With Mold’s fifth annual issue exploring what seed intelligence can teach us about preparing for an uncertain future, Lenancker’s hypnotising still-life cover was born from sculpting and photographing seed-inspired shapes
To hazard the dreamworld of Romain Lenancker is to picture a shimmering pool swirled with tangerine carp; a polished mahogany-clad vault piled high with treasure, or an ambrosian banquet, festooned with earthly delights. ‘Luxe’, ‘gloss’, and ‘swoon’ are rarely far from the lips of those who describe his Paris-based studio practice: a slick mix of research, photography, art direction and set design, enlisted by commercial clients including Cartier, Dior, Gucci and Chanel. Yet behind the sheen, it transpires that Lenancker’s true affinity is with the natural world.
For all of us, the simple pleasure of trampling into nature has never been so cherished than in recent times. For Lenancker, a lockdown spent in the Dordogne, south-west France, was a consolidation of his connection to the forest landscape, first ignited during his childhood on the nape of the French Alps. It is the “details” of nature which captivate him most: finding ways to reproduce organic forms in his studio – first into physically sculpted objects, then into a photographic image – is a process which allows him to “get closer” to nature. Such work is something of a tonic, he admits, when urban life prevents easy access.
When Lenancker was approached by Mold Magazine – an annual publication exploring the innovative ideas and “design-driven solutions” emerging at the intersections of food, technology, science and engineering – the “close-ups” he turned to were the stuff of seeds. Mold’s fifth issue examines what seed intelligence can teach us about preparing for an uncertain future; part of their wider focus on ideas that will “revolutionise” how we produce, prepare and eat food in the years to come. Viewing Lenancker’s work through this lens adds another captivating filter to his outlook on the natural world.
For Mold, Lenancker’s first step was the same as always: rigorous research into his subject matter, which taught him of the “textures and forms” of seeds. His ‘seeds’ then found physical form in a series of sculpted clay-like shapes, each dutifully sanded to be as “round as a pebble”. Finally, with ten shapes polished to perfection, and the “biggest job” complete, it was time to pick up his camera.
Lenancker insists his approach to shooting is “spontaneous, intuitive”, understanding the medium as a form of research in itself: namely through experiments in light and composition. “Almost never” is there a “strict creative vision before shooting.” Editing, too, is seemingly a breeze. Images are left to “sit as they are” after the shoot, and the selection process given several days to work itself out; never “overanalysed” or “agonised over”.
Such an assured operation, however, is not without its trials. Having (literally) carved himself into a tight creative niche, Lenancker admits his most acute challenge is to constantly “innovate and find new ideas”. To strike the right balance is to avoid falling into a “comfortable pattern” of working, while being careful not to stray too far from the touchstones that define his practice. Still, there is joy in the struggle: “I always take pleasure in trying new things,” he says. “When I find a new angle, or a technique to work with, it is always thrilling.”
Reinvention can be both deliberate and – at times – serendipitous. During the set design on the Mold shoot, for instance, a team member’s clothing temporarily flashed across the lens, leaving an inadvertent “shot of colour” on the frame. Lenancker marvels at how, with a single, accidental stroke, the images he had conceived of as black and white took a “whole new creative direction”: swiftly transforming into vibrant colour fields of rose, apricot and bronze; rich, warm and fleshy.
Rarely does bold creative vision, freedom and trust coalesce in the realm of magazine projects, Lenancker is keen to point out. Even “to agree on a choice for a cover is a rare enough feat,” he jokes (albeit one which is sure to “guarantee a success”). But nestled in the exotic twists and turns of his pictures – radiant in their bewitching forms and otherworldly palette – the fruits (or seeds) of his open-mind are plain to see.
Seeds, in fact, which may provide nourishment beyond his own studio: through the thrill of the natural world, and the joy of the unexpected.
Louise Long is a London-based photographer and writer with a focus on culture and travel. Her work has been published in Wallpaper*, CEREAL, British Vogue and Conde Nast Traveller amongst others. She is also the founder of Linseed Journal, an independent publication exploring culture and local identity.