Manuel Grimm - A visual journey into the subconscious of the Château de Versailles

In his series of photographs, Manuel Grimm presents a night journey into the subconscious of the Château de Versailles. The focus aims to bring this work of art alive by emphasising the aspects of lighting, crispness and the play of surfaces and textures of the different materials. As time goes by, a whole context falls into place, that of times gone by, but in which a presence (or even absence) remains of a kingdom which has left its mark everywhere. To succeed in creating dynamism in the photographs, through playing with viewpoints after having tested a number of angles, he relies on a lens which allows him a large field of vision, as well as wide views, so that the pictures can speak for themselves.

The series charts a whole process of constructing and developing atmospheres, of which the most remarkable is that of the Galerie des Glaces: using his tripod and camera (Canon 6D), Manuel Grimm plays with the speed and aperture to get over the lack of light, as these photos are taken from 6.00 pm onwards.

Furthermore, the choice of the light which bathes each corner, the length of exposure and contrasts, the white balance, as well as the colorimetry, create a whole visual style whose challenge is to make the pictures appear “natural”. It is in this same spirit that he approaches the process of image processing in situ, as well as post-production. Moreover, the fact that he works in RAW format allows him great freedom to make changes.

Manuel Grimm chandeliers in ballroom Chateau de Versailles

After having seen this photographic series, one could think that you are showing reality distorted through time and space. Why did the choice of this environment (the Château de Versailles) come into your head? What are you expecting there?

Why the Château de Versailles? Firstly, because I am a great lover of history, with a soft spot for the XVII° century, its society, its literature, its discoveries and its architecture. And I admit that of all the châteaux that I’ve been able to visit all over Europe, the one at Versailles remains the most magnificent. I admit that the idea for this series came to me from one day to the next.

How do you make these pictures appear “natural” while at the same time a whole photographic mise en scène is put into place (production and post-production)?

The “natural” aspect of my photos comes (surely) from my wanting the viewer to say “What a beautiful photo”, or something of the sort, without thinking about all the work which lies behind it. He should look at my photo because he likes it, because it speaks to him and not in order to simply spot where it’s been touched up. There are a good number of photographs we encounter where the first thing that comes into our head is “I can see where it’s been touched up” or “the colours aren’t natural”. It’s this kind of insight that I want to avoid absolutely in my work, whether in architecture or in photographing people.

For me, a successful photo is one which transports the viewer or which stirs his emotions, or in the case of my Versailles series, brings the desire to visit the château for those who’ve never been or for those who have already visited it to bring their visit alive again in their memory. My “recipe” for keeping my photos natural as well as being slightly dynamic to make them stand out is an original viewpoint (don’t hesitate to try different viewpoints and different angles) and gentle post-production, without taking everything to the limit. 

"For me, a successful photo is one which transports the viewer or which stirs his emotions..."

Can you tell us more about your series?

As I began to explain, I’m a great lover of history and old stones. It’s therefore completely natural that I should subscribe to the various Instagram profiles from our country’s châteaux (Versailles, Chambord, Vaux le Vicomte, among others). The profile of the Château de Versailles often organises little photo competitions and I was lucky enough to be among the winners of one of them and the prize was a night visit to the château. It was a magical moment and a dream come true: to be alone (or almost) in THE Château de Versailles. It was too good an opportunity: I prepared all my equipment (in reality, I took all my stuff to be sure not to regret having left something at home) and I presented myself before the gates with starry eyes. Then... well, for 4 hours we walked around the empty château, lit by candles and chandeliers, in a silence only cut by gasps of “wow” and the creaking of wooden floors. I took a huge number of photos, telling myself “You can sort them out at home”. I tested different viewpoints, different effects (with a small aperture in order to let the sources of light “sparkle”, for example), again so that I wouldn’t have anything to regret on the way home or in front of my PC.

Do you prefer working logically through a series of photographs (more practical if a story is being told) or rather taking individual pictures?

Among the various projects I work on, whether personal or professional, I often find I have “series”, if they can be called that. Being a “people” photographer (weddings, families, fashion etc.), I’m almost all the time confronted by “series” as no client wants just a single photo. I therefore have to compose series of photos which either tell a story, that of a wedding, for example, or a series of photos in harmony and which will be seen as a particular moment in a life, as in the case of a family or pregnancy photoshoot. It’s quite similar on a personal level. Most often during my trips I take lots of photos which afterwards are kept just to remember this particular trip.  This series charts the trip and will be the medium which the human memory can lean on for describing it.

How many photos might you take in order to get the one you prefer?

If I take the example of the Galerie des Glaces, I must have taken between 20 and 30, I think, in order to have the one that you can see in the article. But that’s the maximum, as there was a whole battalion of us (20 photographers) and I wanted a photo which would stand out from the others, as I knew that in the week following my fellow photographers would also post at least one photo of the Galerie des Glaces. Sure enough, although as mine was a little different, not taken from the centre, taken from a low angle etc., it was picked out by the château’s Instagram profile and they published it too. At that time, I just told myself that I had done well to look for THE photo. But, as a general rule, I need 5 to 8 shots max to have a photo looking the way I want it, a habit from photoshoots during weddings where you need to be instantly alert and creative before the person turns, changes emotion or has wiped away the tear that they’ve let fall.

Manuel Grimm Chateau de Versailles lighting

Is there anything you would like to add? Would you have any tips perhaps for beginner photographers taking this type of photo where the light is bad?

My guideline in photography is to take photos that please you, which suit you. Take the photo for yourself, to express yourself and not to just impress others. Stay tuned in.  Photography is a very nice means of expression and also a super social network which allows you to meet wonderful people, evolve and perfect technique.

Then for photos in low light... In the case where you have the time to adjust everything, it all depends: like with architecture at night or landscape at night, for example, your best friend is the tripod and the stabiliser is your little enemy. It creates little vibrations which will slightly blur your photo. On the other hand, in the case of a concert or evening photos, open the shutter really wide (under f/4 is good, under f/2.8 is better) and shoot in RAW - really, it works miracles!!! And, for me, I try to shun flash as much as possible, whether it’s built-in (that’s the worst) or added on (Cobra flash) as it stifles the atmosphere of the light and therefore takes away the fun aspect of photography.

Manuel Grimm Chateau de Versailles full picture

Copyright: Manuel GRIMM

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