Fred Guillaud

If you were to ask for one photographer that best captured the subtleties, the atmospheric banality, the calm in the midst of our chaotic world, you would receive Fred Guillaud.
Fred is formally an architect as well as a teacher of architecture in his native Grenoble, France, whilst fitting his documentary-like photography in between the daily voids. In previous lives he spent three years in Montreal, had stints in South America, as well as spending the longest period of his adulthood in the city that his work is best known for, Barcelona. Fred’s expert use of the most basic yet oft overlooked rules of photography include negative space, the rule of thirds and framing, and these are what truly give his photographs a uniqueness that can’t quite be pinpointed. A body of solid and consistent work that has been built over a fifteen year period shows just how steadfast his vision is. Colours lean often to the softer side of the palette though you will still find bright and saturated elements that have been carefully integrated into the photograph so as not to detract from the overall image itself. It is a clear and cunning use of composition; shadows and light-play are often heavy to draw the eye in, though nothing is overwhelming, everything is where it should be and a Fred Guillaud image seldom screams rather it calmly exerts itself with a subtle force and confidence.

We spoke to Fred recently in order to understand the thought process behind his photographic nous.

Fred, we like most others know that you’re from France but living in Barcelona, why? What is it about Barcelona that has kept you there for over fifteen years?

I’m from small city in France (Grenoble) and I’ve found that it’s simply too small; I came to Barcelona with my girlfriend at the time as I was finishing my studies and I had the opportunity to work here and so my first real job in architecture was in Barcelona. From there I worked for roughly ten years as a partner for a firm before setting up my own architecture firm five years ago which acts as a sort of network for architects in Brazil and other parts of South America, as well as France and Spain also. So I suppose I’ve always felt at home here in Barcelona, fifteen years have passed and I feel just as comfortable as I always have and so I see no reason to leave.

Most people will know you for your photography more than your architecture, how did this hobby get to the point where it was the largest part of your online persona?

I was introduced to photography through architecture itself, when you study architecture you learn to see things quite analytically like where to place a tree or whatever it may be, and from that your eye has already learnt how to view things in an alternate way. Then pretty soon I began to use photography as a tool to document a certain conception of the cities that I was in, I began to learn that as an architect we can't control every aspect of the architecture itself. When you conceive a building there is already a large part of that building that is out of your hands like how people use and often misuse the building, the way that time affects the building and also the way that architects can often look at a building as a singular object and then once they take a step back and see the whole area, the large block of multiple buildings, well then the approach to the architecture changes entirely. From that photography became a tool for me to analyse the parts of architecture that I couldn’t control. To do this I would bring a disposable camera along with me everywhere I went because at that time digital cameras weren’t common, and so in order to catalogue all of the photographs that I had I created a sort of photographic diary. This was completely private until I created a blog for some of my photographs before finally creating an Instagram account one to two years ago. Eventually I opened my own personal website which was the same as my photographic catalogue, and then Instagram became my more day-to-day or week-to-week personal diary.

What do you look for when composing a photograph?

I’m not sure if I get this from architecture, though it probably is the case, but when I’m photographing I like to look for complexity and I like trying to organise this complexity, and you’ll see that sometimes this complexity starts to organise itself and it piques your attention and so snap! You photograph
it! I like to try and find as many layers of information possible cooperating in one scene: colours, light, signs, people, shadows, of course architecture, and then you see the scale of the people juxtaposed against the architecture and then how time has affected the buildings. For me the best photographs are those that have all of these elements perfectly in balance, if you can wait long enough until everything looks like where it should be and everything sits in that sort of chaotic balance, then you’ll have a great photograph.

Oddly reminiscent of Henri Cartier-Bresson's 'The Decisive Moment'…

It’s funny that you mention it because I actually hate this photographic thought process, it gives too much emphasis on the photographer and that they were there and they made the photograph. I like photographs that feel like they could have been taken at almost any moment in a scene, as long as things
stay in balance of course. Sometimes when I show a friend one of my photographs they might say "Oh what a perfect moment, you took that photo at just the right time!" and I think "Damn, I’ve failed".

In that context would you then consider yourself somewhat of a maximalist more than a minimalist?

In some ways I suppose. As I said I like photographs that are balanced and as I take predominantly architecturally based photographs that can often result in a somewhat calm and minimal image. In architecture itself though we had Mies van der Rohe who said less is more, and now we have Bjarke Ingels who says more is more, and these sorts of things apply just as much to photography. I guess the style of photography I have is a kind of minimalism but more of an inclusive minimalism rather than an exclusive minimalism, for me minimalism is simply balance.

What equipment do you use to achieve your desired aesthetic?

First and foremost I work only in analogue photography due to the fact that, initially, digital wasn’t of good enough quality to replace film, and I think that it’s still not quite there yet. It’s true that digital cameras give you a lot of information however they seem to lack a certain sensitivity and whenever I’m asked why I use film over digital I refer to the differences between vinyl records and CD’s; yes obviously a CD is more "perfect" however with vinyl records I find myself listening more, hearing greater amounts of depth and layers, and the same theory can be applied to analogue photographs.

As far as the cameras themselves go, the most important aspect for me is actually having the camera with me at all times. I started in this way with disposable cameras, I saw what I was getting back and I enjoyed it however I needed a little more quality and so I moved onto an Olympus MJU II, this was a great camera for me because it was small enough to be able to carry around whilst having better quality than a disposable camera. After that I wanted more quality still and so I moved on to a Leica Minilux, similar to the Olympus in that it was also a point and shoot but with slightly better quality. From there I moved on, again in the never ending pursuit of quality, to a Contax T3. All of these cameras are the same in many ways but also different in what they excel in, but at that time I needed ease of use and portability and so I stuck with the point and shoots. Eventually though I bought a Contax G1 and it was at this point that I began to get the quality that I was after in the point and shoots. I stuck with the G1 for some time and I never changed the lens even though this was the first camera in which the lenses could be interchanged. I believe that in order to create some sort of continuity you need the same viewpoint and character and in photography that comes via the lens.

For the last year I have actually been working exclusively in medium format with a Fujifilm GA645zi which has been fantastic as it’s just as portable as a DSLR but gives me so much more versatility with its 6x4.5 film size.

As far as film itself goes I used to use Fuji Pro 160NS which gave perfect colour rendition and balance in the photograph, I would never need to post-process this film. Then however Fuji stopped producing this specific film in 35mm and so for five years my primary film became Kodak Ektar 100. I was never entirely satisfied with Ektar unfortunately. For bright sunny days at the beach it gives you some of the best colours and saturation that you can imagine, however when the light was a little more dim I found that everything became incredibly red and so it really wasn’t as flexible as I would have liked. In the end once I moved on to medium format I discovered that Fuji Pro 160NS was still being produced in 120mm and so I was able to be reunited with my first love.

Do you ever use any additional means of creating a certain look in your photographs?

No I’m not very fond of these kinds of accessories, I don’t use flash nor do I use tripods because once you start using these kinds of things then the style of photography changes dramatically and you become more of an architectural photographer; I get the best results simply holding my camera, adjusting some settings and then the rest is purely composition; it keeps me rooted in street photography, it defines the way I work.

You have managed to remain incredibly consistent in your work spanning over ten years, how have you achieved this?

I would actually disagree with this slightly; when I first started taking photographs I was more interested in documenting my personal life in a more urban style and then I began to use Instagram where I didn’t feel comfortable displaying my personal life and so I focused more on architectural photography. As I’ve aged I’ve begun to see my work as a more general style of photography, I like to incorporate the city and the people more, I’m trying to find the medium between street photography, architectural photography and personal documenting and perhaps it’s a negative thing but I can’t be just one type of photographer.

Most of the work that I’m known for is street based however I do photograph in other styles such as portraiture with friends and family and my progression and growth in that style of photography has definitely changed over the years. I have learned to photograph what’s in the street with more sensitivity than perhaps my portraiture work and this has led to some of my friends to say that I’ve begun to photograph people like buildings and buildings like people. It’s a different kind of growth but it’s growth all the same.

Whilst abroad do you find yourself taking the same photographs that you’d take if you were back in Barcelona?

I can’t help but create the same images regardless of where I am whether it’s in France or Barcelona, Germany, Cuba, The Netherlands or Asia. I see a sort of leitmotif running through my photographs and it doesn’t matter where I am the photography will still revolve around the same concepts: how people move and interact with the architecture and space around them, the way that we conceive urbanism etc.

I sometimes refer to myself as a "permanent tourist" because if I’m abroad I will still take my photography seriously, and then back at home I will see my city in a fresh and open way and so this all aids in the continuity of work between cities, countries and continents.

How does your analogue work fit into an ever increasingly digital world?

That has all been a cyclical process, at first everyone was using film and then digital came along and it was stylish to use these new wave digital cameras and now we’re seeing that it’s becoming stylish to use film again, and not just with amateurs but professional photographers alike. I was reading an interview
recently and the person being interviewed was a professional photographer and they said that after the digital boom of the early 2000’s a lot of people have since gone back to film photography, it has more sensitivity and gives you so much more character than digital currently can. As I said earlier I have found this to be equally so for LP’s and CD’s, or I suppose MP3; people go back to the things that might not be the easiest to use but give you results that you’re proud of.

I also really appreciate how with analogue photography you have to choose when to take a photograph, you can’t take fifty photographs of the same thing and select your favourite, you have to learn what makes something good and when something is worthy of being photographed, this difficulty actually makes becoming a good photographer easier and is something that is lost when you don’t take the time to learn.

Is your work simply a matter of recording what you see, or is there more to it?

It’s a tool, photography is simply a tool for me and I share my work because perhaps it has value to someone or interests them in some way, and now with social media being as omnipresent as it is we all have a way to potentially touch someone. But really it is a tool like writing a diary is a tool; ask someone who writes every day what their aim is? Self preservation? I do it for me. My aim is to continue to be an architect and I need photography to nourish me as such.

To see more of Fred's work visit:

Fred Guillaud