“I shoot mainly on instinct, I’m always alert. The miracle is to be there at the right time and see what others do not see!” – Xavier Roy
One of the most gifted photographers of our day, Xavier Roy captures deeply moving monochrome images that disclose the delicate beauty of humanity.
Born in Bize, a small town in southwestern France, to an artist mother and a father who worked in advertising, Roy harbored an interest in art from an early age, though recognizing that he had no gift for painting, drawing, or music, he initially eschewed the creative practices.
That was until he visited a retrospective of the eminent Hungarian photographer, André Kertész, at Paris’ Jeu de Paume gallery some years later, when suddenly and epiphanically he realized that photography would be his means of expression henceforth.
“Kertész once said: “My English is bad. My French is bad. Photography is my only language”. It was his sensitivity, his sense of composition, of innovation that immediately appealed to me.”
It was this cognizance, combined with his love of travel, that galvanized his practice. He purchased his first camera, (a Nikkormat) in Singapore in 1977, and during the preceding years, used it to document his experiences as he traveled extensively across the globe.
“I went 9 times to Cuba, 8 times to Brazil, 13 times to Egypt, 6 times to India, etc. To travel is about differences, a change of scenery: new smells, going far, far from your habits, to discover everything: others, other cultures, other lights, parts of dreams. … I like to share, exchange, I simply like people and I hope that it is felt in my images.”
He works intuitively, ‘receiving’ rather than searching for images, much like his role model Kertész, along with other masters such as, Robert Frank and Henri Cartier Bresson, whom he also cites as influences; the latter’s elusive theory of perception, ‘The Decisive Moment’ is embodied beautifully in many of Roy’s works.
“My photographic approach is identical to the one I had when I started; I shoot mainly on instinct, I’m always alert. The miracle is to be there at the right time and see what others do not see!”
He possesses the rare ability to discern beauty within the seemingly inconspicuous, both in quotidian environments and locations of great renown.
A deep affection for his subjects invariably shines through; a powerful humanism, and a deep passion and appreciation for the medium and the diverse destinations that he has had the privilege of knowing. He charts subtle moments of joy, love and benevolence, with profound grace and perceptivity, and, like his heroes, exclusively in black and white, the monochromatic tones providing the perfect swatch for his uniquely poetic vision.
“Photographing in black and white is my language, it is timeless. To photograph in black and white is to have a ‘refined/distilled’ vision that leads to the essential; Lines and shapes – “To photograph in black and white is to deconstruct postcards” as my friend Bernard Plossu would say.”
Despite his artistry, and considerable prolificacy, and notwithstanding a fairly significant number of exhibitions both in his homeland and further afield, Roy remains largely unknown outside of the most discerning of photographic circles. He only turned to photography full time in 2003, having spent much of his working life in other sectors: forging a successful career that has afforded him the rare freedom to concentrate on his art without the financial pressure that afflicts so many others (and thus dilutes their output).
“I was able, with devouring passion, to devote myself definitively to photography. I am very fortunate not to have to make a living from it, only to enjoy it freely.”
In this regard, he represents something of an enigma in our ultra-connected and information-rich age, the antithesis of the modern-day practitioner for whom incessant self-promotion is inexorable. He instead has remained dedicated solely to the ‘essential’, traveling, shooting, editing, an approach that has, thankfully for those of us lucky enough to encounter his work, engendered truly remarkable results.
“Who knows, one day maybe, much later, perhaps this famous photographic notoriety will come. The photographer Sergio Larrain whose work I greatly admire, never sought fame. However, his work gave it to him, and at the age of 40 he decided to escape, and he finished his life in Chile in meditation, as a hermit.”
All images © Xavier Roy