Celebrating the Dream-Like Photography of Hugo Comte

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Hugo Comte photographer Cara Taylor book
Cara TaylorPhotography by Hugo Comte

Hugo Comte speaks to Belle Hutton about his “hybrid retrospective” first book, which brings together all the women who have inspired him

When you see a photograph by Hugo Comte, you know instantly who took it. For an image-maker who has been working for just five years, Comte has established himself as a favourite among fashion designers, magazine editors and global pop-stars alike with his idiosyncratic, 90s-inspired work. Super-saturated, warm and sensual in its aesthetic, Comte’s photography has appeared in the pages of magazines like AnOther, Document Journal, Pop and Vogue Italia, formed campaigns for Burberry, Valentino and others, and, perhaps most famously, illustrated Future Nostalgia, the meteoric sophomore album by Dua Lipa.

Lipa is one of many women Comte has photographed and is inspired by, as his debut photography book can attest; Alek Wek, Malgosia Bela, Anok Yai, Bella Hadid, Hannah Motler, Freja Beha Erichsen and 35 others make up its cast. The book is published this week, alongside an exhibition of selected works at Tase Gallery in LA. New, unseen photographs as well as those from Comte’s archive feature in the 200-page publication, all portraits of women the image-maker describes as his muses. “What I really feel when I look at these images and the women, all curated in one object, is that the intention, emotion and feelings of these girls feel synchronised,” Comte writes over email. “My first thought was to use only portraits of women as I feel it is the most intimate part of my work and where I express myself the best. Groups wouldn’t allow such intimacy as a portrait does, where it’s the viewer and the woman only.”

The “hybrid retrospective” book is striking in its pared-back design: a collaboration with art director David McKelvey, its bright white cover does not bear a title or image. “The book is the product of a lot of thought, we wanted it to look extremely simple and effortless. The whole system looks technical but is very graphic and simple,” Comte says. “As for the title, I didn’t want people to associate any particular thought with this vision of women or the object itself. I wanted it to remain completely neutral and feel the collection of images are the title, and don’t require an additional label.”

Comte looks to the 90s to inform his photography – “90s images really express an energy more than anything; some eras it’s about style or concept, but this specific era was about expressing a human energy” – and grounds this inspiration in a modern approach to image-making. Nods to different technologies appear throughout his book: there are barcodes on most pages and giant debossed lines on the cover, for example, a motif that Comte uses often and describes as “the symbol of the book”. Some of those barcoded pages bear digitally manipulated images, the result of collaborations with airbrush artists and experiments with CGI. “I want to use CGI as a post-humanism tool; which means I want to erase the boundary between human analogue and digital,” he says. Such interventions add an otherworldly quality to Comte’s collection of portraits.

Comte’s career so far straddles fashion and pop culture, his photography dream-like in its focus on texture, rich colours and developing a narrative around his subject. “When I shoot an image I always try to give the feeling that the woman is not being photographed but that she is looking through the camera, which gives a direct contact between the watcher and the muse.” Beyond celebrating the women Comte has photographed, the book serves as an indication of his artistic vision, which he traces back to his time studying architecture before switching to photography and will carry forward with film, music and collaborative projects via his newly launched creative studio Nikita. “By creating a book it has made me realise who I am as an artist, and how I want to represent myself by translating my identity through design, art and communication, which is very interesting.”

Hugo Comte’s book is out now. Selected works are on show at Tase Gallery, Los Angeles, from February 25-March 3, 2021.