Palaces and Magic

Renowned interior and portrait photographer Roland Beaufre talks about his travels, his work with famous subjects, and his never-ending fascination with unconventional places.
Words: Ger Ger
Images: Roland Beaufre

"My fascination with interiors started when I was living in a palace in Nancy when I was three and memories are still vivid. I thought it was magic. The feeling has never left. Nowadays many places can be magical to me, small or grand."

French-born Roland Beaufre was raised between Germany, France and Morocco, and studied plastic arts and architecture at École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts. His career started in Paris in 1979 when he began to work for magazines like Décoration Internationale, Vogue Décoration, and Connaissance des Arts. More work picked up quickly and only a few years later he found himself working for international publications, such as England's The World of Interiors, Casa Vogue, Russia's Mezonin , and Japan's Seven Seas. Starting in 1994, many book publishers like Les Éditions du Regard, Le Chêne, Thames & Hudson, Taschen, and Khbar Bladna knocked on his door. Today he lives between France and Morocco when he doesn't travel the world for his clients. Photography is his passion.

"My favorite place is Tangier in Morocco, but I also particularly love New York, London, the Black Forest in Germany, Tamil Nadu in India, Mexico, and the Isle of Pines in New Caledonia."

"My father bought me a small camera when I was eight. We were traveling the U.S. and I took my first photo. A few years later my nanny offered me another little camera and I couldn't stop taking pictures. My father would constantly say I spent too much money on my photos. I don't remember with how many cameras I have worked in my life — many. But Leica cameras have been my favorites for 35 years now."

"When The World of Interiors sends me to photograph a place I don't know, I am always excited for the discovery. My dream would be to photograph the International Space Station. I am a fan of science fiction."

As a child, Beaufre spent most of his time with his German nanny, who became something like his second mother and stayed home with him until he was 14. "My father was always away for his job (there was the Algerian War going on at the time and my father didn't want us to be in the middle of it). My mother was a very elegant and glamorous woman and she was very busy socializing. She loved me but she wasn't there as a mother. When I was 10 my father resigned from the army for personal reasons and we became very close. Same with my mother, with whom I got closer and closer growing older. My nanny always stayed in my life."

"Usually on my assignments I am with a journalist and sometimes with an assistant. We go to the place [that will] be photographed, talk to everyone for a bit and then I start to photograph room by room. It's a long job mostly, about two days of shooting. For sittings it really depends on the subject. Usually I talk with the subject before on the phone or face to face so we both know what we are getting into. On set we might have coffee and talk again before we start. Then some people are open and you can shoot them for hours, others are shy or tied-up and you can really only capture them in the first few seconds."

"One of the more emotional shoots was the one of Manolo Blahnik's house in Bath. When we arrived, Manolo told us his dog had died a few moments before. He was just about to call us to cancel the shoot. But ultimately we managed and we buried the dog."

"The portrait of the architect Jean Nouvel was taken in a big white loft. He was dressed in white (it was summer) and he was smoking a cigar. I asked him to lay down on the floor, which he did, but he didn't seem to be very happy about it. I tried to explain to him how this would be more interesting in that empty loft and [that it would be] much more interesting to work on an unconventional portrait. By example, I said the architect Ricardo Bofill did a portrait naked. As soon as I said that he started to open his shirt..."

"Most of the time I am traveling for my work. Early in my career, magazines were rich and we stayed in very famous palaces around the world. Now the magazines are poor and we stay in regular hotels, comfortable but simple. I actually like that. When I was young I started to travel with little money to discover Morocco, and I understood how this was a better way to really get to know countries."

"Some of the personalities and artists I have met in my life who left the biggest impressions on me were The Lalanne, Gérard Garouste, Paul Bowles, Andrée Putman, André Dubreuil, Madeleine Castaing, Rei Kawakubo, Gilbert & George, Helmut Newton, and Juliette Gréco.

My five most exclusive or secluded places I had the opportunity to shoot? A farm in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, published in The World of Interiors; the loft of designer André Dubreuil in London in the 90's; the Palazzina di caccia of Stupinigi in Torino; an old barber shop in Goah, and Melk Abbey in Austria." — Roland Beaufre