For Cyrille Druart, the COVID-19 pandemic brought a special kind of calm to his household. Several factors were involved. There were the lockdowns, of course, that halted the droning noise of everyday life outside. But at home, Cyrille and his girlfriend were expecting a baby, which brought with it a separate hush, a restful reverence. Cyrille soaked it in. He read more and worked on his photo archives. In truth, it was a good time to be confined to their own personal sanctuary. But the serene quiet was tinged with sorrow too. Sadly, just one month before he welcomed his daughter into the world, his father died. These events and the emotions they stirred up contributed to Cyrille’s series, “Plein Silence.”
In his own words, Cyrille says this project “is inspired by the silence of the global pandemic, our reclusive lives, the birth of my daughter and the darkness of a loss, which occurred at the same time.” The series is thoughtful, deeply personal, and beautiful. It draws you in for a closer look. Cyrille painstakingly chose each photo, taken on film, and sequenced them to represent the search for peaceful and contemplative images that are a tribute to life and to the immense joy that a newborn baby brings. The longer you look, the clearer these themes become.
What Minimalism Means
By trade, Cyrille is an architect. His photography projects are more personal in nature. In both areas of expertise, Cyrille’s minimalist approach shines. But minimalism as a concept isn’t as simple as most people believe it to be. Cyrille explains that making a “simple” image is the most complex goal of all. It requires that the photographer remove all the unnecessary elements so the viewer can access the real essence of the image.
In architecture, a minimalist building may look simple, but in reality, an ultra clean looking design means all the technical elements and technology are hidden or integrated somewhere. Achieving this is complicated and requires much thought and planning. In photography, it comes down to not “saying too much” in your photos. Cyrille explains, “You take photos in the street because something inspires you there. You must quickly analyze what it is and then isolate it, make it stand out. The rest has to be left out, otherwise viewers won’t know what you were trying to say.” It’s a principle that applies to many aspects of life. In a conversation, for example, saying less is more when you choose your words carefully.
Besides isolating the inspiration of a photo for your viewer, there are other benefits to stripping away the unnecessary. “It’s about suggestion,” Cyrille says. “When you suggest, your imagination starts working and everyone’s imagination is different. That’s the richness of it – creating something that can have thousands of interpretations. If you say too much, you lose that. There’s no fun.”
How can a photographer achieve a powerful minimalist photo? Cyrille’s advice is that after you’ve decided what you want to say, you should work on your ability to focus. “It’s all about focusing, being in the moment,” remarked Cyrille. When he’s shooting Cyrille “closes himself,” focusing only on the photo at hand. He doesn’t hear anything happening around him and only sees what’s before him. His mind is singularly focused on the image he’s about to make. It’s a mentally demanding endeavor that sometimes leaves him feeling exhausted, even if he hasn’t been walking the streets for hours on end. “That kind of focus can make your brain feel hot,” he laughed.
A Minimalistic Approach to Photo Series
Needless to say, Cyrille takes the same careful approach to curating a series of images that he does when creating a single image. That means that even though he may take hundreds of images with a project in mind, only a few will make the cut. Cyrille says, “I think 15 images is enough to say something. If your series has 100 photos, it shows that you don’t really know where you are going, what you are trying to say.” But even 15 photos can be a challenge to achieve. Cyrille confided that his ratio of good photos to so-so photos is “ridiculous.” He says he literally only shows 1 or 2 percent of his work to the public. Comforting news for the rest of us.
Besides keeping the number of photos down for a series, it takes a lot of thought to choose the right photos and sequence them well enough to make your intended narrative clear. Cyrille compares his photo series to short poems with a theme. He says, “It’s like making haikus. You want to keep it short but keep it vivid and dense.”
Powerful Images are Always Within Reach
It probably won’t come as a surprise that an architect like Cyrille has a real love for simple shapes, simple geometry. Take a closer look at the series in this article and you’ll find triangles, rectangles, and squares galore. Those simple shapes add real power to Cyrille’s images. Not only do they make for a visually coherent image, those shapes talk to people in a very direct way. “The simplicity of them goes straight through to your brain and stays there,” Cyrille explains. He incorporates these shapes to make simple spaces from real life scenes. “I usually stop before abstraction because I want to keep one foot on reality. I strive to base my work on reality and then simplify it.”
Cyrille believes his approach to photography can work for anyone. Making artful photos is within everyone’s reach. That’s not to say that every photographer should embrace simple shapes and minimalistic images. No, Cyrille is convinced that at the heart of it, building a powerful body of work is about finding a project that inspires you and then putting in the work. “I don’t force myself to take on a project I don’t like. Turning down projects you don’t “feel” can be hard but when I love something, I can dig into it and I don’t stop until it’s properly done. I give it my soul.” Plein Silence, and in fact all of Cyrille’s photos and projects, bear witness to the truth of those words.