Everything is going to be alright.
By Elisa Routa
Pictures Cesar Ancelle Hancen
« You’ve never met César Ancelle Hansen? » Don’t know why, but when someone asks me a question like that, in that tone of voice, I kinda have the urge to reply, « Of course I have! » And yet, I didn’t have an effing clue who he was. And that sucked, since I had an appointment with the dude at Negresso & Co in Biarritz. I hesitated between a few different approaches: I could write my name in capital letters with Courier New font on my jacket, like a soldier going into battle, or I could pretend to be a taxi driver waiting impatiently for a plane to land, with a sign proudly hung around my neck, like when I was 10, and flying on my own for the first time, or should I casually wear a laurel wreath on my head? (I’m sure he’d have been totally smitten by that). Anyways, I finally decided to arm myself with the complete « Super Reporter » outfit: a pen and a notebook. Simple but effective.
« My mum’s a former artistic director and she always used to say to me « Become whatever you want in life, except a photographer.” There are two types of parents. The eternal wise owls who chose to focus on good family life and who after feel the need to live vicariously through their children’s lives, thus sharing the thrills of travels and marginal professional choices that they’d never got to experience. And then there are those who sowed their wild oats excessively before having kids, who tend to warn their offspring about the dangers of anti-conformist jobs.
Which is what happened to César, who finally chose to disobey his mother the day he bought his first digital camera, with a waterproof box and a pair of diving flippers. « As far as I can remember, I used to read my mum’s magazines, anything from the National Geographic to fashion magazines. And I used to read the names of the photographers written in small print underneath the snapshots. » It was during a trip to Lanzarote with some pals that he discovered what surf was all about. He was then 23.
« It was such a slap in the face, to discover the world of surf. »
Since that day, César has done everything to live near the ocean. Which wasn’t an easy task for this guy from the north, who was supposed to become an accident and emergency doctor. Yet ten years ago, his dream came true. « We moved into an F2 at the Chambre d’Amour, Anglet, facing the ocean, on September 11, 2001. I must have been the only person in the world to have partied that night. Apart from a few fanatics, I must say. But that’s another story. For 10 years, I feel like I’ve been living in this big amusement park. I’m so lucky. I feel at one with the ocean, and can’t imagine not living near it. » Ocean fever is a syndrome that’s quite easily caught. A bit like catching a cold, it can nab you when you’re barefoot in the sand. The Parisians long for it, the Basques boast about it, the Britons seemingly invented it, whilst sailors just learned to live with and on it. Like the flu, it stays in the gut. Discovering it makes you feel that you finally belong somewhere, there’s a sort of an invisible connection that links a man to the sea. There would appear to be billions contaminated. However, no panic, since it appears that this syndrome is highly recommended. « I can spend hours watching the ocean, just chilling, and feel such a sense of fulfillment. » César has definitely got a case of severe ocean fever. And he refuses to be treated for it. Which is weird, him being a doctor and all…
When I arrived in the Basque Country, I first compared Biarritz to a cheap remake of that reality show, Big Brother. Apparently, only the bold and the beautiful are accepted here. I felt as if I didn’t fit in. Me, with my few extra pounds, my greasy bangs cut DIY style with a knife, my sneakers, my footballer’s calves and my strange obsession for solitude. I landed in a microcosm where people tend to live on top of one another. I had been warned: « You’ll see, it’s a big village, everyone knows everybody. » Three years later, I realize how ridiculous it all was. That place is a show room in perpetual representation. From April to October there’s this somewhat disturbing artistic pornography where a few photographers are allowed to express themselves for a pocketful of holes and dreams, where influences stop at a couple of names, where you no longer say who you are, but who you work for, where you get the impression that you are no longer a person but a brand, a magazine, an interest to exploit, and where people add you on Facebook just to promote their own shit. Welcome to our world.
And then, there are people like César Ancelle Hansen.
« I don’t know anything about the surf industry, so maybe I’m not biased when I take pictures. I’m not criticizing the system but I have no restrictions, no real target. I take the pictures for me. If people like them, well, good. If not, too bad. I’m sure there are plenty of people who find what I’m doing super boring since there’s no action. But I like them. »
Taking photos is his hobby, a life-long passion, and he doesn’t do it to be like everybody else, but because it makes him happy. « I enjoy taking pictures as much as I enjoy surfing, even if I have a shitty style and no technique whatsoever. My problem is that I never know whether to take my board or my camera. So I usually end up bringing all my gear with me and once there, I improvise! »
Looking at one of Caesar’s photos is like contemplating a painting on a museum wall. One of those moments, in a cozy atmosphere, where time seems to stop; where you are literally immersed in his universe, you almost feel as if you’re the one standing on the end of the board, as if you could almost touch it. There’s a kind of raised effect, a proximity effect…You totally feel as if you were with him when he took the shot.
« The most successful pictures, I think, are those taken randomly. Sometimes people ask me, ‘What were you thinking when you took this photo? What does it mean to you?’ But I wasn’t thinking of anything! Absolutely no plan, I was just there at the right time; thought it was cute so I clicked on the button. And it gave a pretty picture. That’s all. »
A perfectionist, he pays attention to the tiniest of details that no one else sees, like Steven Videau’s toe clinging to the nose of his board, the bad posture and contorted body of Robin Falxa, or the aesthetic ease of Clovis Donizetti. « Here we are so lucky. Every day, there are ultra talented guys in the water. They all have incredible style, and such a unique attitude on their boards. They surf the wave from A to Z until it dwindles down to about 10 cms. I get such good vibes from them all. »
César is fascinated by details and by the surfers who magnify them.
« A lot of people criticize Porn Surf Photo, but ultimately I think it’s beautiful. The details; focusing on feet, on part of a wave, with the background slightly out of focus. That’s what turns me on. »
Pornography may be a bad habit, but when she shows off her natural beauty through natural light, like a Chris Burkard photo, there sure is no reason to blush.
« I’m not criticizing action shots, but for me, it’s all about the light. Nothing compares to a photo with beautiful natural lighting. I love taking pictures early in the morning or at sunset. » According to César, the definition of the perfect photo would be: unretouched, with a hint of contrast, and well composed, so as the whole picture comes together in one visual harmony. He continues, “A good photo slaps you right across the face at first sight. There’s a chemical side to it. It’s like a melody, or a sculpture. I tend to compare photography to painting. A photographer is kind of like a failed painter! One must have the tortured artist syndrome to do what we do. But we’re nothing compared to painters! » In his little black reference book of artists, there are photographers, of course, geniuses, such as Leroy Grannis, Jeff Divine or again Tyler Cuddy. « But it’s like with jokes, I never can remember their names! And, even if some people can influence you and your choices; your own way of looking at the world still defines who you really are, and you never lose that. You can be inspired by so and so, but you’ll still always have your own style. » There are also painters like Robert Longo, writers, artists of all kinds, those that aren’t even known yet whom he met by chance on different blogs, or at art galleries. Like Rudy Jacques, an amazing dude from the Oléron Island who created Avthentic.Com. « He inspires me a lot because he photographs with his heart. They are all stimulating, down to earth guys. »
Simplicity is his only sin, humility his funniest flaw. « People make quite a hoo ha of photographers but all we do is capture beautiful moments. Crappy photos, I’ve got truckfuls of ‘em. The eternal problem with digital is that you take 10 pictures per second and once home you find yourself with a thousand photos to sort out. It’s the selection you have to make that’s hard. Whilst with film based cameras, the picture is always unique. » Better late than never, César has just started taking instant snapshots. It suits him. So equipped with a Hasselblad Polaroid, he is now on a mission to conquer the art of uniqueness « It’s my new toy. Taking a pair of tweezers, a piece of cardboard, making your own transfer… I really like the mechanical feel to the whole thing. »
César Ancelle Hansen has managed to give me a spark of hope in a world that I thought unhealthy. And believe you me… it takes a lot more than beach blond hair, a tanned face and an athletic body to butter me up. This heart full of scorching hot art can not easily be convinced. And yet, without even meaning to, it’s picked up on some hasty observations: No, really, people are not all alike? There are specimens who can take their time without losing their values, people who don’t know where they’re going but are never lost because they stay in their element, treading only where they have a footing. There are people so talented that the mould becomes too small and suffocating, and then there are people so surprising that it’s always difficult to write about them, and give them the credit they deserve. I was lucky enough to meet one of them. Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s art.