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Hyperphotos B y

If bigger really is better, then Jean-François Rauzier’s photos must surely be the best. With file sizes that exceed 40 gigabytes, contain as many as 3.5 billion pixels and span print dimensions up to 150 feet, it is hard to imagine many images exceeding these in sheer size. But some would contend that size doesn’t matter—it is how you use it. To that end, Rauzier also uses his pixels very well, creating fascinating yet realistic alternative realities. Though Rauzier does not speak Eng-

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lish fluently, I learned an interesting word from him—oneiric. It means dreamlike, a quality that characterizes his work. With his images, Rauzier creates a dream from the reality that his lens captures. He constructs each grand piece the way our minds compose dreams, taking raw material from our lives, coloring it with our psyches and a pinch of our collective consciousness until voilà—you are being chased off a cliff by a purple rhinoceros! The idyllic scene depicted in “Après

midi d’Automne” (Autumn Afternoon, p. 72)—which oddly appears more like summer than autumn because of the verdant fields, scantily dressed women and only a hint of fall color in the foliage— contains many references to the story of the Garden of Eden, complete with apples and serpents. However, it is rich with so many more details that are initially not so obvious. Amongst those details, there is a book open to the title page, Les Liaisons Dangereuse (Dangerous Liaisons).

Rauzier’s images are so rich that numerous interpretations are likely to result. However, those interpretations will probably be unrelated to what Rauzier intends for his images. He says, “My desire is not to show a surrealistic, oneiric world—it comes naturally because it is my world— but to try to reach the absolute vision: to see everything, further, nearer, sharper, now, before, afterwards. What is attractive in photography is its capacity to catch the reality. I often quote the amazement of the spectators in front of William Fox Henry Talbot’s ‘The Haystack’ wondering how he had so precisely drawn all those bits of straw. I push this capacity to its extreme limits by assembling thousands of pictures and obtaining images of 3.5 billion pixels. I have images which swarm with details that one will not even see in the prints but which will be present, hidden. And there are now spectators who ask how I put all these alarm clocks on the beach or spread out all these newspapers in the field.” Rauzier explains that when people see his large-scale printed images, they first get a quick impression of the image from

a distance before inevitably being drawn closer and closer to examine the details not obvious from afar. “I like to see the spectators stopping in front of the image, a little amazed, frozen, then to approach to 30cm (one foot) and to walk in the image, to immerse themselves, then to move back, advance again and then to set out again,” he says. I would love the opportunity to see his prints up close and in their full glory, but unfortunately that’s difficult given that Rauzier lives near Paris. Still, I would advise the reader against simply relying on the images accompanying this article, as they do not even begin to capture the essence of a Hyperphoto. Fortunately, Rauzier’swebsite,, is a marvel that presents his work in such a way that the viewer can begin to understand the scope of a single image, its richness and detail. The website provides a quick impression, perhaps akin to seeing a printed Hyperphoto from a distance. Each image opens in a small square, and the mouse allows you to pan left and right so that you

can easily get a feeling for the image. At the bottom of the window, a button labeled Voir l’Hyperphoto (View Hyperphoto) will launch a new window that lets you explore the amazing details. You can zoom in (seemingly forever) and out, and pan left, right, up or down. While exploring the image, you will find details previously unseen—the macau in the tree, the doll in the road, the readable text in a book, the people kissing, the gnome in the garden, the newspaper blowing in the wind. Another great feature of the site is the highlighted details. There is a limit to how much detail can be displayed on the Web, but each Hyperphoto displays a number of red boxes around some particularly notable ones. Clicking on a red box enables you to zoom in closely on that detail. As you explore the images, you begin to feel like you are on a treasure hunt or safari. While the artistry is undeniable, it is the technical mastery that provides the foundation upon which Rauzier’s creations exist. He was introduced to the magic of photography by an uncle and eventually went on to study at the Louis Lumière Na-

tional School, where he received what he describes as an excellent technical education. He went on to a successful career as an advertising photographer and followed his artistic impulses on the side by both painting and sculpting. Rauzier draws inspiration and influence from a surprisingly long list of artists, including Guy Bourdin, Jeanloup Sieff,

Irving Penn, Bernard Plossu, Lucien Clergue, Gustave Le Gray, Ansel Adams, Andy Goldsworthy, Nils-Udo, Kimiko Yoshida, Jan Saudek, W. Eugene Smith, Sebastião Salgado and Sarah Moon. All of these influences came together many years later, when he began to see a new direction for his art. “With the advent of digital, I was fascinated from the very start by the possibilities that this new tool offered to me,” Rauzier recalls. “It is as if I had awaited it for 25 years. Alone in front of my computer, I found once again the pleasures of the darkroom, like a fabulous enlarger, with the possibility of building my image without any limits. For seven years, I have thus been immersed in this adventure of the Hyperphotos. Fully satisfied, I completely gave up painting and sculpture to devote myself entirely to what is appropriate to me and to express myself perfectly.” Initially, Rauzier made his Hyperphotos during the downtime between advertising assignments. For the last three years, he has been able to concentrate solely on

this new artistic endeavor. Rauzier was extremely open about the process of creating a Hyperphoto. In his studio and close to his home, he prefers shooting with a digital Hasselblad for its large-sized image capture. Overseas or at the beach, he prefers his Nikon D200. He can capture about 400 shots with the Hasselblad or 1000 shots with the Nikon.

square space around the sun quickly and then shoot with the fading light.” Then it’s on to compositing the images in Photoshop. He has tested other software applications for stitching images together but feels they create distortions that are unacceptable to him, especially when clouds have moved or tree branches have been blown around. And some software

Rauzier usually has his camera on a tripod and the lens set to the same focal length for all of the exposures. He does not change his vantage point except for rotation, which minimizes problems with perspective. He also uses manual exposures to minimize variations from one image to another. Needless to say, over the course of several hours, he needs to use several different exposures. It may take anywhere from two to six hours to capture all of the images, he explains. “The light varies considerably, when clouds pass and especially at sunset, my moment of predilection,” says Rauzier. “I begin the shoot when the light is stable, before sunset. When this last occurs, I

has trouble accounting for vignetting. It is not obvious until you experiment with stitching images together, but even the best lenses have some degree of vignetting. Rauzier believes that only Photoshop can handle the amount of data that he is working with, though it does so with great difficulty. The first phase on the computer involves stitching the images together, which can take about 30 hours. Rauzier may need to apply some perspective correction and use masks in conjunction with a single Curves command that modifies chrominance, luminosity and contrast to account for vignetting. To avoid overwhelming Photoshop, he works to keep his layers to a minimum. For this reason, he builds his images hierarchically. The sky may be made up of several strips. Each strip can be made out of numerous images that are stitched together but flattened prior to merging all of the strips into the sky. A similar process will take place for the ground image. Then, the sky and ground are flattened and integrated together. Working on a dual-processor

Power Mac G5 with 16GB of RAM and a RAID disk configuration keeps things moving as fast as possible too. Once the first phase is done, there may

be gaps in the image. In the next phase, Rauzier places elements over the gaps. He is accumulating a large library of images that he can use. The models, for example, are photographed in the studio and can be used in various images. He also removes objects he considers to be distractions. As Rauzier places elements, he uses all his Photoshop expertise to integrate them so they appear to belong to the scene. This creative phase can take about 300 hours. Rauzier allows himself some “latency time,” during which he leaves the image alone. When he returns to it months later for the last phase, he sees it with new eyes. He also gets feedback from several specialists who look for flaws: errors of proportion, obvious clones, and color and shading problems. He then makes the changes he finds necessary, and at that point is ready to make prints. “I make eight prints of each, which I call ‘variations’ because they are never identical. I modify details, personalize them for my

purchaser in order to make them unique. These prints are made on Cibachrome at a typical format of 120 x 400cm (4 x 13 feet).”

Rauzier has only recently been introduced to the work of Jerry Uelsmann, whose darkroom magic has produced many iconic photographic images. Rauzi-

er’s comments about what they do and don’t have in common are revealing. “His images are resolutely fantastic, surrealistic,” he says. “We know that they are the product of his imagination and non-real. The black and white, with its capacity of abstraction, contributes to this. I prefer to maintain ambiguity. I walk at the border of reality. As in a Stephen King novel, all is often perfectly banal. The supernatural is introduced insidiously. I pay attention so that each shade, proportion and object is realistic. I take great pleasure in misleading the spectator.” On the other end, I am quite sure the spectators delight in being misled as well. Visit www.

ALL PHOTOs COPYRIGHT © jean-franÇois rauzier

Larry Brownstein is the photographer and author of two books, Los Angeles, Where Anything is Possible and The Midnight Mission. He has a growing wedding and portrait photography business. He also offers stock photography consulting and career coaching for emerging photographers. See his work at or contact him at 310-815-1402.


J e a n - F r a n ç o i s R a u z i e r this new artistic endeavor. Rauzier was extremely open about the process of creating a Hyperphoto. I...