
That’s difficult. In skating I don’t think I can pick one guy because there are so many amazing ones. They’re all super good and they’re all different and they have all been inspiring. Maybe I’ll say (Dan) Sturt though, because he was the most influential for me. But everyone is killing it. For non-skate it’s tough, too, but I’d say Anton Corbijn. He wrote an essay in the book and I’d say him because when I started shooting pictures I didn’t know anything about photography. I had no culture in it at all. But I did know the work of Anton from when I was a teenager from watching Dépêche Mode videos and all that kind of stuff. That was a big influence on me, even before I was filming myself. But that always stayed inside me to a degree and that was why I asked him to write the text for the book.
What is the reason beneath it all? What do you want to catch?
With the title, we wanted something only in French. So Attraper au Vol, (Catch in the Air) doesn’t really translate just right. It’s not exactly the same meaning. But for me, Attraper au Vol is like, you can catch a butterfly flying by. To me, that’s the same thing with skateboarding, obviously catching your board with a kickflip, but also with skate photography it’s about catching that moment, too. All photography is about catching these moments in life that are passing by super quick. So we wanted the title to refer to all of those things.
You shoot black and white predominantly right? Does it capture light better? Color?
Most of my photography is black and white for sure. I just can’t deal with color. I just don’t like it.
What is your fascination with the high contrasts and patterns?
I don’t really know. It’s what I see. Not all the time in my life, of course. I don’t see like that all the time. In my house it’s not minimalist and black and white and geometrical. Not all all. It’s super colorful and full of life. But I think it came from me being a shy person. When it comes to photography I had a really hard time getting close to people. So I liked to shoot people from a distance. I was safe and nobody knew I was shooting. So people were always really small in my photos. And it took me more into a direction where I focused more on the geometry and developed that style. Now I really do see the geometry more. I still feel weird in this world. It can be very chaotic and can be violent. So I still keep some distance from it and stay in my little bubble. When I go in the city I don’t really mix with the people. I keep that distance still and look for broader patterns that are peaceful to me. I think it came from that.
How would you describe the evolution of your photo work? What direction is it going now?
I’m getting more and more attracted to photography. I’ve always done it on the side, and with minimum time. So now, I want to push it a little bit more. I still get into my video phases. It comes and it goes. But now it’s almost half/half. I have started to shoot some other things besides skating now too. I like to mix it all together.
Future projects? Photography or video? Will you make another skate video? Is the full-length dead?
I don’t think it’s done. I think you can still make a full-length video. But it’s hard to find the right formula. Ideally I’d like to do it. I like the challenge, but it might be too much of a commitment now. Now that I’m a father and a husband I can’t really just go off for that long. I don’t think I could film it myself at least. I’d like to. But I can’t. I’ll be working on some stuff though. I’m working with Element right now. We’re working on a full-length film for next year. So I’ll be a part of it in one way or another. I’ve been editing skate parts now that I didn’t film. I really like editing too. You can gather all the footage, even talk to the filmers and skaters about getting more specific things and then go and choose music and all of that. I really enjoy that so I’m always down if anybody asks me.
All time best skate photo?
The (Dan) Sturt one. Matt Hensley frontside ollie on the cowboy hat (TWS Feb. 1992).