Introducing: Stéphane Gaboué for Good Black Art
by Tyrus Townsend·
Stéphane Gaboué’s world is equal parts form, fashion, color and experiences. The Ivory Coast-born, Paris-raised Gaboué is a brilliant writer of fashion, translator, casting director, stylist, photographer and lecturer. Exploratory by nature, Gaboué is adventurous and a curator of the unknown which has helped fuel a decades long career based on a passion to create highly stylized photoshoots, produce international editorials, discover up-and-coming talent and revolutionary models as well as collaborations in the travel industry.
A student of life and the world, the multi-disciplinarian sat down with us, on the eve of his major photographic launch, to discuss, amongst all things, his upcoming collaboration with Good Black Art, inspirations, documenting the everyday and much more.
Tyrus: The perspective of your work spans racial, gender, political and socio- economic spectrums while primarily focusing on the subjects as fully realized figures. It is as if the intention is to create a window for artistic voyeurs to peek into an unknown world they never knew they needed to be a part of. Which one of your works, selected for this collaboration, speaks the loudest volume, has the most purpose and why?
Stéphane: I like all the pictures (lol). Maybe the picture with Loïc and Buffalo is a bit special, because of its utter simplicity. Two beautiful, majestic, and dignified men, wearing just jeans and a few strips of fabrics. There is always something miraculous about a picture. It's about everything (the clothes, the pose, the attitude,...) beautifully coming together in a nanosecond. And this photoshoot was done in an unscripted way.
Stylist Edem Dossou and I don't really like mood boards. We would just say "oh this girl or this boy is beautiful. Let's photograph them". Loïc and Buffalo were scouted on the eve of the photoshoot, 24 hours before the session, Edem and I didn't know who we were going to shoot. We knew we wanted to shoot in Grand-Bassam. My friend, the photographer Nuits Balnéaires, is based there, and helped us make it happen. We then roamed the city, and took pictures when we saw a location that we liked. Edem had brought a few clothes from Paris, and he actually tied a few strips of fabrics around the models' torsos. Seeing the two walk together around Grand-Bassam was something to see. Seldom in my career have I seen first-time models being so good at this job. Buffalo is unbelievable. Surely one of the best models that I have ever worked with. Many of my images are done in the same spontaneous vein. All the models in the pictures selected by Phillip have an extremely rare photogen. It's impossible to take a bad picture of them.
Loïc and Buffalo, Image courtesy of the artist
Tyrus: Collaborating with Good Black Art, during a time when Black and Brown people are excelling and creating their own "tables" and platforms, makes perfect sense to those in the art and fashion worlds. Being that both brands are Black owned, what does this mean to you and the culture as as whole?
Stéphane: It’s truly great that a new generation of people get to showcase their work to a wide audience and kudos to great professionals like Phillip. I also think that it's important that they all get recognition as artists, and not just as "Black artists". Their work has to be universal. Art made by Black people should touch everyone, wherever they come from.
Tyrus: What is it about the Black male body that has become the object of your photographic affection?
Stéphane:I’m amazed by the wonders of nature, how every single part can form such a harmonious body. And the same person would have such a strong face, and move with such elegance. And like I said, I like natural, wholesome and simple beauty. I actually scout and shoot models of all origins. Many of my models are Black, but I scout and cast them instinctively. I never tell myself "I have to scout a model of this or that skin color".
Tyrus: Please describe your process while shooting editorial (mood boards, themes, moods).
Stéphane: My process is actually very organic. The idea of a story often comes after discovering a model. Or I work on an idea, using many of my models. I like to see them a bit like a theater company (lol). I never do mood boards. Most of the time, I style my own shoots. If I work with a stylist, we'll talk about the idea, or about the model, and that's it. I've done many of my stories with Edem Dossou as a stylist, and we see those photoshoots as adventures. This is what happened with the Grand-Bassam story, to which 'Buffalo and Loïc I" belongs. The story was made totally organically, like I told you earlier.
The weigh-in editorial (La Balance, for Nataal Magazine in 2019) was a story I had wanted to do for years. I had many boxing weigh-in pictures in mind, some of which included Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson. Since it needed a huge cast and a few props, I shot it over a year, between the Ivory Coast, my home country, and France, where I live. My work is extremely spontaneous. Many of my stories are shot over several months. Often, in the middle of a photoshoot, I thought that one of my models, the fabulous Florian Kiniffo, would be amazing in it. I called him, and he was on set less than an hour later.
I also have to say that the editors give me a lot of creative freedom.They've all been amazing to me.
La Balance Editorial - The Weigh-In Story for. Nataal Magazine, 2020
(Tyrus): As a Jack-of-all-Trades and a Master of them, you tend to effortlessly switch between photographer, writer and stylist, which has allowed opportunities to work with iconoclastic giants as Andre Walker, Dazeddigital, navigate between highly stylized shoots to provocative and avant-garde projects and all those in-between. To date, which is your favorite job and why?
(Stéphane): I love them all. lol. I love to work on many different things, often on the same day.
You know what ? I'm originally a journalist. This is my first love. This is how I started my career. I love words. Really love them. I actually studied English and German at universities in France, Great Britain, and Austria, and I wanted to become a fashion writer in English. Suzy Menkès has been a major inspiration for me. It's after discovering her work, back in January 1995, that I knew exactly that I wanted to become a fashion writer. I still work as a journalist, and I absolutely love it.
Photography has become a huge part of my life now. Huge. I first took this photography course (with the exceptional Pharoah Marsan) thinking it would just be a hobby. I never thought so many magazines would have offered me the opportunity to work for them. I started by doing what Edem and some of my friends call "leftover stories" meaning that one would have a big photoshoot, and on the following weekend we would shoot another story with the borrowed samples.This is how people started noticing my work. I now devote a lot of time to it and each time I have to travel somewhere, I do my best to do a photoshoot there. I like the fact that it's an endless adventure. I equally love taking pictures and writing.
Also I absolutely love scouting and casting for brands (the supermodel wave of the early nineties marked me).Scouting and casting models is fascinating . It's actually about discovering exceptional people, and turning them into models, a career they often never considered. They often have modesty regarding their physical appearances, which often makes them amazing models. I also like to push models that I like and that don't necessarily fit the fashion industry's standards.
I recently placed Sasha Lander, a massive bodybuilder, with Studio in Paris. That's where I also placed Lilian Barru, who's 174m. It didn't prevent him from being featured in campaigns for Chanel and Versace.
I also teach English and the history of fashion photography to university students. I love to be able to communicate my passions : fashion, words, images, books, and models.
Sasha Lander- Studio
Tyrus: Please describe your process in selecting works to be included in the Good Black Art collaboration.
Stéphane: For the Good Black Art, the great thing was to have Phillip's amazing curatorial eye. I sent him a huge selection of images, and he picked the ones that resonated with Good Black Art. Phillip has incredible taste and he's one of the most respectful and easy people I have ever worked with.
Tyrus: As a Black man living and working in Europe what inspires you and how are those inspirations intertwined into your art making?
Stéphane: I was born and raised in the Ivory Coast. I moved to France as a teenager, and I have lived there ever since. I like both places. They're both part of me. I started attending fashion shows at 17 in Paris, back in the early nineties, and this surely has shaped my fashion vision. But so has the Ivory Coast. Looking at family albums, or vintage Ivorian television, I realize how the people I saw back then influenced me. You can't imagine how chic people were back in the 1980s in the Ivory Coast. Over the last few years, I've been traveling to my home country more often, scouting, casting, and taking pictures for international magazines. I even opened a model agency there called Television Models.
Tyrus: Who and what are your daily inspirations?
Stéphane: Once again, my models but also many unknown people. Elegance (in speech, manners...) is what I 'm most interested in. I like pictures of sportsmen. But there's sometimes a huge difference between the things I'm interested in and my photos. I love beautiful cars, for example (although I can't drive). You wouldn't necessarily guess it from looking at my work.
Mewe- Nataal Magazine Photographed and styled By Stéphane Gaboué in Abidjan
Tyrus: What advice would you give to an up-and-coming artist?
Stéphane: I would tell them to enjoy what they're doing.
Tyrus: What do you want the viewer and collector to gain by acquiring your works of art?
Stéphane: I really hope they will enjoy acquiring it, that it will fit their interiors, and that it will make them want to discover many other pictures that I've done.
Stéphane Gaboué, Photographer
Cultural expositor Tyrus Rochell Townsend has written and produced content for Essence, Black Enterprise, Bevel Code, Scotch Porter, VH1.com, MTV, EBAN Man, Uptown, Vibe, BET.com, Afro Punk, Ebony Magazine, Jet, The Daily Beast, Native Son, The Atlanta Post, Bleu Magazine, Details Style Network and numerous other publications. An art collector and up-and-coming tech mogul, read more about his style and art musings at The Gentleman’s Daily and follow him on Twitter @gentlemansdaily and on Instagram at @tyrusrochelltownsend and @thegentlemansdaily.
Tyrus Townsend, Art and Culture writer/producer