Photography by Lionel Samain

It would be fair to say that Lionel Samain got into photography by accident. He studied law, then decided to branch out into cinema instead (his first movie, a tribute to The Jazz Man, was selected for a number of festivals in both France and Belgium) before finally setting his sights on photography. And, even then, it was more out of sheer necessity than vocation: “Cinema wasn’t paying the bills. A lot of my friends worked as journalists, so I started going on assignments for them.”

One thing leading to another, the Belgian-born, self-taught photographer quickly found himself doing portraiture, finally then taking up fashion photography in the shape of magazine editorials and advertising campaigns. His approach is clearly informed by his early obsession with cinema, although his overall aesthetic is shaped by his own personality – timid, somewhat tormented (“My wife always says I’m a tormented artist.”) and restrained. “I find it harder when I’m given complete free reign over a shoot’s artistic direction,” he says in between two long drags on his cigarette, “I work better when given some boundaries to work within.” Not one to be pigeonholed, Lionel’s photographs retain a certain mysticism to them, one which he clearly entertains through a continuous re- evaluation of his work. Indeed, despite having honed his singular technique of shooting against a backdrop of projected imagery – one which has defined his work ever since – he felt confident enough to set it aside for a while in order to avoid any categorisation. His clearly is an approach to photography that comes from the gut, an extension of his own self: cerebral, intense and painful.