Drive and Balance: Pauline Magnenat’s Refreshingly Versatile Creative Process

© Pauline Magnenat – from her series “Missing”

Pauline Magnenat continuously balances editorial assignments, personal work, creative direction and championing the work of up and coming photographers. When she’s not photographing fashion and editorial stories for The Cut or producing her own thoughtfully subdued portraits and landscapes, the Paris-based artist edits and publishes Rocket Science Magazine showcasing some of today’s most exciting contemporary photography.

On the heels of the magazine’s latest issue fellow Luupe photographer Penny De Los Santos spoke with Magnenat to learn more about what’s inspired her many-angled practice.

Penny De Los Santos: Can you describe your childhood and how you first started to be creative?

Pauline Magnenat: I had a very happy childhood, I loved to read (still do!) but I would immerse myself in books. I was really interested in stories for as long as I remember. I picked up a camera when I was about 14 or 15 years old. At first, it was a way to fight boredom on holidays with my whole family. It quickly turned into a hobby as I started to look at a lot of photographers’ work and read a lot about photography. I’ve always loved writing and reading as much as I love photography, I try to combine the two in my career and free time.

PDLS: What made you turn to the camera?

PM: At first, it was a way of keeping myself busy on holidays – we would go to my grandparents’ house in Italy and although the place is beautiful and I love going there, as a 14-year-old there wasn’t much to do. So I started shooting a little bit here and there, portraits of my sister, landscapes etc. A friend of the family had a small darkroom nearby and she taught me how to develop films and print photographs. Later on, after hesitating between creative writing and photography, I applied to the University of the Arts in London and got it – and studied photo there for three years.

Amelie Pichard © Pauline Magnenat
© Pauline Magnenat

PDLS: What draws you to a subject and ultimately what are the parameters in which you find your photographs?

PM: I wish I had an answer for this! I love a good story and when I get assigned to shoot portraits or editorial work, I try to work within the constraints or requirements of the shoot in order to produce a good photograph that tells a story. I love shooting intimate portraits and scenes. I love beautiful images that speak for themselves but even more when there’s a great story behind them.

When it comes to my own work, I think it always starts with a story. I’m actually going to go back to an older project of mine, Missing, that is about places where people who have disappeared were seen for the last time. I started it in undergrad and will be working on it again, after a few years off.

© Pauline Magnenat from the series “Missing”
© Pauline Magnenat for The Wing

PDLS: What’s the story behind the hand + bees image you photographed for The Wing? 

PM: The shoot for The Wing was a story about Chanel’s Métiers d’Art, which are old workshops in Paris from several century-old. It was a dream shoot over two days. Obviously, everything you see is beautiful but the knowledge and passion of every person working there, some for 40+ years, some who have just started their apprentice, is contagious. The hand and bees were shot at Lesage. They specialize in making beautiful ornaments from flowers and feathers.

PDLS: What do you do to keep your photographic spirit alive and inspired?

PM: There are some very happy and productive days, and then there are others! Going for a walk around the neighborhood, or for a swim at my local swimming pool usually works. That, or watching a great documentary!

PDLS: What was the last great documentary that inspired you? 

PM: Into the Inferno by Werner Herzog. It’s an intriguing and unnerving documentary about volcanos and people who study them, live near them or are passionate about them. The images of the eruptions and the lave are mesmerizing but there’s more to it than just them. I don’t want to say too much about it but highly recommend it!

PDLS: Where do you see photography going?

PM: I think there are a huge amount of talented, hard-working photographers working today. However, it is getting harder to make a living out of it. Is the future of photography not hoping to make any money off it? I hope not.

PDLS: What is your greatest challenge as a photographer?

PM: Making my work the best it can be, finding good stories to work on, and trying not to give it up!

PDLS: What inspired you to start the photography magazine Rocket Science Magazine? 

PM: Rocket Science started as a blog initially and evolved into the magazine it is today because I wanted to put out more complete issues, instead of releasing one article at a time. The main idea behind it was to have honest conversations about photography and the industry in general.

PDLS: The new issue just came out! What’s exciting you about it? 

PM: There’s a beautiful portfolio by Gilleam Trapenberg who photographs his hometown of Curaçao while investigating the stereotypes of making work in the Caribbean, a great conversation between Eve Lyons and Matthew Leifheit on making art while trying to make ends meet… And so much more!

PDLS: If an angel investor offered to fund any photographic project you wanted to do, what would it be?

PM:  If we’re talking about my own work, I would love to be sent out to document the crisis at the border between USA and Mexico. The border crisis is important as, seen from Europe, the situation and treatment of migrants in the US is inhumane. I am interested in migration in a broader sense, and people leaving their home, as more and people will emigrate in the coming years, for political and economic reasons – and soon enough, due to climate change.

For Rocket Science, I’d love someone to help me find a magical way to print issues, as it is extremely expensive to print magazines these days… Fingers crossed!