Canadian artist Nicolas Ruel: a transformational journey to the heart of the Serengeti


Canadian artist Nicolas Ruel, a fine art photographer based in Montreal, is probably best known for his artworks that use double exposures to create intriguing multi-layered images.

This year, Ruel was one of a handful of artists invited to take part in the Envoy by Four Seasons programme, which aims to connect creative types to a range of diverse cultures, places and experiences to create new, bespoke artworks.

The Week sat down with Ruel to hear how he got on in the Serengeti and how he uses photographs to tell stories.

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Double exposures often give the illusion of two (or more) moments in time - perhaps past and present. Was time on your mind with your photography series for Envoy by Four Seasons?

Double exposure is an in-camera technique which allows me to create unique visual signatures, merging two moments in time into one photograph, a technique I developed in 2007 on a trip to Paris. With this technique the images are not treated in post-production. For the Envoy by Four Seasons project, the idea was capturing a moment inspired by being in the moment. So, the answer is no, time did not exist for me shooting in The Serengeti. The sun was my watch, I photographed from sunrise to sunset.

You said that working in the Serengeti was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Why did you want to photograph there?

My fascination with the Maasai people goes back several years. The wildlife and the landscape in the Serengeti are incredible and it was such an honour to witness them and to be so close, however, I am always more touched by civilizations. I was so grateful to the Maasai for making this experience so beautiful and to Four Seasons for setting the backdrop of my visit.

(Image credit: NICOLAS RUEL)

In the past you have often worked in places filled with people - train stations and stadiums - what was it like to be shooting in a part of the world largely barren of people?

It was a lovely break from the over-stimulation of the urban landscape. Think New York City versus the meditative plains of the Serengeti. It was a minimal experience where I could focus on the beauty of stillness. I was very much inspired by my subjects - the wildlife and the Maasai.

Many of your long-exposure or multiple exposure works take eight seconds to create. Why not longer... or shorter?

I adapt my exposure to my subject, and in my experience, eight seconds seems to capture an infinite moment in time. When shooting wildlife, I adapt to the unpredictable, adjusting the speed of exposure.

How has photography changed in the age of the smartphone? Are we approaching oversaturation point with photographs?

It seems nowadays that everyone is a photographer. Technology has allowed us to capture high quality images and edit them with the tap of a finger on a smartphone. It’s a beautiful thing, however, after twenty-four years of practice, I am grateful to be part of a generation that learned their craft with film and was able to witness the transformation from analogue to digital.

(Image credit: NICOLAS RUEL)

Which other photographers, past and present, do you admire?

I am actually more inspired by cinematography than photography. I studied film at university and so it has always been a passion. Directors such as David Lynch and Wong Kar-wai have inspired me most. One photographer I really admire is the incredibly talented Andreas Gursky. He creates subjects from his passions, it’s always very personal and “larger than life”. I believe that an artist must dig deep and get very personal in their work. The more I shoot the more I realise this. The more personal I get, the better my work, the better the creative translation.

Having shot the Serengeti, where are you hoping to go next?

I’m working on a new series on Versailles to be printed on a 24-karat gold plate for Dior. It’s very inspiring to work with different metals. I am also working on a Formula 1 project that focuses on the intricate choreography of the pit stop, and of course, the never-ending continuation of a cityscape, and creating new projects and collaborations with amazing teams like Four Seasons.

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