In the Studio | Christian Chaize March 07 2015


We've been in studios on the East Coast, on the West Coast, and some in-between, but today, "In the Studio" goes international. We went across the Atlantic Ocean to chat with Christian Chaize, see his beautiful studio in the French countryside, and meet his adorable new puppy! We're thrilled to be able to share this with all of you, so please... enjoy! – Jen & Team 20x200

Studio Speak
Where's your studio?
For years, my studio used to be downtown Lyon in a highly frequented, charming area…picture Haussmann architecture, narrow cobblestone streets, plazas with fountains...antique furniture and silk scarf shops...butchers, boulangeries, and, this being the "gastronomic center of France", tantalizing/affordable restaurants on every block. At the same time, my family and I made our home in a renovated industrial building in a diverse neighborhood just outside of the city. I traveled between these two places on my scooter; it was perfect!

Until…last summer, I saw an ad for an old house in the nearby countryside. Long story short... we moved just after our family road trip to Portugal. It was spacious, but it's not like there was a built-in studio space. Eventually I figured out that I could convert this odd attic area into a darkroom...and an adjacent room with stunning views of the Monts du Lyonnais into a light-filled atelier. Oui, I sold the scooter! And now, unless I'm traveling to take pictures, I'm a work from home Dad!

What's your favorite "tool" in the studio?
At the moment, my favorite tool is a very large format camera (23 by 23 inches) that I built myself for a new project.

What do you wear when working in the studio?
The same thing I put on in the morning to take my kids to school, except I put my slippers back on. Old houses often have their original, cement-tile floors, as you might know. Very attractive, but very fresh.

(Jenni adds: Also, he wears a scarf. He is French, after all.)

What's the first thing you do when you arrive at your studio?
Open the shutters, turn on the computers, put on the music, make a tea…. and then, turn over my eggs. In an incubator, that is…I'd love to raise a few chickens, if I can.

What's on your in-studio playlist?
Alain Bashung : L’imprudence (if I am not in too sad of a mood), Patrick Watson : Lighthouse, Sophie Hunger : 1983, Syd Matters : Brotherocéan, Boris Goudunov : Opéra de Modest Mussorgsky.

What's your favorite way to sweat it out?
Since our move? Gardening, an hour every morning. And walking in the nearby woods…they are enchanted. In fact, just watching my boys gleefully tromp through the creek down below – knee deep in February, mind you - that gets my heart racing!

What's your favorite way to procrastinate in the studio?
I suppose it depends on why I'm procrastinating, but experimenting with new work is one way. If my procrastination is regarding said new work, I might take down my guitar...and after I've massacred a few well-known songs, things seem to go well in other areas, again.

Oh yeah, and we just adopted a puppy. As in, just this week! That should provide some reasons to get out of the studio, no?

Which artists' 20x200 editions do you most covet?
I keep great company chez 20x200, but here are the first ones that come to mind: Matthew Tischler, William Wegman, Joseph Holmes, and... Space Editions!

The newest addition to Christian's studio...the puppy Kira!

Whens, Hows & Whys

When did you first realize you wanted to become an artist?
"Etre un artiste est une notion abstraite et pour tout dire je m’en fous un peu."

(Jenni Holder translated this quote below, with a note: "I have to say, this sounds so much better in French." « To be an artist is an abstract notion and frankly I don't care about the label. »

Okay, that's not really true, but I like the sound of it…hahaha!

How’d you get there? 
I am an autodidact. Drawn to photography as an artist, I began to support myself as a freelance assistant in commercial studios. With some success and encouragement, I opened my own studio. Fortunately, that was a good business decision, as it has provided me the freedom to delve deeply into my purely artistic projects. After many years of working with large format cameras, it became as natural as drinking a glass of Bordeaux in the evening. I began to make pictures of landscapes in Portugal, a country my wife led me to discover. (She is German, but she spent summers there as a child.) This is where I found Praia Piquinia, of course…again and again ! It was a place and a way of seeing that I wanted to share. As fate would have it, I met Jenni Holder a few years later, and she encouraged me to continue. Its natural beauty, its cycles and surprises…talk about enchanting, I don't know that I'll ever stop taking its portrait.  

How do you get over creative blocks?
See "Proscrastination" above! Funny, though, that’s an especially appropriate term right now…as I'm photographing wood blocks for a new project of mine. It’s radically different from the work for which I am known, of course. Then again, like Praia Piquinia, the subject matter has personal meaning to me…and the wonder, the discipline in looking at something familiar in new ways, remains the same. My favorite artist is a painter, Giorgio Morandi. I think the influence is clear, but it is not done with me yet.  

How did you get started with 20x200?
Two words: Jenni Holder. She used to be the Director of the Edwynn Houk Gallery (in NYC) before she moved to Lyon, where we met. Jenni introduced me to Jen Bekman, whom she knew through various New York photographers.

20x200's first edition with me was featured in Domino magazine; I think we were both surprised at how quickly it sold out. Since then, we've released 11 images together from a few different bodies of work.

Negatives from the Praia Piquinia series

The view from the studio in different seasons...

Christian's go-to procrastination tool!
Christian's camera + tent set-up when he photographs Praia Piquinia


The 411 on Christian Chaize
Christian Chaize, a self-taught artist, lives and works in Lyon, France. In 1992, he was awarded the Prix European Panorama de Kodak for Young European Photographer in Arles, France. In 2004, Chaize became intrigued by a small stretch of coastline in southern Portugal. Itching an artistic scratch, he began shooting what was then an entirely new subject matter for him. Using medium- and large-format cameras, his commitment to photographing a single beach front several times a year since then is now evident in the series Praia Piquinia. This work has been the focus of two one-man museum shows in Portugal, as well as gallery exhibitions in New York, Berlin and Lyon. Among other publications, it has been featured in The Collector's Guide to New Art Photography Vol. 2, BLINK MAGAZINE, Issue No. 13 and Elle Decor. In addition to its popularity on 20x200, Praia Piquinia is also the subject of Chaize's first monograph, published by Chronicle Books in 2013. Paradis, images made in the Seychelles, and To Praia Grande, a separate beach series shot in Portugal, have also been exhibited in New York and Berlin, respectively. Future projects will continue to reveal his interest in enlightening the way we look at something that has otherwise become banal, or merely familiar. In the words of Marcel Proust, and in the tradition of all the great modern photographers who came before him, Chaize is always seeking to "have new eyes."

Professional Site: Christian Chaize     Book: Time & Tide: Photographs from Praia Piquinia    Twitter: @christianchaize    Facebook: Christian Chaize