Let us be frank. When I hold this interview with Frédéric Lagrange, I knew his photos were published in the most prestigious magazines around the world (from the New Yorker to Harper’s Bazaar and Vanity Fair), but I had no idea of the character behind. He just arrived from Hong Kong where he lived half time. And when he’s not in NY, he travels around the planet, from Afghanistan to Alaska through Mongolia, where he ausculates nomads who live in the most remote places in the world.
Meeting with a passionate adventurer, close to his studio, in New York.
Where did you inoculate the travel virus?
I’m an autodidact. I started as a mannequin with Mario Testino who opened my eyes to the world of photography. It was at the end of the 90s. He had a real intelligence around the creation of the image. Then I attended fashion photographer Nathaniel Goldberg. I had the chance to make a first report for Conde Nast Traveler UK and then the machine was gone. That’s when I bifurcated from fashion to travel.
Precisely why travel?
My mother lived in Tahiti and Côte d’Ivoire. When I was a kid, she always told us stories about these countries. I bathed in an exotic environment without really leaving Versailles where I was born! And then one fine day, I arrived in NY. I instantly had the feeling that it was here that I wanted to live. Then I continued my nomadic rhythm and had the chance to live two years in Tokyo and take the time to make the pictures I wanted, those that gave me emotion. Even today, I have the chance to keep this crazy freedom, even when I’m sent by a magazine. My red thread is the writers who write the text before me, whether they are English or Indian Nepali. But my photos sweat freedom. I never have to take a shot.
Mongolia is one of your favorite countries. Why ?
Again, it’s a family story, but this time with my two grandfathers … They were soldiers during the Second World War and were taken prisoner by the Germans. One of them was freed by the Soviet army in which was incorporated a battalion of 200 Mongols. My grandfather told me this story several times and he often had tears in his eyes. This is what has certainly generated in me a great interest and an idyllic vision of Mongolia. Since 2001, I go there very very regularly and I will finally publish a book that compiles the different photos taken over the last 15 years. I can boast of having covered almost all the territory and all the seasons. It is a meticulous and sincere work. In addition, I have been able to forge links and continuity with the communities.
Do you have an aesthetic bias?
I do things pretty instinctively. I would say that my portraits are taken in a very honest way. The term “humanity” is very important in my work as a photographer. I think my pictures are deeply human. There is no touching of digital. It is becoming increasingly rare.
What do you see about the evolution of the world?
The world travels in mass market. The world has become flat. Do not get discouraged and go further and look for places and peoples that are exempt from this soft power tourism. That is why, year after year, I push the boundaries of Mongolia. To meet people who still have this sincerity intact. And during these meetings of the end of the world, yes I think that our world is still benevolent …