Parts of the Process — Photographer Elise Dumontet’s Make Book documents a love for imperfections

Posted 02 October 2019 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Introduction by Anoushka Khandwala

Having put down roots in London as a commercial photographer, Elise Dumontet decided that she wanted to redefine beauty. Starting a year and a half ago by concentrating her camera lens on so-called bodily imperfections, the image-maker went on to work with model agency Zebedee who represent people with disabilities. And after a friend recommended she collaborate with LIP brand partner, G . F Smith, to host an exhibition of this work, she started project Skin We’re In, looking to turn “‘unsightly’ markings into epicentres of beauty.” Here, Elise talks through the inspiration behind the project, and using the G . F Smith Make Book service to create a stunning large format book documenting the project.

Where it all started: A photoshoot for Limb Difference Awareness Month

Background

Redefining beauty
I have been a commercial photographer for about 20 years. Working in advertising, a lot of my clients are beauty brands: Pantene, Garnier, TRESemmé, L’Oréal. So, I’ve basically spent my whole career selling an idealistic image of what the female form and the female face should be. But I think the beauty industry is changing quite rapidly, we’re more aware of what reality actually looks like. About two years ago I started working more on a natural kind of approach; working a lot with regular-sized women and doing a lot less retouching.

“The beauty industry is changing quite rapidly, we’re more aware of what reality actually looks like.”

I started doing loads of close-up images, and with that came a more natural approach to skin as well. I wanted my models to look as beautiful as possible – including what normally would be seen as an imperfection, such as a mole or a scar.

I was later approached by a model agency called Zebedee management in May, who represent people with disabilities – that could be physical, mental, you could be born with it, or have had an accident. I did a shoot for them for Limb Difference Awareness Month, where I photographed people that had an amputation, or were born with disabilities such as what we call little arm – so the hand will be missing, feet missing, or people that had meningitis.

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Securing Funding for an Exhibition

Soon after that, the project took on a life on its own. It got picked up by social media and all of a sudden I had interviews from everywhere in the world, and people calling me wanting me to photograph them.

So I found myself continuing taking more close-up shots of skin, when a friend of mine suggested that I should try to exhibit some of the work. I looked into it, but finding a place in London was tricky. Luckily, he had just met with Emma from G . F Smith who had shown him the amazing gallery space G . F Smith had in their show room. After meeting with Emma, I left 45 minutes later with the promise of support for the project. I think she fell in love with the work and the subject matter. G . F Smith were incredibly kind, and were able to support me to do an exhibition in the gallery, as well as printing and framing the work.

The layout in progress

The Make Book being made by hand in Hull

The Make Book being made by hand in Hull

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The invite

The Make Book

In addition to the exhibition, I always had in mind that I wanted to do a book. Luckily, from a creative point of view, working with G . F Smith’s Make Book service was just a dream. Because their books are handmade, the quality is just beautiful. I could choose the exact specification of how I wanted it to be made: the quality of the paper, the size, the colours, everything.

Designing the book
I wanted the book to be quite big – as a coffee table book, it’s not something that you can pick up in a shop – but I also think the subject matter deserved that size. So we settled on an A3 portrait format. This applied to the image size, too. I wanted to make sure that these people are represented in a way that didn’t require cropping. The large image sizes, for me said: “We’re strong, we’re powerful and we’re proud.”

The design of the book was done by Paul Hogarth, one of the creative directors at ad agency, Publicis. And the typography was done by a friend of mine, Michiel Van Wyngaarden, who is a graphic designer. The three of us would sit in my living room until two in the morning, drawing, making things and brainstorming for hours. Michiel created the font for the book, which has little bits of the letters missing, to engage with the fact that those are people with disabilities and limbs missing.

“The large image sizes, for me said: ‘We’re strong, we’re powerful and we’re proud.’”

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Working with G . F Smith paper
When it came to choosing the paper and finishes, I wanted everything to be skin-related. We made sure that everything was really well thought-out. Even the top layer of the invite for the exhibition was made using Takeo Tant Select paper in pink, the same paper as the book, which is very tactile. The invite also used five different layers of paper glued together, with each layer representing a shade of skin. The bottom right hand corner of the invite was also cut off as a reference to amputation.

When we started working on the layout, it really felt like everything was possible – even down to doing the folding on Takeo Pink, which is a very specific type of Japanese linen paper. In the end we chose to use two different types of paper in the book, including Colorplan paper for the endpapers. All the photographs were printed on Fuji Lustre Finish, and all the words were printed on Fuji Velvet Finish.

Pressing Print

Exploring print production
After the design was finalised, I sent all the files to the factory. We went back and forth quite a few times as they would send me colour prints to look at. After that I got to go to Hull and spend a couple of days in the factory, and meet everyone that was working on my project – from the printers, to the framers, to the person that was making the book itself. I got to see all the process of printing, and it was fantastic.

Later on, we did some tests. I looked at what kind of paper they had on offer. I knew some types paper were not right because of the colour tones of my pieces; they would have been too dark or too dull. So, I narrowed it down to about three different types of paper. Then we did some tests and we went for a semi-matte paper which works wonderfully.

Response

Most people in the creative industry know about G . F Smith, but very few people know they actually do amazing work with photographers, too. It has been great to see what they could do with photographic paper, hand finishing, and with such a high level of detail. In the end, there was one copy of the book for the exhibition, one for myself, one for G . F Smith, and I also bought a copy for my designer. For me it’s a memento, it’s something that I will cherish forever.

“For me it’s a memento, something that I will cherish forever.”

Everyone noted just how amazing the quality of the book was at the exhibition. But it’s also something that I’m very proud to show to my clients, it’s been an amazing starting point of conversation. I also had another portfolio made of my normal, regular work. And, again, the response was excellent because clients can see the difference between a quickly put together portfolio and an actual book that has been really well-considered. They can see the amount of effort that’s gone into it. It means you walk into the room with a certain confidence. It’s wonderful to start a conversation with the client that way, because all of a sudden you’re on a different foot. You’re not just a photographer showing you work, you’re an artist.

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This article has been created in collaboration with G . F Smith. As a brand partner, G . F Smith has supported Lecture in Progress since the beginning. Their dedicated team of Paper Consultants have decades of experience in paper and print, and what a designer can achieve. You can discover more about their services and book a paper consultant visit at gfsmith.com

Lecture in Progress members receive 20% discount off Make Book services. Head to the members section, or click here to find out more.

Posted 02 October 2019 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Introduction by Anoushka Khandwala
Introduction: Anoushka Khandwala
Collection: Parts of the Process
Disciplines: Photography

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