Born and bred in the famous French gastronomic capital, Lyon, Michelle Marshall now lives in London to practise her work and greatest passion, photography. After seeing her amazing portraits displayed at the last Playtime and discovering the upcoming campaign she shot for ‘Chapter2’, we are happy to welcome her at papier mache, to hear about the vision of a grown-up in a world of little ones.
As a French frog, what was the main reason to move to England?
I clearly moved to get away from that awful French weather and the oh so terrible food…! Following two years of études supérieures, an opportunity came up for me to live in Amsterdam as an au pair. There, I spent just under a year looking after twin boys and immersing myself into a different lifestyle and culture. When the time came for me to leave, I was not that excited about going home, as I had enjoyed living in the city and being able to speak and practice my English on a daily basis. I wanted to study photography and had considered applying at The Amsterdam School of Arts (AHK) and the Rietveld Academy but did not fancy waiting a year or so to perfect my Dutch. So I turned to the UK.
In a few words, what was your background before starting photography?
After my baccalauréat, I had set my hopes on gaining a qualification in communication or advertising, where I thought I would be able to exploit and experiment with images and text alike. However, the private French education system, at the time, decided otherwise. My strengths lied in languages, so I was automatically streamed towards what was considered the best option for my abilities, as presented on paper. Although not the most exciting two years, I gained skills that I have been able to fall back on and that I still use to date.
Do you remember the first time you took a photo and realized you loved it so much that you wanted to make it your job? Tell us more about it…
There was no such decisive moment, it was down to a process of elimination. I was rubbish at arts plastiques, the thought process was there but the making part did not come easily. My younger brother was the talented one when it came to drawing. Meanwhile, I could barely copy, let alone extract and translate the content of my head into a sketch form (although motherhood has changed this a little, I can now draw quite a good monkey or cat, albeit just their face). When I got to secondary school, I was introduced to philosophy and history of art. I got really excited about the reflections and trend of thoughts on representation, reality etc. I became fascinated by the implicit power of images, their ability to encapsulate so many references, emotions and layers of meaning, without the need of any supporting text. I like(d) the fact that elements like colour, black and white, ‘blurism’, viewpoint… could be used as the invisible text or thread to create a dialogue with the viewer. That is when I think that I realised and decided that the camera would be my paint and brushes.
We love all these cool kids portraits you take. What inspires you the most in kids portraits and kids in general?
Kids are great because they give you true emotions, there are rarely any barriers between the lens and who they appear to be in front of it. They do not judge, nor do they have any preconception or hang-ups. They often want to know why, and how I do what I do or just want to assured that whatever I am doing, this will not stop them from getting about their fun business. As subjects, I think they see the relationship with the lens as a game and even when ultimately that game becomes sheer boredom (and that does not take long), they will still display an unreserved version of themselves. The dynamics change a little, as they hit junior years, when they are then characterised by a version of themselves which has become slightly tainted by the self awareness brought in by their ‘older’ years. There is a hint of expectation, it is then about making a connection and engaging them into the photo game so that I can still catch that candid glimpse that no contrived pose will give me.
Mum of 2 gorgeous girls, I guess they are often in front of your lens. Do they like being your models? Would they like to do the same work of mummy later?
Sadly, the novelty wore off a long time ago so it is often a case of ‘catching it’ when I can. When they are not in the mood, I occasionally have to call on Mrs Bribery, but overall, they are willing models provided it does not impede on their play time too much. I am not sure that they see photography as their thing, Sissi (7) would like to own and run an ice-cream van. Up until a few weeks ago, Lola (9) wanting to be a marine biologist, she is now hoping to be a writer and book illustrator.
We love your last collaboration with the new kids shoe brand Chapter2. How did you meet each other and decid to start working together?
We spotted each other on IG and eventually met at Playtime Paris last January. The friendship and working relationship developed from there. Fay and Tom Murphy, who are behind the brand, are both lovely people and we seem to share a common sense of aesthetics. Their line of kids footwear has a timeless quality essentially because of the craftsmanship that goes into the shoemaking process, the shape and their choice of leather, all of which are sympathetic to a child’s growing feet. These traditional and functional features are then cleverly punctuated by contemporary twists and playful touches: the colour ways, the outer sole markings (a brightly coloured cloud complemented by hand-embossed stars or raindrops).
After your collaboration with the Playtime fair, Child-ish, Chapter2, Sun-san Saltwer sandals, what is the next collaboration planned? Any secrets to share with us?
I recently shot the imagery for Ama, a new luxury brand making its debut this summer with a contemporary collection of bespoke blankets for children ages 0-10 years old.
I am also super excited to be creating more images for Child-ish and to be working on their lookbook for their forthcoming SS15 collection. All I can say is that the moodboards are shaping up nicely for what promises to be a fun shoot showcasing a super fresh kids brand.
Finally since we love travelling and you are keen on globetrotting, what is your favourite place in the world to have a break and recharge your batteries?
Travelling is such a good way to gain perspective and reset. Despite being a little starved from sustained sunshine and warmth when living in the UK, The French Alps in winter is my favourite destination, hands down. Riding my board down the slopes, headphones on full blast is the best way to switch off.
Interview by Deborah Sfez
Images for Chapter 2 AW14/15 Campaign