The World We Live In

Architect-turned-photographer Fred Guillaud takes us on a quiet, photojournalistic journey and lets us see the world through his lens.
Words: Staff
Images: Fred Guillaud

"All these years as an architect, I have been deeply involved as an actor in the construction of our environment. As a photographer, I try to deconstruct all my knowledge in order to analyze everything that slips out of the urban planners' and architects' control."

Guillaud grew up in Grenoble, a city in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region of southeastern France. He studied architecture at École Nationale Supérieure des Architecture de Grenoble, then moved to Montreal to continue his studies, only to find himself suddenly knee-deep in photography. Today he lives and works in Barcelona, teaches architecture at his former university in Grenoble, and captures urban landscapes on film.

While Guillaud is mainly interested in urban conditions, documentation of his daily activities is fundamental to his photography and he’s never seen without his camera. Of equal, crucial importance is his professional understanding of how the cities we live in are developed. Perhaps accordingly, space is Guillaud’s main photographic subject and protagonist, so he often only features people in order to balance an image.

"All the places are good to me when it comes to photography. You just need to know what you are looking for and let your curiosity do the rest."

"The people I photograph become part of my everyday life, even though they are not strictly familiar. I usually use people as punctums," or small, distinct points, "to give the pictures scale or a social context."

To Guillaud, the act of taking pictures is a very specific and sudden reaction to what he sees or senses at a particular moment. For him, "seeing something" is like seeing an apparition where all layers of information — subject, shapes, light and action — are in sync in a single frame.

"I remember a lot of situations I would have loved to capture. But I learned to not force situations and I would rather keep a scene in my head than bother people. Most pictures untaken are actually from behind the wheel or from train rides."

"Although on some days I can be more pessimistic and really disappointed by the greed of certain people, I overall have deep trust and faith in our capacity to overpass the political and ecological challenges we face."

"It is certain that I also use photography to find some balance and serenity in the constant, chaotic environment we live in. Walking and observing are really the best exercises you can do to feel one with a place."

When Guillaud worked on his first photography series almost 20 years ago, he was using disposable cameras so he could carry them around all the time. Hoping for a higher optical quality, he switched to compact cameras like the Leica Minilux and the Contax T3. Today, he tells us, he shoots on a Fujifilm GA645Zi compact medium format camera to balance perfect picture quality with a relatively small footprint.

"The gear I'm using has evolved over the years but I like to shoot with only one camera at a time, always on film, similar to an ink pen I would use to write a book. The grain is a very integral part of the technique that gives the pictures deepness and warmth. I used to compare it with music: the sound of vinyl might not be perfect but it's warmer and deeper than digital."

"A dream project? I would love to be dropped off in California with my camera and tons of film!" — Fred Guillaud