He composes with light because he is a photographer, “the man who writes with light”. Their relationship has grown even stronger as the light picked him and taught him its secrets, following him everywhere for 36 years now; from California and so many countries around the world, to the remarkable homes and gardens of France. Humble and amazingly skilled, Eric Sander is above all a passionate nature lover and an enthusiastic lover of people. . From an early stage, he dedicated his life to beauty, especially the beauty that is hidden in all the little things around us, as they contain a priceless treasure made of immutable instants and suspended moments of eternity. He has not only made a name for himself as a talented photo-reporter and photographer, he is also an explorer and a storyteller, his pictures telling stories with sublime colors and emotions, that make his work read like an incredible novel of a great beauty. In the Dordogne valley where he finally found his roots, he works today as in the manner of Monet with his gardens and paintings, to channel the beauty around him and gather his wonderful images and convey them to the world.
Outside of the frame
Eric Sander was born in Fort de l’Eau, near Algiers. He is the eldest son of a family of five. His father, originally from Lille, was in the military and rose to general in the Air Force, as his mother, from Belgium, was a caring housewife, raising her children. He received a strict formal education typical of the period but his mother’s temperament would nurture his huge need for gentleness and sensitivity. “She used to tell me: “Look into nature, look at the pretty flowers” and I learned to take joy in contemplating them.” His family would get back to France when he just turned 6 and he would grow up in Bougival, on rue Claude Monet. The name of this street, named after the famous impressionist painter was a consolation for the romantic young boy who was following the adventures of Zorro, Robin Hood and Thierry la Fronde on television. “I admired these heroes, being somehow positive rebels, acting in the shadows, with courage and altruism to do good for others.”
At school, Eric was a rather timid child, standing aside, but very curious and observant. “I was solitary, but in solidarity with my classmates”, and he won many awards and prizes, but only in subjects that interested him: drawing, manual work, gymnastics and geography. “I remember being always nostalgic, drawing constantly, I’d draw villages as if I was looking for my own.” He found his village at 17 while supervising a group of young people in the beautiful Dordogne area, and it was there that he would take his first steps in photography.
Graduating with A-levels in science, the young man would soon switch to architecture, but he got bored quickly and quit two years later. “I wanted to leave everything for my military service, and stand back to determine my unique gifts and call. There, in Djibouti, everything has changed!” The base commander would take him under his protection as a Commando Fusilier (Commando Rifleman), and under his command, Eric would experience incredible moments like flying in a fighter plane, helicopter, transport plane and scuba diving. He even spent a week as an observer with the Foreign Legion. “I had taken my mother’s camera, a FOCA model at the time, and I enjoyed photographing everyone and snapping some memories of these adventures.” The Legionaries were overcome by his innate talent for capturing memorable moments with style and excellence, so much so that they arranged through him many pictures, slides at the time. Once back in France, Eric was a different person. “A -year of life gained and not lost!” He was craving to uncover, explore and share new human encounters, opening up new horizons. Yes, no doubt, his career would not take place in the framework of a typical office life.
The first reports
“Life is made out of encounters!” Two months before leaving for military service, Éric befriended the editor of the Gamma agency, Floris de Bonneville. “He had great sensitivity while being essentially a journalist, whereas I was rather good in visual art. I corresponded with him quite regularly and when I returned in 1977, he offered me a job as his assistant.” And thus, Eric would publish photos for the next 6 years of over 4,000 subjects from the images of renowned photographers such as Raymond Depardon, Sebastião Salgado and great reporters of the time. “The reports arrived undeveloped to the agency: hundreds of images on average, and each time, I had to edit a topic and keeping only one picture out of ten.” This work would sharpen his eyes and teach him how to tell a story with pictures. Very quickly, he wanted to create for himself. His first report would be the celebration of his grandparents’ diamond wedding at Bellinglise Castle. “I retrieved old photos and had them re- pose as they once did on their wedding day; then took photos with their 16 children, their 66 grandchildren and even with their sleeping great-grandchildren. We were 170 people all together.” The story would be a success and garnered interest from many magazines, like France Soir Magazine, which offered a six-page spread and other famous magazines in 15 countries. Parisians who lived in barges on the Seine river would be his next topic and again, he would be rewarded with another six-page spread in Figaro Magazine. “I was not the top of the news but that did not bother me at all. I was looking for background topics, positive stories, with real encounters that give us deeper insight into life and help each other grow.” Encouraged by these two successful outcomes, Eric Sander would resign and start his own business as an independent photojournalist and photographer.
“One of the stories that marked me is my encounter with this 91-year-old Italian gentleman who was a copyist at the Louvre. Since 1928, he had been going every day in three-piece suit, with his soft hat and bamboo stick hanging on his easel, and he had already copied the Mona Lisa more than 200 times. We became good friends and to celebrate our last day together, I took him to Clos Lucé for lunch, with the extra privilege of visiting Leonardo da Vinci’s room. There, I saw him cry tears of joy!” This is what Eric Sander wanted to do. Find and propose consistent topics where the public could get to know people who spent a large share of their lives working behind the scenes or he wanted to highlight different aspects of famous people and even eccentric ones, those who had a different life that was out of the ordinary, and who followed their passion to the end.
The American dream
Eric, then recently married, would set out in search of adventure. With a camera and two lenses in his suitcase, he would head off with Claire, his wife, to California where they will stay in the end sixteen years, from 1985 to 2001. “I earned a valuable experience there and discovered that in life, everything is possible! I had at my fingertips a goldmine of extraordinary stories to photograph, with the advantage of being the only one working in this segment, because everyone primarily turned to news and show biz.” Many portraits would follow: a man who lived as Robinson Crusoe in his little house in Malibu overlooking the Pacific; a retiree who looked so much like Santa Claus that he truly embodied the role, a lady that was passionate about purple and everything was decorated in this color at her place, even the doorbell rung with the melody of “Deep purple”,
Eric also produced an impressive amount of in-depth news stories and features on aeronautics, medical inventions, new sports, Silicon Valley, the first grand prize for an electric car, the arrival of neoprene swimsuits and even the world’s largest tricycle, a daring topic in a state where the car is king. “I like having a contradictory spirit and take up exciting challenges: I had installed lights in the bikes with remote triggers at dusk to show something totally surreal.”
Creative, hyperactive and hands-on, he would also follow some personalities; Tony Curtis in his private house in Hawaii and his hidden passion for oil painting, and Peter Falk, whom he met six times, who practiced charcoal drawing. Locally, he would become the correspondent of famous French magazines (VSD, Figaro Magazine, Great Reports, L’Express, etc.) and also work for the American press (Time Magazine, the Smithsonian Magazine) as well as for prestigious companies and luxury hotels. Eric developed a trained eye and perfect mastery of his art that he would use in his many travels all over the world, where he would capture in his own way and immortalize unique moments, whether they were captivating or simply representing daily life. He has built a strong collection of slides and digital photographs (nearly 400,000), of breathtaking landscapes and environmental portraits. “I was insatiable producing several reports per week. But at one point, I needed a change and we decided to go back to France.”
Showing the beauty
During his first vacation in Périgord, Eric visited the gardens of Marqueyssac: a private estate with 22 hectares dotted with elegantly cut boxwood centenaries. “I immediately liked this poetic atmosphere with gazebos, walks and theaters of greenery.” Soon, he became the prime reporter for fine gardens for the magazine, “Point de Vue. Other meetings will follow: the famous landscape architect Louis Benech, the interior designer and decorator Jacques Garcia, with whom he will work for many years, illustrating public books on their work and private books on those of a few customers. His photographs also showcased the old stones and the exceptional homes of large international families and captains of industry. “Photographing gardens is much more instinctive because the framing, the lens, the light, the color and the subject are quickly within my reach. For the interior, everything has to be perfect in every detail.” A great and rather rare versatility for a professional photographer and at the end, two activities that are complementary because pictures of gardens and nature are perfect in the best light of the day, while indoor shots could be taken at other times. A major change took also place in his life with a profound inner communion with Christ. “I, who did not understand the meaning of the calvaries at the entrances of the villages, began to take pictures of them and this face to face deeply touched me and led me to the beauty of Creation, and in particular the nature abounds in all its forms, taking on fresh allure with each changing season.”
He started creating videos called “One Minute of Beauty” and featuring his images with original musical compositions that were projected on screen during his conferences. Streaming waterfalls at the crack of dawn, the majesty of snowy peaks, the tranquility of a sea of azure, the delicacy of a blooming flower, the striking eyes and gaze of children from all over the planet – they are a striking vision with sublime pictures that reveal the beauty of our world and raise our awareness for the environment. Because Eric Sander is aware of this rich heritage and values the idea to pass it on to others, he now seeks a house that would publish his personal books: “The Most Beautiful Mornings in the World”, because it is the time of the day he prefers; then an illustrated book with some portraits of these ordinary but extraordinary people he met in his career. A pure delight for the eyes and soul!
Eric Sander is today like a rooted tree whose sap draws on the innumerable moments of grace of his life, to give his own fruit. His outcome is to bring to light and transmit this rich work made of encounters and timeless moments which reveals their beauties under his objective and the magnificent miracle of nature and life. He has been a privileged witness, being constantly bathed in the light and working with her wherever he was sent. And now, he has this unique message to transmit to all generations: that of becoming aware of the beauty that is present in our midst, in human relationships and in nature. Pay attention, contemplate and taste it with our awake senses. Then our eyes and hearts will open to appreciate, respect and protect it. Photography is a meditation where we can approach the real essence of life!
Interview held by Carine Mouradian
Link to the website of Eric Sander
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