Q: What do a coffee shop owner, a manufacturer of 3D printers and a fungi expert have in common? A: Céline, Stéphane and Justine were three of the outstanding entrepreneurs from Nice, France, chosen as poster people for Tribune Côte d’Azur‘s latest regional advertising campaign.
“You have talent: we tell everyone about it.” The campaign planned to bring into the limelight some of the individuals who make up Nice’s small business scene, featuring them in adverts to inspire and engage the viewing public. Delighted to be the commercial photographer selected to shoot these portraits, I went to various locations around Nice and Sophia Antipolis to photograph the entrepreneurs in their working environments (worksites on the French Riviera are not unfamiliar territory to me: see more portraits of South of France business leaders). In these portraits, I aimed to capture the individuals’ personalities, their positivity and the nature of their businesses.
As photographer, I wasn’t alone at each shoot and I’m not sure the subjects had realised to what extent their premises would be taken over on portrait day. Along with my assistant, the design agency project manager, the Tribuca campaign manager and a film crew to shoot behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, we made up quite a crowd.
I brought studio lighting and a pile of sizeable lighting accessories, which, once in place, take up a considerable amount of space. From furniture moving, taking down signs and moving product displays, to blocking windows or switching off wall lights, the re-arrangement involved in a location portrait can be extensive. At the Volumic 3D factory, engineers kindly moved a row of extremely heavy, giant 3D printers (that, until they were unplugged, were making none other than parts for 3D printers); the locavore grocer at Jean de la Tomate was utterly bemused to see his tiny shop transformed (as were his customers, still trying to find their vegetables amidst the fray); Emilie & The Cool Kids‘ indoor salon was fortunately closed so no afternoon tea drinkers had to sit in the dark when we killed the ceiling lights to prevent their colour interfering with my flashes (although I can’t say the videographer was delighted by the darkness for his behind-the-scenes footage).
The magic of mushrooms
However, it was Justine of Mycophyto who perhaps experienced the biggest transformation to her space. Working from home and pregnant, she’d requested that only the photographer be present at the shoot, and, given the Covid-19 context, my client had agreed. Unluckily for me, she lived on the upper floor of a block of flats with no lift, and the terrace where it had been suggested that I take her portrait was slightly smaller than a hankerchief. There was no room for a light stand, let alone a softbox and Justine too. So instead of shooting outside, I brought the outside in.
Justine is a fungi specialist and her company has patented pioneering solutions to increase plant growth by finding the right fungus to pair symbiotically with a specific plant – a kind of vegetal matchmaking. When such fungi are put around their plant partner’s roots, the rate at which the plant absorbs nutrients from the soil, skyrockets. Very exciting for farmers, gardeners – and anyone who’s just read a book about fungi (I had: my flow of questions was unstoppable). The mountain of plants and trees on her terrace had been delivered from the lab the day before, along with grafts and petri dishes of fungi, and I moved them all into the lounge, one by one. I wanted to create a green world for Justine’s portrait where leaves would hide the household fixtures, and low-key lighting would contrast with her paler skin tones to hint at the world of mushrooms, which grow faster in the dark.
As good as they look
I took portraits of each entrepreneur alone, then each with a prop, a product of their work in their hand. Photographing a reflective glass petri dish full of microscopic fungal mycelium was more challenging than photographing a cookie. Black-clad cookie café brand owner Céline, with her fringe, hard edges and an extensive collection of tattoos, contrasted perfectly with the plate of precariously piled, colourful, warm cookies that I put into her hand. Although they were slightly cooler by the time I got one into my own, I can confirm that they tasted as good as they looked.
My client was delighted with the portraits, “Les photos sont vraiment personnalisées et le rendu nous convient parfaitement, c’est super 👍” [The photos are really personalized and the result suits us perfectly, it’s great], and I’m told the final campaign was very well-received. If the adverts can raise the profile of the Cote d’Azur’s young entrepreneurs, then I hope they will also encourage more talented individuals with seeds of projects in their minds to grow, up towards the light…