Twenty Twenty Vision: Photographer Michael French Preserves the Ephemeral Era
The Australian known as Frenchy talks to us about youth and the inspiration behind his latest project, "Twenties", Sydney
Features > Twenty Twenty Vision: Photographer Michael F…

While documenting his surroundings and time spent with friends, Sydney-based photographer Michael French, aka Frenchy, paid an homage to a significant, formative decade of our lives—the turbulent twenties.

During our twenties, disenchantment is often merged with starry-eyed idealism; everything is replete with contrasts. Most of all, it’s the period that’s associated with a deep-rooted need for adventure and a carefree attitude towards life. “There’s no doubt that youthfulness is enchanting,” says Australian photographer Michael French. “There may not be another time in a person’s life where innocence and blind confidence meet with an honest excitement for discovering one’s potential. It’s about recognizing patterns, pushing your luck, realizing relationships and accepting failure. All of these elements are present across a lifetime, but it’s the frenetic pace and nature of these experiences during our twenties that make this decade so inspiring and important.”

When asked which elements keep his creative engines running and his curiosity astute, Michael says: “Unfamiliarity because the first time something happens is always exciting. Romance because it’s ever-elusive and hard to hold onto in so many ways. Scenes that cause self-reflection. A feeling of insignificance because it’s nice to drop all the egoistic weight that can build up.”

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“Jack and I got stoned on our way to a Chuck Berry concert in East L.A. and missed a turn. We quickly ended up on the highway to Vegas and decided to go for it. I never had an interest in the place but went there nonetheless. There were no cheap rooms to stay in so we drove our car onto a spare block in a new housing estate and slept on the grass. Jack was out fast but I couldn’t sleep because the sun was coming up so I got into the boot of our sedan and hung my feet out so it didn’t shut me in. Sometime later I woke up to hear a security guard yelling for help, he thought it was some kind of murder scene with Jack stretched out on the grass and my feet hanging out of the boot. I kicked the boot open and gave him the fright of his life. I didn’t realize at the time, but he had his gun out. He said he almost shot me.”
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“A handful of good friends and I rode motorbikes from Delhi to the border of China across the Himalayas on the highest roads in the world. Everyday the landscapes we encountered changed a number of times. We had green and red rocks, then gold and silver, then cliffs with waterfalls, then wide dry plains, then sand hills. The moment you enter the Himalayas you feel so insignificant and a kind of personal pressure lifts off. It’s a special place.”

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“A friend and I went to Japan and our money didn’t come through, but we ended up finding a tent and sleeping bag for free on the footpath. Most of the time we were out in little fishing villages but other times we were in the city. We camped in hotel gardens in the middle of Tokyo. The volcano in the picture erupted a few years later.”

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“I was swimming between the little Islands in this area and I ended up making this raft out of bits and bobs from a cave. It doesn't look like much but it worked surprisingly well. I named it ‘The Duchess II’ after the tiny boat in which Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader went missing. At night in this town the sky is lit up like a full moon from the giant light bulbs hanging on the fishing boats.”
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“This is one of the best camping areas outside of Sydney. When I first moved to Sydney I met a bunch of guys who grew up in small surf towns who had also moved to the city for work. We would get in this old van with boards and fishing rods and get out to good uncrowded surf spots, and cook on the fire. It was really important to us while we were getting used to living in a city.”

“A feeling of insignificance because it’s nice to drop all the egoistic weight that can build up.”

But youth is only one of the topics that Michael has approached with his photographic work. For his next project, he’s planning to start a series of stories from scratch using William Henry Fox Talbot’s salt print process from 1834. The image’s story will be closely entwined with its physical nature and geographical provenance. “Each picture will be made using the salt I have collected (off the ground or from boiled salt water) from the location where it was taken. I like that the process will go from analog to digital a number of times before an image is finished. One moment you could be in 1834 and the next you’re immersed in the latest version of Photoshop, and back again.” When asked which elements keep his creative engines running and his curiosity astute, Michael says: “Unfamiliarity because the first time something happens is always exciting. Romance because it’s ever-elusive and hard to hold onto in so many ways. Scenes that cause self-reflection. A feeling of insignificance because it’s nice to drop all the egoistic weight that can build up.”

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“I saw these kids while on a road trip up the east coast of Australia. You can’t really see it because of reflections but there was a huge pair of angel wings in the shop front. I ran back to the car to get my camera and just made it back in time before they left. If you look closely there is a great dynamic between the two sets of brothers. Im proud of this one.”
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“It’s Valentine’s day. These kids you see actually live underneath the boats they are standing on. Thousands of people visit this beach every day, but for these kids and their families it’s their whole world. They found and tied tiny pieces of fishing line together to float a Valentine’s day balloon out over the water.”
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“This is an apartment a lover and I stayed in for a while. There was an incredible record collection in a dusty old cupboard. We drank wine and danced and only indulged in pleasurable things the entire time. No hard stuff. Nothing tricky. Just in love and lazy and excited.”
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Thank you Frenchy, for sharing your photos and stories with us. We hope to see more of your adventures soon! If you’d like to see more of Michael’s work, check out his website here.

Text: Effie Efthymiadi
Photography: Michael French