Fantasy and fiction: Inside the hyperreal world of Lou Escobar

All images © Lou Escobar
This article appears in our 2023 Ones to Watch issue. Secure your copy via the BJP Shop, limited stock available

The French photographer employs playfulness and pleasure to imagine a vibrant universe that chimes with her love of movie-making

In Lou Escobar’s visual world, fantasy is a persistent presence. Her protagonists – often street-cast or inspired by people in her life – are strong, confident and carefree. She images them inside cars, in hotel rooms, on the street, outside diners and convenience stores, in hyper-real scenes that feel more akin to film stills than staged photography. In every frame, emotions run high. Play and pleasure are critical to Escobar’s strategy, one committed to her brand of escapism that prioritises women’s lives. “I’m just a girl from the suburbs,” says the photographer and director, who grew up on the outskirts of Paris. “This desire to imagine worlds is who I am.”

Escobar’s career took off quickly despite her never intentionally planning to build one in photography. Her first clients discovered her on Instagram five years ago, and since then she has collaborated with the likes of Gucci, Diesel, Vogue, i-D and Playboy, successfully straddling commercial and editorial fashion work. However, while Escobar loves the challenge of working in single images, it is film directing that she hopes to pursue long-term, having recently completed her first script.

“Growing up in the suburbs in the 90s, there wasn’t much to do. The TV was super important in our house,” says Escobar, explaining the roots of her fascination with visual storytelling. “We watched films constantly. Going to the video club every weekend was an important ritual. We would rent one movie and watch it 10 times. I’d replay scenes to the point that the story took over my mind. I would start to feel like I lived inside the movie, deeply relating to, or aspiring to be, the characters.”

Making poetry out of collisions is the beating heart of Escobar’s work: blending high and low culture, reality and fiction, the mundane and the fantastical. She describes her process as “intuitive”, following her ideas through even when the outcome is unclear. In addition to cinema and travel, people-watching shapes her work. “Walking the streets is a vital part of my approach,” she says. “Whether I’m travelling somewhere new or in familiar territory, the thing I love the most is watching people live. I’m particularly interested in women’s lives, their strength and sexuality. Essentially, I create the characters I want to be.”

“I’m particularly interested in women’s lives, their strength and sexuality. Essentially, I create the characters I want to be”

In Familia, a recent cover shoot and a short film for Vogue Portugal, Escobar explores the meaning of family in an uncertain world. The artist street-cast people resembling her mother, sister, grandmother and cousins for the project, set in Seville, Spain, in a personal tribute to her roots. She describes the shoot as a portrait of the “Andalusia of my memories”; an attempt to distil the romantic way she saw her family as a child. The film, which fuses flamboyant fashion and familial bonds, speaks to the way habits, behaviours and beliefs are imprinted over generations.

“Lou’s images transport me into a fascinating, timeless world,” says Maya-Ines Touam, one of BJP’s Ones to Watch last year, who nominated Escobar. “There is great reflection in her staging, nothing is random, yet everything feels familiar. I admire the energy of this raw and vibrant universe that she is creating.”

Gem Fletcher

Gem Fletcher is a freelance writer who contributes to publications such as Aperture, Foam, The Guardian, Creative Review, It’s Nice That and An0ther. She is the host of The Messy Truth podcast - a series of candid conversations that unpack the future of visual culture and what it means to be a photographer today. You can follow her on Instagram @gemfletcher