Ambroise Tézenas 

Hong Kong 

Hong Kong

About the artist

Ambroise Tézenas started working for the French and international press back in the 1990s. He quickly found editorial work too narrow – the constraints of “one-off” commissions, tight deadlines and menial topics - so in the 2000s he moved on to self-assigned projects. His first major subject was the urban transformation of China, more specifically the city of Beijing in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics. Tézenas found the breathing space he needed: unimpeded by the high-yield requirements of press commissions, he took his time - trial and error, starting over, going back again to grasp the subject better. Beijing, which he shot at night with a large-format camera, became a stage for Tézenas to express both his eagerness to say something about our changing world, and his desire for pictoriality. Pékin, Théâtre du Peuple won the Leica European Publishers award in 2006 and entered the collections of the Bibliothèque Nationale de France. Alongside this, he still works for a few papers, among which The New York Times, and his commissions sometimes earn him awards (a Nikon Storyteller Award for his 2009 reportage in Cuba for the NYT).
His latest major personal project, soon to be published, examines the recent phenomenon of “morbid tourism”. Ambroise Tézenas is based in Paris, and often on the road.


You shoot with a large-format view camera: what do you like about this format?
The view camera has many constraints: you have to accept a certain distance with the subject, and I believe that finding the right distance is of the essence. I work without scouting, as if doing photojournalism. The view camera is a means of getting in condition, of laying down the rules: its sheer weight, the fact that you can only obtain very few images a day, as if you really had to deserve the pleasure of taking photographs. Working with a view camera puts me on a quest, a state of attentiveness - the opposite of a leisurely stroll.

A few years ago, you worked in the city of Beijing at night (Pékin: Théâtre du Peuple). What is it you like about the night-time? What are the possibilities for a photographer?

I feel a kind of need to escape from the crowd, to be alone, to walk. Being alone helps with photography. To me, a modern city is like a theatre set, a set where the lights have stayed on. There’s a kind of euphoria that comes from exploring that in the dead of night. Time is as if frozen. The light is fixed – no clouds, no sunshine. I rediscover the wind that I need to find shelter from. I experience the silence of the city.
To me, the night is not merely a formal exercise, an effect for the sake of it, but rather it allows a different approach to reality. Several years in photojournalism have left their mark in my landscape shots. The aesthetic dimension comes with a desire to construct a story, to start something that goes beyond the visual shock.
I like long exposures. In the heart of a fast-changing Beijing, I liked the idea that people would sometimes walk past the lens without leaving an imprint on the film, ghosts of a bygone world. It's nice to experience photography over a long period of time, to give the light time to express itself. I sometimes think of Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment”… it’s so restful not to have to watch out for that moment.

The city is one of your favourite subjects. In Pékin: Théâtre du Peuple, your images reflect - as the title suggests - a sense of strangeness, of walking around a cinema-set city. The same kind of feeling pervades the narrow streets of Tangiers. Do you think you could have taken such pictures in your home town – in other words, does it have something to do with the fact that you are foreign to these cities?
I fully accept that I am fascinated with the exotic, the other-worldly. Although I have often attempted photographing Paris, the fact remains that the state of quest I evoked earlier is very different: I need to discover a landscape in order to penetrate it. The fact that I am travelling also confers an added sense of urgency that helps me to concentrate.

Selected shows and awards

I was here, tourisme de la désolation, Les Rencontres d'Arles de la Photographie, France, 2015
I was here, 
Festival de fotografia, Getxophoto, Spain, 2015
Photographies, Librairie Maupetit, Marseille, France, 2015
France(s) territoire liquide, 
Tri Postal, Lille, 2014
Pékin, Théâtre du peuple, Philippe Chaume Gallery, Paris, 2009
Night Visions, Young Gallery, Brussels, 2009
Le jour est brutal et bruyant, Le Méjan, Arles, 2008
The hutongs of Beijing, Kunsthal Museum, Rotterdam, 2008
Pékin, Théâtre du peuple, Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie d’Arles, 2007
Beijing, Theatre of the people, Paris-Beijing photo Gallery, Beijing, 2006
Photographies, Galerie Chambre avec vue, Paris, 2006

Nikon Story Teller Award, PDN Photo Annual, USA, 2009
Leica European Publishers Award for Photography, 2006

Public Collections of the French National Library (Beijing, Theatre of the people)

Selected publications

Pékin, Théâtre du peuple, Actes Sud, 2007
Europe, Echelle 27, TransPhotographic Press, 2008


& order

Ambroise Tézenas 
Hong Kong


Technical information

Digital Lambda c-print on satin paper.


40 x 50 cm, Signed, Edition of 100 220.00 €

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