Between the monkey and the flower a strange mirror effect, as if one was having fun reflecting on the other. Play with shapes, textures, colors … By uncovering random similarities between animals, plants and minerals, it’s a mischievous journey that Alain Ernoult offers in his latest book, “Look-a-likes of the earth”. On the occasion of World Biodiversity Day on May 22, Paris Match talks to him about these amazing twins.
His lens caresses a jeweler’s wing, the fur of a fawn or the scales of a crocodile. Closer. For Alain Ernoult, interfering in the wild world has become a different nature. But three decades ago, it was by taming steel birds, those of the Patrouille de France, that he let his career as a photographer take off. He liked to crack his case aboard an Alpha Jet or dive with submarines in the port of Toulon.
So what has stung this enthusiast of technological feats? If he invites us to take a deep dive, the immersion this time takes place in the bark of a bark or a spiral of a snail. So many unusual encounters, as each being through the only human gaze sees itself matched by a fleeting visual twin. Exhibited at the Congress of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2021, his portfolio “Look-alikes of the earth” is the subject of a lavish book (ed. Gourcuff Gradenigo). “The rate at which species are disappearing worries me,” he says. I’m afraid we do not leave much to our children. »
It reveals the wonders of nature, far beyond the only iconic species
The looping enthusiast moved to Tanzania when he met a safari organizer, a former engineer who was converting his diesel 4 x 4s into electric vehicles. For the petroleum subscriber, it has been clicked: “I am no longer comfortable with polluting topics. “During this stay he meets a lion in the bush and enters into a strange dialogue:” I spoke to him, and he answered me. “The one who could not stay in place finally feels on his own. The dyslexic ex-kid, glued to the back of the class, deprived of gifts because he collected zeros, understands that he has spent his life offering himself life-size toys in the form of planes and sailboats: “I had a vengeance. to take his own life. »
In Tanzania, he re-establishes the connection to past sensations: “I have always experienced strong exchanges with animals. When I was young, I had found a cat in a forest. Every time I walked by, he met me. I took him in my jacket and took him on motorcycle rides. As a 17-year-old, he hitchhiked to Mali. “One night I was awakened by movement in my stomach. It was a poisonous snake that would warm itself … I remained motionless for hours until it went by itself. That evening, Alain Ernoult crossed the mirror to slip into a parallel world, the beast.
Relying on intuition and being accepted by the toughest creatures: so many essential skills for a picture hunter. Early in his career, he had to appease the Florida Hells Angels. In English he just knows how to say “French photographer”. Not really sesame. But night after night, he manages to slip into their bars. Then he persuades the Patrouille de France to take him on board. A first: “The pilots said I would vomit, that we should land after a quarter of an hour. I was tied like a bundle, the helmet and the oxygen mask prevented me from holding my eye on the viewfinder … But I held on. We flew for an hour and a half, and upon landing I realized I had been accepted. »
When he wants to photograph a gorilla or a Japanese crane, he is sure, “the animal chooses, or not, to make the image possible”. The project for his book seemed to him like a glimpse: “In Madagascar, I saw the tail of a chameleon and an hour later the buttocks of a fern that looked like it. From then on, it became an obsession:” An eternal gamberge who woke me up at night.He picks up these unlikely doubles from his garden near Paris on the other side of the earth: the mane of a giraffe and a motif of the Grand Canyon, the bark of a palm tree and a polar bear …
This work is based in part on pareidolia, our brain’s tendency to recognize a familiar shape in a formless mass, like a cloud evoking a fish. Hence a kind of refreshing play which opens the eye. By multiplying the playful details, the photographer reveals the wonders of nature, far beyond the only iconic species. Lover of elephants, “for their incredible mass, this mixture of strength and gentleness,” Alain Ernoult has an admiration resembling oak trees. As a guiding force, one of them watches over him in his garden.
Find the pictures of Alain Ernoult in our magazine and in digital edition