My flight to Paris has landed with a two-hour delay. I hate being late for interviews, and I’m almost running through the streets of the city, my map opened on my smartphone to show me the way. I’m so focused on not getting lost that I barely notice the sun shining over me, and the Louvre Museum and the Tuileries Garden on the left. Spring is here, and everything is scented and coloured.
Rémi Dargegen and I have arranged to meet in a Café at the end of the street: as I see him from a distance, I immediately notice he is exactly the same person I’ve seen online while searching for images. A brown leather jacket, a long black beard and handlebar moustache: a nice person, like a character from a fairy tale, and for a few seconds I forget he is one of the world’s foremost automotive photographers. Actually, as I have a seat in front of him and he starts talking about his job and passion for classic cars, I realise everything started as if he were part of a tale.
When he was a child, during a trip in Venice with his parents he saw a model of a Ferrari 250 Testarossa in a shop window and was fascinated by it.
His parents were not the ones who always said “yes” to all his requests, but that time, as he asked to have it, they accepted. I think that was a sign of fate.
From that episode, his passion grew by reading classic cars magazines, and attending classic cars events. The magazines were in French at the beginning, as he was too young to read in any other language, but as soon as he began studying abroad during summer holidays, he started to buy them in English and German. And this helped a lot to acquire a certain knowledge. Concerning the events, as he was at school or college, he couldn’t move so much. So, he just picked two or three of them in the year, the best ones, and most of the time, his father came with him. He has been a member of the Club Bugatti France since he was 14, and attended the two last editions of the "Bugatti at Montlhery". A very informal event, but with around fifty or sixty Bugattis enjoying the old banking for one day. That's where he had his first ride in a Bugatti (a Type 43 Grand Sport), and he couldn't believe how perfect everything was: the sound, the smell, the power.
Every time he mentions a car, his eyes shine: so, I’m curious to know how and when his passion for classic cars met photography for the first time.
It happened in his teenage period, when he attended together with his dad the amazing "Louis Vuitton Classic à Bagatelle", one of the best Concours d'élégance worldwide in the 90's. Before leaving, he told him: "OK, but I want to bring my own souvenirs back: I want to take my own pictures, so please tell me how to use your camera!".
His dad lent him his Canon AE-1 and explained how to change the setup, the rolls and the lenses, and off they went!
That’s how he started with a proper camera. I’m quite convinced of the fact that we are the result of what happened in our childhood and teenage period, and Rémi’s story confirms my theory.
Some years ago, as he was still working for Peugeot, one of his friends suggested that he leave the company and start to work as a freelance photographer. One month later, his new life started. Apart from attending some courses to learn technical aspects, he has always been a self-made man.
But in a world that runs fast, where on social media everything seems to be easy and perfect, it is important to remember that being a professional photographer means never stop working hard, studying, being kind and humble.
Rémi is a lucky man: this is something he recognizes every single day when he wakes up, because it’s quite rare to have your passion as a job, and your job as a passion. Car makers want him to shoot their classic cars: they have become fancy, more and more people have one, especially from the 80s and 90s. It’s all about passion. Some brands have always paid attention to their heritage showing their collections in museums, for example. And some are reviving memories now, buying classic cars and paying tribute to some important models of their history. It’s never too late.
I’m curious to know if he has a camera he’ll never sell, and the answer is maybe quite predictable: his dad’s camera, the Canon AE-1. His journey as a photographer started with it, unfortunately he never uses it as his customers need pictures as soon as possible. But he would love to find someone interested in a different project, on film.
He tells me he works with two cameras, and there is one lens he always has with him, which is a Sigma 50mm Art.
That's a choice - to work with a 50mm fixed lens, because you cannot adjust anything. You have to move around your subject. It's not like a 24-70 zoom lens or something like that where you can change your focus; you have to adapt, and you have to move, changing your perspective all the time.
There’s a saying that a good photographer is firstly a good dancer. He’s not sure he’s a great dancer but you have to, in a certain way, dance around your object, especially when you have a fixed lens, because your movements are going to influence everything. So the 50mm is something very special, and he wouldn't go to any photo shoot without it.
Studying his Instagram feed, I immediately notice that he pays a great attention at shapes and light, and he always captures the perfect moment of a situation. Every photograph is a story with a protagonist: a pilot, a mechanic, a child. It’s so easy to look at them and imagine how it all started, and how it will go on. There’s so much life behind his shots and this is the power of great photography.
Rémi confesses he is mostly inspired and fascinated by photographers from the 40s to the 60s, like Vivian Maier and Henri Cartier-Bresson.
And what he has in common with them is an attentive but discreet eye behind the lens, that gives attention to the subject and at the same time offers uniqueness.
My time to leave has come, but before going he confesses to me that in his private life, he only uses his smartphone to take pictures. It is incredible, isn’t it?
A few hours later, on my flight to Italy, I remember Rémi told me he also likes shooting portraits. I open my smartphone and start scrolling my favorite pictures and here it is: a portrait of a child which Rémi shot at the Goodwood revival two years ago. He is driving a red pedal car, he’s so focused and proud, as a professional racing driver. The caption says “Follow your dreams”. That’s what Rémi did, and what we all should do.
P.s. I’ve never been to Paris to interview Rémi Dargegen, but with a little bit of imagination everything is possible, and all of you have been there with me, through the streets of the Ville Lumière and then in a café, chatting with this amazing photographer. This is the power of storytelling.