Photographer and director James Bort regularly collaborates with leading brands in haute couture, jewellery, leather goods and watches, directing their videos and advertising campaigns. A graduate of the École des Beaux-Arts art school in Paris, Bort started out by creating a blog, JamesBort.com, in which he presents his explorations into the world of fashion and design. Naturally drawn to the chiaroscuro of fashion design workshops and the world behind the scenes at fashion shows and operas around the world, Bort is privy to their backstage secrets, befriending tailors, models and great designers alike
In 2016, James Bort unveiled his book, Etoiles, published by Cherche-Midi, in which he reveals the power and grace of the Paris Opera's 18 danseurs étoiles. For J.M. Weston, he has decided to showcase his dancer friends and their day-to-day in an open-theme work and personal interpretation of the values conveyed by Le Moc' Weston 2016 Edition.
Interview for the release of the film presenting Le Moc' Weston 2016 Edition
The art of footwear vs the art of movement: do you think feet are more 'actors' or 'spectators'?
Like hands, feet can say a lot about a person. I often ask my models to go barefoot during photo sessions. The skin, muscles and tendons all have something to say, a story to tell. Two things I find absolutely fascinating are sculptors' hands and dancers' feet.
What was your first encounter with the brand J.M. Weston like?
This connection developed haphazardly over many years, starting in my childhood. First, it was a name I overheard in adult conversations, then a logo I spotted in a magazine. My father was born in Limoges, and I had a Parisian uncle who wore the famous Westons bought on the Champs Élysées. Then, years later, it all became clear, and I went into a shop and bought myself my first pair of ankle boots.
Is wearing a pair of Westons a form of dance in itself?
To wear Westons is to carry on a legacy with strong emotional significance. It makes me think of the dancers at the Opera putting on the costumes of their legendary predecessors, whose names are still written on the label. Wearing the costumes is tantamount to taking on a responsibility, fulfilling an expectation. To wear Westons is to enter into a dance that you have no control over.
How do you manage to capture the subtle grace of a dancer's movements in a single camera or video shot?
Before photographing or filming a model, you have to look at it for a long time to really understand what you're seeing. Photography isn't just pressing a button; it's a thought process. You can't take anything for granted, and you have to put the work in. If you're working in dance, you have to go see the shows, read the books and talk to the dancers. Then you need to figure out what part of yourself you want to put into each image. I don't photograph dancers because I want to explain what dancing is or because I want to do a documentary. I photograph dancers because their movements, bodies and souls are like screens I use to project my own thoughts and innermost feelings. I don't take a neutral or passive stance vis-à-vis my models; I'm a willing participant in my own exhibit. I constantly interact with my camera and video camera. When a viewer looks at my work and sees 50% model and 50% me, that's when I'm satisfied because I know I've found the right balance.
You explore different forms of dance in the video about Le Moc’ Weston 2016. What message do you wish to send out?
I support J.M. Weston in reaching out to different generations. Dance is a universal language that transcends the generation gap, so it felt natural to suggest a film about dance. I gathered together dancers of all ages who practise different kinds of dance: ballroom dancing, ballet, Cwalk, Airwalk, tap dance, etc. I wanted to show how the dances consist of very precise, skillful movements yet still convey a very easy, relaxed feel. Similarly, J.M. Weston embodies excellence, yet has a casual, sassy chic about it that makes it very 'cool'.
Can a pair of Westons be handed down? Do Westons overcome the generation gap?
Society is changing and J.M. Weston has assimilated these changes. In terms of culture and fashion, the father/son and mother/daughter boundaries have been pushed back, and there is much less of a generation gap these days. The Moc' perfectly embodies this change as it can also be worn by several generations.