Interview | Léo Berne: Filmmaker, Photographer, Artiste Extraordinaire

Filmmaker and photographer Léo Berne has worked with a who’s who of musical icons. He’s lensed visuals for Madonna, Rihanna and a grocery list of It girls and guys to boot. But over the past 8 years he’s equally allowed himself to wallow in his own self-musings and weave together a photographic fable he plans to exhibit called I Barely Remember. While the images themselves could be snapshots from anyone’s life, Berne calls them highly personal. We recently chatted with the Megaforce Collective member to flesh out more about the upcoming exhibit and his evolution as a visual storyteller.

CRAVE: Photography has been a part of your upbringing since childhood. Looking back over the years, how has the camera shaped your life as an artist and storyteller?

Léo Berne: Just as smartphones nowadays, my cameras have always been an extension of my body. I feel naked when I go out without one. It’s like a magic box that keeps memories. The shutter is directly connected to my heart, and looking at my archives I can tell how exciting my life was in a period just by counting the number of pictures I took at that time.

An image from Léo Berne's I Barely Remember project.

An image from Léo Berne’s ‘I Barely Remember’ project.

Your newest exhibition is a personal one. How much of the narrative involved in I Barely Remember is therapeutic? What images did you refrain from using because perhaps they were too personal or too revealing? Or maybe not parallel with the rest of the narrative for the exhibit?

All the pictures I’m sharing in this exhibition are personal memories, sometimes taken as they are, sometimes slightly constructed. Why would I share them? It’s a simple, almost childish, desire of sharing emotions. Just like when you point your finger at something and say: « look mum! ».  Also, what I like in photography is that you are literally looking through the eyes of somebody else. It’s a portal through another point of view, so the more personal, the better it is in a way.

The selection for this exhibition is not exhaustive because I had to adapt to the space I had, but it’s a good resumé of my personal photography. I tried to have the right mix of wonder, humor, melancholy and eroticism.

When we get first teaser glimpses of your collection of works ranging from 2008 – 2016 we see a vast array of color, light and dark and the universal sense of emotion with each subject. Can you walk us through what those 8 years were like for you both professionally and personally? Would you say the images you captured during that time are a clear reflection of that?

8 years ago, with 3 of my friends we founded the collective Megaforce. We did a lot of videos and art direction projects. My eye became more and more accurate thanks to that collective emulation.

We learned a lot from each other and that’s the force of being in a collective. Also, I travelled pretty often, for professional and personal reasons, this made me shot a lot. I guess I can tell my photographs are reflecting all that.

You’ve worked with a who’s who of top stars like Madonna and Rihanna. An interesting tidbit about both is that they love to experiment with their respective images and reinvent themselves. Yet it must be equally important for you as the director to have a keen sense of identity when working with them. Who is Léo Berne?

I am pretty discreet, I don’t talk much and I’m opening myself only to my close friends. That’s maybe why I feel so at ease in Asia.

What are some of the projects you are currently undertaking? Any surprises you have in store for the public going forward into the tail end of the year?

I’m working on a photo book that will gather 20 years of my photography. It’s called « For The Aliens ». In it I’m explaining the world to the Aliens through my memories. It will be printed this summer and I’m crossing my fingers that it will be ready for the exhibition.

Berne's latest work is the culmination of 8 years of photography.

Berne’s latest work is the culmination of 8 years of photography.

You are on a deserted island and only have three items you can take with you. What are they and why?

A speedboat and two jerrycan of oil. I enjoy being alone for a while but I can’t live without friends.

Choose your vintage camera (no zoom lens, no fancy objective, no digital specs). This is the camera you’ll use to document the most touching story you’ve encountered. Which camera would you use? How would you use it to capture the right image?

I’m always shooting analog and feel very uncomfortable with digital. The Leica M6 is the camera I feel the most at ease with, it’s small and discreet. It’s not aggressive when you point it to someone’s face. It’s also all manual and very simple to use, I’m lost when there are too many buttons. Everything you need there is to focus and adjust the exposure. And click. Done. Oh wait, try another framing. Click, done. We’ll see it when it will be developed. I feel embarrassed when I see photographers looking at their screens right after having shot, it kills the relationship with the subject.

You go back in time and encounter yourself at 16 years old. What singular piece of advice would you give that 16 year old version of you?

Don’t worry man, you’ll get way better girls soon.


All images ©Léo Berne.