“Writing with his guts, talking with his heart, photographed with passion, listen to not only hear, communicate without compromise.”
The founder of this Parisian magazine, Thibault Grabherr, in an exclusive interview about his magazine….
How did ‘Zebule’ magazine start?
In the beginning we wanted a magazine that was talking about new people, young designers & new artists. Most of the magazines we know only talk of very famous people so that’s why we wanted to go in this direction & have a beautiful magazine – just speaking about beautiful things. We hoped to create the magazine we were looking to read ourselves. In France we have a saying – ‘what is known but not famous’ – for example what people know in the business world – is not what everybody knows in the whole world. And that could be in fashion or in music or movies.
What’s behind the name ‘Zebule’?
By itself it doesn’t mean anything – if you look at it in French – ‘bule’ means – the bubble in the roof’ – like being in the sky, having an idea all the time & being inspired….and the other part of the word came from a cartoon in France which has a character called Zebule who is jumping around all the time & going crazy. Most of our friends when we told them our idea they made this comparison with me & this cartoon character – doing so many things all the time….finally as this name was even looking like me & we liked it so we kept it for the magazine.
This issue is about time travel & we are talking a lot about art, history & last century. There is a feature on Wassily Kandinsky & also an article on photographer Susan Meiselas. She’s from Magnum photography from beginning of century & a gallery in Paris is making a very special book from end of 1970’s of her work. We try to talk to people with small projects & this book will only be printing 200-300 issues however she is a very famous photographer.
Who is your favourite artist?
This is the typical type of question that if you ask me right away – I have a hole in my mind. Right now I like the photographer Paolo Roversi – he is similar to Peter Lindbergh.
Your background is photography….was this always your dream to be a photographer?
I think it came by itself but definitely since I was 16 I wanted to be a photographer. My father used to be a winemaker & then he changed his job to open a photography store. It was in 1995 & in those days it was a 1 hour development photo store – the first one of it’s kind where we lived. After a couple of days I was starting to use it – to be behind the machine to print photos & so he bought a camera to take the passport identity photos for customers. I took the camera and I started to take photos of my friends & he saw I liked that so he opened another space in the store where I could do portraits. So after school & at the weekends I was taking portrait photos for customers of the store & then I started doing weddings too & I was still not even 18.
One day he asked me ‘Okay when are you going to take over the store after me?’ and I told him ‘I don’t want to have the store – when I’m done with school I want to move to Paris & live there’ & nothing else came to mind except photography so step by step I continued. All my life was just to be a photographer and I’m very glad it happened.
You assisted the iconic photographer Dominique Issermann for three years – what was she like to work for?
I was lucky – as a kid I wanted to work for her & at that time she was really at the top of the hill of her work. There were 5 people like me working with her & she was travelling to the US all the time shooting the Victoria’s Secret campaigns and so it was tough. We were working like crazy & it was tough because she was tough….but it was a very good experience for me – it was really what I needed to grow. At the beginning of the 21st century she stopped doing editorial for a while, not doing it as much as she used to do – I don’t know why – probably because the work changed a lot – but now she is shooting again and it is really great.
Describe your first camera?
The first one was a Minolta X700. After that I bought a Nikon F2 – for me this is my first proper camera and this one was an old mechanic and was really my first camera where I had very good lenses. I also had a Mamiya with a 67 negative.
Have you seen a big change in the photography world over time?
Yes I started off developing negatives in a darkroom. Actually my first job when arriving in Paris was to work at Picto as I had to pay my rent. And the first job I had was working in this laboratory & here I learnt to do digital. So for me it’s been very easy because my parents wanted me to do something other than photography when I was younger so I learnt computers so I worked at Picto and there I learnt about everything…digital scan, working on files – at those times my colleagues & I knew everything new that was happening in digital. When I left this company it was to work with Dominique Isserman and then digital was not a secret any more so it’s been perfect for the rest of my work as a photographer.
How do you feel about re-touching images?
As you can see with the photography I like & my work I’m not doing much re-touching. We have to do some. I actually like to use it – but more as a darkroom – because print is one of the most important things for finishing your work. Your photo can look so many different ways just by working on your print. It was like that before – in silver…..now, the land of imagination is so big. But I never go too far – I’m not going to re-touch too much….but definitely I like to produce the print as I want.
I went to Picto recently to print a black & white photograph. I used the last film of my polaroid shooting my 6 month year old son – so I kept my last film to shoot him & I was going to do a present for my wife of this photo. I wanted it to be all silver so I went with my 4 by 5 ” polaroid negative to the laboratory to print it. I wanted to be able to say to the printer ‘Okay, I want it like that‘ and to give him my feeling for the image so I went into the darkroom. I hadn’t been in a darkroom for a couple of years – and just the smell of it – I became 16 years old again. The smell had such a huge impact on me because I had a darkroom from when I was 16 until I was 27. We always had a darkroom in my kitchen or the bathroom – my wife was a photographer – so we had a darkroom in the apartment all the time. You know how smell can give you memories? It was huge & took me right back in time – it was great.
We are losing it that with digital – this touching, the smell, the old craft, the craftsman side of being a photographer. And for me this kind of work means you are working with the hands, the body, the feeling & with digital we are losing that. I’m sure I will go back to darkroom one day – maybe when I am retired because it is really too hard to do that now….but I probably will go back there just for fun.
Do you have favourite ‘Zebule’ photo-shoot from your archives that you can recall?
In the past – I would say its one of the ones we did ourselves – we did it with Anouchka de Williencourt. She is actually a young photographer of fashion but an old photographer of kids. She is in the process of changing her style & subject of photography. I do like how she looks at things. We used her work for the cover of issue 3 (below) with her photo in black and white. She is also focusing on movement photography and I like that. She used a dancer to do this photo & is now working with jugglers & wants to do fashion shoots with them.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
When I was a kid I wanted to work with Peter Lindbergh or Dominique Issermann….mostly black & white photographers. This is still my mood even if I do more contemporary work now but this is what I like. I love very natural photography & talking about the reality & nothing to do with the future.
I have a couple actually – one of my best memories – do you know Sophie Marceau? It was the beginning of my career as a portrait photographer. I worked with her on a movie and I asked her if I could do a portrait with her & she said yes. At this time I hadn’t really done many big photo-shoots. You can actually see the shooting of this on my website. I loved working with Sophie – she is really sweet & happy to do whatever you tell her. When you are working with her – you are free. This was really a wonderful moment, we were out of the city – in the forest. I had planned to do the photos on a sunny day & when we arrived it was all foggy – but it was a beautiful, beautiful day – about photography & also about human relationships. This is one of my very good days.
When I shot Catherine Frot, a couple of months ago now, I had the same day. These kind of days where you have finished the day & it’s a dream date. You are living & you are happy. You don’t even know if the photos are going to be any good but that’s not even the point– just a perfect day as you want to every day to happen.
I also photographed French actress Julie Depardieu for Blast magazine – that was a great day too.
What made you make the transition from photography to founding & directing ‘Zebule’?
In the beginning I started the idea of the magazine with some friends of mine – Christophe & Gregory. It was just friends who wanted to work on something together for fun.
Also for me with the career I have, I need an opportunity to be able to express myself in fashion more than most of people have the need to – so altogether this was a nice project. Christophe & Gregory had other side projects that became too big so after a while I had a whole new team including Marie Juncker (Editor in Chief), Sébastien Kosinski (art director) & for me it’s a human adventure & I love that. I think I’m doing this job more to be with people – everything I do is with people…..when I’m alone in my studio I’m just dying….I need to be with people.
Does living in Paris influence your work?
Definitely it does and I think the magazine is really French. The point is to be a real international magazine. We are trying to work with people from all over the world…beacase we are a new magazine at the beginning we were working with mostly people around us and as we are growing we are starting to work with people further away …we are currently working with a Japanese photographer, and also a french photographer that is living in China.
We are also trying to work with a hairdressing company in Buenos Aires so we are trying to have a gauge from all around the world. And we are still looking for people who want to work with us. We are trying to have a magazine that you can read in even a year & when you open it you don’t feel like it is too late.
If not in Paris, where would you live?
I actually like a lot of places – I love San Francisco, I love New York even if it is too busy for me (I like to go there but not to live there), I love Montreal, I went to Buenos Aires & it was great, I went in Bangkok…I don’t know…one of the things I would love the most is to have my house (not in Paris) but somewhere near the ocean & keeping travelling as I do. Definitely that is what I need – ocean.
As usual we have a black & white story…. features on street art, interviews with Ana Girardot & Pierre Niney who stars as Yves Saint Laurent in the recent film release.
ZEBULE Magazine is available to buy on several digital distributors such as Amazon & is available to buy in print in many countries worldwide.