Philippe, what inspired such a great book?
We wanted to bring out a book coinciding with the Rugby Football World Cup, which is taking place at the moment. Our goal was to produce a work that marks a milestone, a real moment in time of French rugby, both of today and in the past. We wanted to really bare the face of the sport, provoke anecdotes, and talk about newcomers as well as legends.
I’ve had carte blanche to produce astonishing, expressive, and offbeat portraits. Photographing so many symbolic figures in such a short period of time over such a vast country as France was a real challenge!
One year of travelling around France for this project! Tell us a bit more about this.
There are 14 top rugby clubs in France, which is already an incredible distance to travel. They’re spread practically over the whole of France. If we add around 300 rugby players around the country, that’s almost 20,000 km added onto the route.
You were always on the move, did you have to constantly try to cobble together a studio out of thin air?
It would have been absolutely impossible to produce this book with a fixed studio, it was up to me to come to each athlete. I was constantly on the move and I needed to be able to shoot in locations as strange as steamy changing rooms, dodgy bars, motorway service stations or even the players’ homes. Luckily, I had my trusty ELB 400 with me. Small, powerful, light and easy to transport, it was a crucial part of the success of a project like this. And I needed to be quick! The 2015 Rugby World Cup needed to coincide with the release of the book, the timing was crucial. I spent 8 months working at an intense pace to a deadline I couldn’t miss.
The photo project is very focussed on the “facial” aspect of the players. This has been quite well accepted given the somewhat quirky images.
What I’ve kept from this project is that among the 600 people that I photographed, I didn’t meet a single person who was unpleasant and I’m not just saying that. Everyone was very welcoming and hospitable. From the beginning we had to explain the project to each player, but as time went by, we could show them the rest of the portraits and we started to be recognised by the rugby world. I’ll always have the memories of fantastic meetings with these people, often in pretty strange situations!
The world of rugby is, I think, an intelligent world. What I mean by this is that the people often have perspective and distance, they’re able to take themselves not too seriously, and that makes my job a lot easier!
I wanted the supporters who find their idols in this book to feel bewildered and confused, and I want people to feel the slap in their face when they turn the pages!
“Gueules du Rugby”
A book by
Eric Blanc, Philippe Echaroux,
Jean-Pierre Pagès, Patrick Roger.
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