Interview: Jerome Tanon // The Eternal Beauty of Snowboarding

French snowboard photographer Jerome Tanon recently released, The Eternal Beauty of Snowboarding, “an existential journey into the life of a snowboarder” to great critical acclaim.

Jerome is one of the few snowboard photographers still committed to the artistic process of shooting analog film, and the laborious process of developing all his photos. He clearly believes in the artistic goal at the end. How else could he survive the eye-burning months of editing mountains of inane downtime footage or even refuse all sponsorship offers so that he could say exactly what he wanted to say?

Japan Grabs had the pleasure of working with Jerome back in 2014, when he was shooting with the Almo Film crew in Japan. We caught up with him just before the movie dropped to hear more about the backstory to this mammoth endeavor, and his hopes and fears before the unveiling of his very personal project.

 

We’re pretty excited to talk to you now,  right before you become famous.

hahahahaha. I don’t know about that. At most I’ll only be famous for a couple of weeks.

Alright so first lets talk about Japan. How many times have you been you been here?

I’ve been 4 times.

Do you think you’re used to it now?

No, still not (laughs). Every time I come over, it’s such a different culture that it’s a trip. I’m getting used to some culture, some words, I’m learning a bit more about things but still every time I come over I feel like it’s another planet.

When you were in Hakuba,  ‘Pingou’ (a penguin dive into powder) was a big thing for you. Do you still do it?

No, I’ve tried to do it but I haven’t found the perfect powder since. It has to be really smooth because you can hurt yourself. But some Pingou jumps are in the movie.

Jerome Tanon Pingou peak

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Jerome Tanon – Post Pingou face

Your photography might be well known, but people might not realize that you’ve  got some skills on the old ‘surf des neiges’. We came across this video of you with Perly (a fellow pro photographer) doing a snowboarder battle. You’re showing the world photographers can throw down too!

I’m not good but when I was younger, I used to snowboard seriously, you know. I was jumping all the big jumps in the snowparks. I had a few tricks that I knew and that I liked but I could never be really good because first, I hated to spin frontside. I just can’t, even on the trampoline, I can’t spin to the right. It’s weird. So whenever I spin frontside I land on my head and it’s really annoying. And also I was just scared, you know, just scared to be as badass as the other guys, and that’s also a reason why I became a photographer – because I was too bad at snowboarding.

Since you’re only ‘pretty good’ at snowboarding then, how much does it suck to be carrying a heavy pack? You come to Japan where there’s amazing powder and you can only watch the others ride it.

It’s really depressing if you think about it. The trick is to forget that you’re here to snowboard. But, whenever I can, I drop my backpack and I go for a lap. Actually when I was in Chile a few weeks ago I had a heli line for myself. It was the first time I had a really decent line for myself. It was such a good feeling, man, I couldn’t believe how good it was. The whole face was steep and powder and cliffs and turns and shit and man, I was like “F###! Why am I even taking photos? This is stupid! So that’s the trick – it’s to forget that you could snowboard the same things that they do. Well, obviously not the same things but you can ride some of the things they do.

So on the heli run that you did, were you filming yourself?

No, no, no. I’m not into filming myself. I never had a GoPro or anything else. No, I saw the line. They did the first run, the two guys, and I was in the barbie-angle, with the filmer.

What’s a barbie-angle?

Ah, that’s the barbecue angle. It’s when you’re at the bottom sitting with the filmer the whole day.
So, I saw them riding down the face and I was so jealous. It looked so good. They said on the radio that they wanted to do it again. I said, “woah, woah, pick me up! I’m going to shoot from the top”. So this way I knew I had to go down the face after them. And I didn’t even really take any photos from the top (laughs)! Yeah, it was really cool.

When we were in Hakuba, we found a good zone and built a kicker. Everyone had a go but it just wasn’t working. After all that work building it everyone was bummed but then, all of a sudden you just went, “Guys, over here there’s a fence, let’s do something”. Nobody seemed interested but you got your shovel out and started shaping the spot. Then, one by one, everyone joined in. Eventually, you got Morgan [Le Faucheur] to do it, right?

Yeah, true. Well, I didn’t ask him to do it, I just told him, “man, you’re good at miller flips. Look at this shit – it’s made for you”.

Jerome Tanon Morgan Miller Flip

Morgan Le Faucheur, mid-Miller flip. Jerome, in red, getting the shot.

So, on a normal trip, how much motivating do you have to do with the riders and how much do they go, “I’m going to jump here, shoot me”.

It really depends. I mean, I don’t push riders usually but when I see spots, I try to keep my eyes open. Everyone is obviously scoping around. It’s good if you have a different eye and you say, “hey, maybe we could do this?” and they’re just going to consider it and 99% of the time they’re not going to do it. They’ll say, “no, I’ve got another idea, we’re going to do this or that”. Anyways, it’s all good. Usually I don’t have to tell them, “c’mon, you have to jump this”, as they all love to jump around and do stupid shit. Sometimes though, there’s a really good photo to be had and it doesn’t really make sense for a video shot for example. You have to convince the guy to do it for the photo. That sometimes happens.

Let’s talk about your movie, The Eternal Beauty of Snowboarding a bit. While most photographers are trying to have a lighter backpack, you carried that video camera with you everywhere, and had it stuck to the top of your photo camera!

Well, it wasn’t heavy.

Jerome Tanon camera

📷Andrew Miller

Did you ever feel like, “meh, I can’t be bothered with filming today”?

No, I carried my camera every single day. Even when we were not riding. If we went out for dinner I took it in my pocket, if we went out to party I had it in my pocket. If we traveled I had it in my pocket- I had it all the time.

How many sd cards did you fill?

I filled my memory card a million times. I can tell you there is 12,000 different shots. And I made an estimate that if you watched all the shots in a row it would take you more than a week – day and night. I watched all my shots once to label them and put keywords and descriptions for every single one. It took me forever and it was insane. Then I never watched them again. I could not watch them a second time or anything. I couldn’t even say, “I’m going to only watch my best shots” – even that would have been too long. So the thing is that in the movie there’s a million amazing shots that I didn’t use because I couldn’t find them or I didn’t bother watching everything again to find ‘this one thing that matched that scene’. I mean, I did my best but I know that there are lots of gems that are lost in there.

How many years did it take you? Three?

I had the idea and I started filming right away in February….2012? But I think it might be 2013. So that would be three and a half years of filming.

At what point did you realize you had enough material for something, and that you were going to make a movie? Was it a conscious decision at the very beginning?

At the end of last season I was aware that I already had lots of footage but I knew I didn’t have enough. So I started filming again last season. I filmed through the whole season, I didn’t stop in the middle. I was just too happy to film and I had soooo much footage. It was crazy how much footage I made and at the end of that, I knew that I had to stop because if I didn’t stop then I could never ever make a movie.

A year ago, you put out the trailer. How was the feedback?

The feedback was amazing actually. I received tons of support and messages from people I don’t even know or people I barely know, saying, “yeah, it’s amazing that you do like that. I’ve been waiting for a movie like this” or “the industry needs this” or “snowboarding has to go back to this”. I was amazed at the, you know, the support from all these people. And the funny thing is that people keep saying this to me about the movie coming out, “oh, it’s going to be the best movie ever”, “it’s going to be such a good movie. We’re going to have an amazing time watching it” and they don’t even know what’s in the movie! No one has seen the movie. Maybe it’s complete shit. They just have so much expectation that, you know, it’s a weird feeling. Usually, nobody has expectations about me. I just do my stuff and they can like it or not. But now it’s different. Everyone is expecting the movie and they’re expecting this to be a hit, but it’s not, it’s just a movie. I just hope it’s going to be ok, you know?

Jerome Tanon shooting Crepel

Jerome, camouflaged against the wall, shoots Mathieu Crepel on a gap to wall transfer in Hakuba

So you’re feeling the pressure?

Yeah! Of course! I feel the pressure, I feel the weight of destiny on my shoulders for sure (chuckles). Because I only get one shot at this. I’m not going to do another movie. It’s also such an egocentric movie as well because I’m obviously talking about myself too. I’m talking about my photography as well. It really takes some confidence and balls to be saying, “alright, my photos are great! Look at them!” It’s definitely not the thing I’m used to doing. I’m used to being more shy. You know, I develop my photos and I put them in the magazines and then people like it or not. But this time I had to push and this movie is like an artist’s statement. It IS my artist’s statement. It is explaining why I’m taking photos and why I’m taking photos this way and not that way. So, it’s very personal and it’s also very dangerous to do that, because people could just look at you like you’re an egocentric f###er, you know? And also, I have pressure because I kind of speak in the name of all the snowboard photographers. I kind of carry the voice for them at some points in the movie, and that’s kind of weird. I mean, I’ve met lots of them and I know them and I have made this community project book two or three years ago, so I kind of have a rough idea of them, but still, it’s kind of weird. I’ve put myself so much in front of the scene because of this movie but I could not do it in another way. If I did not explain why I was filming, why I was taking photos this way….then the movie would not be interesting. You’d be watching the movie of some guy you don’t know.  I need the viewer to sympathize with me. To be like, “oh this dude is some random dude. He’s not some voiceover hidden somewhere”. And I need that because then when something happens to me, or when something happens to the riders in the movie then you feel with them. You feel more because you think this could be one of my friends, because they’re just random dudes, or even this could be me! So that’s the reason I had to do this even though I wanted to just stay behind the camera. But I realized when I made the movie and I wrote the script that it was not the way to do it. The way to do it was to put yourself in front, to accept responsibility for what you’re saying, to be confident in your photography and your art and say, “alright, this is it, this is me, this is what I do and why I do it. You like it or you don’t but I have to do it this way”.

Do you think that if it goes really well you can make a sequel?

Definitely not! Are you crazy? (laughs) That’s not the idea at all, there’s no sequel. There’s never going to be any movie again. I don’t want to see another video camera again in my life. I don’t want to use the editing software anymore! I’m done! For real though. Yesterday actually I did the final export and I was so happy, man. It was like I had climbed Mt. Everest, because I remember two years ago when I started to look at my footage and it felt like I was standing at the bottom of Everest looking up. And now that it’s finished I’m so happy. The movie can be a success or not I don’t give a shit, I’m done, man! (laughs)

Alright, so the movie is done, you’ve got the premieres coming up, then what’s next for you?

First I’m going to focus on the premieres – make sure I tour it around in Europe and the States. Then when that’s done it will be December and that’s when the season starts and travel and snowboarding again. But I’m going to feel no pressure. Last year already I felt less pressure – I was like this is all just bonus. If I go on good trips, I do. If I don’t, it doesn’t matter I can just stay home. So this next winter is going to be even more the case. There’ll be no weight on my shoulders. If I want to go a trip then I go. If I don’t I don’t. If I want to go on my sailboat then I go on my sailboat. I don’t care. Then the next big projects in my life, I don’t really know yet. And it’s a good feeling – not knowing what I’m going to do. Maybe I’m going to take my backpack and tour around the world, travel like a dirtbag traveller. Maybe I’m going to go on my sailboat and travel that way. Maybe I’ll start a new art project. I don’t know yet.

Where can people find you and follow you online?

I have my personal Facebook account – that’s where I’ve put some information about the movie. There’s my website where I’ve put up all of my work, and I have an Instagram account which I don’t really give a damn about (laughs) but people could try to follow that.

Any last words?

Thank you very much Japan Grabs, for your support and you interest in my work. And say hi to all the Japanese scene. I hope that they will be able to enjoy the movie even though some don’t speak English very well. It’s still going to be funny to watch.