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We Are Oskar: Arnaud de Harven & Thi-Thi Nguyen

A meeting with Arnaud de Harven & Thi-Thi Nguyen, photographer and artistic director, respectively, and the joint founders of studio Oskar.

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Text by Marie Honnay

This pair of kindred spirits have created a professional project with international dreams. A meeting with Arnaud de Harven & Thi-Thi Nguyen, photographer and artistic director, respectively, and the joint founders of studio we are Oskar.

TLmag : When did you decide to work together ?
Arnaud de Harven : In 2009, we went to live in Vietnam (Thi-Thi’s country of origin, ed.). When we returned to Brussels three years later, we wanted to put our vision of image to work in a shared project. Thi-Thi had worked as a copywrite and strategy planner in advertising for more than 10 years. I was a photographer. Working together wasn’t blatantly obvious, but almost.

TLmag: You very quickly displayed an ultra-defined visual identity. Where did it come from?
Thi-Thi Nguyen : I like to speak about a character we have built during our project. By creating a very large number of images, a guiding principle was quickly created – without really having a specific strategy.

AdH: Today, our customers come to us for this identity. They are like us. It’s such an opportunity.

TLmag: What do you mean by that?
AdH: If you consider a brand like Pierre Marcolini, there are clear similarities: poetry, love of colour, a surrealist approach… It’s a pleasure to work for brands that speak the same language as we do, and that share our values and our constant search for quality.

TLmag: You talk about ethics, a value that is very on-trend. Where do you place yours?
TTN: At my level, ethics is, for example, asking myself whether my desire to work with an animal, just for the pleasure of creating a beautiful image, is justified? Or whether, when I did fashion editorials, I would use real fur. Conveying dreams, why not; but did I have to do it, when it went against my values?

AdH: Within this idea of ethics, there is also that of the image. We find it important to educate our clients in this way by explaining to them the limits of what we can do. Producing 25 photos in one day may be technically possible, but not if you want to do quality work.

TLmag: Social networks do not really help encourage this awareness.
AdH: Our work is focused mainly on still-lifes in studio. In this niche, the canvas is not yet saturated with images.

TTN: In any case, we make sure to use them wisely. On Instagram, we post finished images that fit perfectly with our aesthetic vision. It is a way to ensure a certain visibility, which is essential if we want to continue to grow

TLmag: This growth is especially taking place internationally. You have an agent in Paris. What is your strategy?
TTN: Our agent perfectly understands us. She says that we have a Belgian style, because it is laced with humour. Our images show a form of self-deprecation.

AdH: We have what I call serious playfulness. Technically, it’s very meticulous, but the narration is light and offbeat. All this goes hand in hand with a more global reflection on the image. What, in a world saturated with images, will make people stop at ours for another second? This is the question we try to answer through our projects.

TLmag: And when a client come to you, do you have carte blanche?
TTN: The campaign we did for Ikea is interesting because the company decided to call us after seeing the totem poles we did for another project. For those of us who like to work away from the hustle and bustle, and construct our images exactly as we see them, it’s a golden opportunity.

AdH: You might think that with precise specifications, there is less for us to do, but the opposite is true. We were recently commissioned by Dior for portraits of perfumers François Demachy and Jacques Cavallier. What initially seemed to be simple portraits (a domain in which we are not very active) turned into a wonderful project that allowed us, in particular, to transport François Demachy’s office into the gardens of Dior’s property in Grasse. A way to transcend a scene that, given the neutral character of the room, seemed less interesting.

TLmag: It might seem that in these types of missions your two profiles complement each other the best. You both have your field of expertise or your own talents, do they end up becoming one?
TTN: My job is artistic direction, scenography and creation of the scenery. Arnaude is the photographer. He is the one who sets the light.

AdH: Except that, over time this border has faded quite a lot. I can help Thi-Thi with the creation of a scene. And when I photograph objects, she can tell me what she thinks and perhaps suggest different angles that I had not considered.

TLmag: What is your next challenge like?
TTN: I hope that we will export ourselves more through missions abroad…

AdH: … and more simply, grow without betraying ourselves by continuing to collaborate with clients that share our values and commitment.

Still Life Shooting, 2016
Still Life Shooting, 2016

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