Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
Photographer Olivier Metzger is known for his portraits of some of the most famous people in the world.
According to Jerome De Perlinghi, creative director for the Eyes on Main Street Outdoor Photo Festival, one of Metzger’s last big jobs was to take pictures of movie stars and directors at the Cannes Film Festival in France.
The Cannes festival draws the biggest names in show business year after year.
Metzger, who lives in Arles in the south of France, had been hired by several magazines to produce photographs of these glamorous people.
“In Cannes, you have to be ready,” DePerlinghi said. “You have very little time. You have to know what you are doing because you don’t get a second chance.”
This highly sought-after photographer has taken a month off, passing on well-paying assignments, to come to Wilson to be the Eyes on Main Street artist-in-residence for October.
“I wouldn’t say ‘OK’ if I didn’t know Jerome’s work and this festival,” Metzger said. “I volunteered. I need that kind of break. With this kind of residencies, you can really break and work for your own and not for commission and feel totally free.”
Metzger said he hadn’t worked on a personal project for seven years.
“Free time is very rare. I ride my motorcycle. I paint my wall at home, but I don’t want to take pictures,” Metzger said. “Usually it’s about three or four days and not enough to do something for myself, and this was a good opportunity to come here and to just work. I was a bit scared because I felt like a writer with white paper when he has to start with something and maybe nothing comes.”
Metzger, 46, had been a nurse working in a hospital for seven years and was always interested in photography.
“I was practicing photographing as an amateur, but more and more I wanted to make my work with my photography,” Metzger said.
He wanted to go to the École National School Supérieure De La Photographie in Arles, France.
“I tried to enter this school and more than 600 or 700 candidates for 24 seats,” Metzger said.
When he won his place, he stopped everything and went to Arles to earn a master’s in photography.
De Perlinghi said Metzger has an identifiable style and approach.
“You can put 300 photos on the wall and 20 of his photos up, and I would probably be able to pick his 20 very easily because he has got this very strong lighting,” De Perlinghi said. “He has got a very strong ideas about what he wants to do and what he wants to shoot.”
Metzger said he has a very technical style.
“I use a medium-format camera with flash. I always use flash in the daylight. That’s why my pictures are a lot of contrast,” Metzger said.
Metzger said he channels the work of Arthur Fellig, also known as “Weegee,” who made stark, flash-lit images of nighttime crime scenes in New York City in the late 1930s and 1940s.
“I like this kind of work,” Metzger said. “In Wilson, particularly, I took a lot of pictures that you cannot put a date on it. Downtown looked like old cities. There is a lot of history here. A lot of old buildings. On my screen I think ‘Wow, these pictures could be taken in the ’70s or the ’60s or the ’80s.’ That’s what I loved very much here in Wilson. I find a lot of indication of old stuff.”
Metzger would rise early, like 3 or 4 a.m., to capture Wilson’s city streets in the dark.
“I shot many landscapes also by night because the city is very beautiful by night, a lot of long time exposures, also with flash. Sometimes I hide the flash behind a tree, and I do a long exposure to have these white lights on the red brick walls,” Metzger said. “I have characters. I have stages. I have some empty streets, and you can imagine the stories as I have imagined it. You just need a piece of imagination and you can write a movie here. It’s like a big theater, an open space.”
A point of focus for Metzger was the emerging football team at Barton College.
“The director of the college and the coach was very friendly with me and introduced the new members of the football team, so I will be able to shoot some young people during practice with sweat and on the field when they play together,” Metzger said.
Metzger said he was never scared to be on the streets of Wilson with his camera.
“Everybody was very friendly to me. I feel very safe here in Wilson,” Metzger said. “A lot of people helped me very much. ‘Do you need a driver? Do you need some help? Do you need some food?’ I was invited for dinner at least seven times.”
Photography, for Metzger, is intensely rewarding.
“It’s always a new adventure,” Metzger said. “I always do my best. I am a happy and lucky man.”