Still in his twenties, Mathieu César takes classicist portraits of musicians, models and actresses. But he has something to say about his subjects.
Mathieu César’s aesthetic may be classic, but the approach is resolutely contemporary, and that mix has seduced some of the biggest players in the fashion world – from the former editor of Vogue Paris, Carine Roitfeld to Christian Lacroix, the woman behind the French fashion label.
“Referencing past masters of the fashion image in the simplicity of his contrasted composition, Mathieu César subverts the classical genre by capturing a contemporary generation of beautiful and damned subjects in sometimes surreal scenes that somehow manage to feel uncontrived,” says another fan, Anne Bourgeois-Vignon, creative content director at Nowness.
“His photographs of models, musicians and assorted cool kids flirt with emotion and raw beauty, and his subjects blend arrogance and vulnerability.”
A former hairdresser, César got his break with a short film he made of his brother, the ballet dancer Jean-Sébastien Colau.
For two months, the French cinema chain MK2 showed the documentary before every feature. He quit his job, joined a production company, and within six weeks was in Mongolia on assignment for Louis Vuitton.
“They asked me to shoot videos and photos. That’s when I realised I preferred still images,” he says. “Unlike motion pictures, which involve a lot of equipment and many people, photography is just my camera, the set, the subject and I.
“It becomes easier for me to create the fantasies that I have in mind and, also, to share a moment with the person in front of the lens.”
He draws inspiration from images he saw as a child. “My mother sold old books. I grew up surrounded by historical etchings and illustrations from the 1930s and ’40s. The ideas that I’ve turned into photographs come to me quite naturally.” So far, he has applied his aesthetic vision to shooting the likes of Daft Punk, Milla Jovovich, Natalia Vodianova and a campaign for Yves St Laurent.
Thankful that he has been able to concentrate on commissions that correspond to his own aesthetic vision, César hopes to spend more time on personal projects. But far from slowing down, he wants to produce a book and an exhibition. “I’ll rest when I die,” he says.
Find more of Mathieu’s work here.
First published in the January 2014 issue. You can buy the issue here.