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Earlier this year, celebrated French photographer Laurent Nivalle turned his lens on the McLaren Technology Centre. As we publish his pictures for the first time, we catch up with Nivalle in Paris, to find out why cars play such an important role in his work.

 

Laurent Nivalle is currently one of the world's most sought-after car photographers. His cool, elegant style has earned him glowing praise, bringing an iconic, filmic quality to his subjects. Earlier this year, McLaren invited him to the McLaren Technology Centre (MTC) in Woking, England, letting the maverick photographer loose to capture its unique atmosphere. The results were spectacular, and took pride of place at the McLaren VIP area at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in June. 

Surprisingly, the 41-year-old Frenchman was a late starter behind the lens – he has only been taking pictures seriously since 2006. However, he has recently been prolific, shooting for several respected car magazines, as well as Paris Match and Vogue.

 

Nivalle studied product design and was inspired by the works of renowned graphic designers David Carson and Vaughan Oliver. In 2000, he started working for the French car manufacturer Citroën, rapidly rising through the ranks to become the artistic director for the DS design team, a position he still holds today. 

This background explains why cars play such a large role in Nivalle’s work. ‘A car is a tool that reveals many things about its owner,’ he explains. ‘It can be used to describe a way of life, or to create a mood by accompanying it with a fictional character with their own (cultural) background. It’s definitely the most interesting part of a photoshoot.’

 

Surprisingly, unlike many of his countrymen Nivalle harbours particular affection for classic American models such as Mustangs and Camaros. He explains: ‘I like American cars, mostly older models because they are more direct and obvious in terms of styling. I think that American cars reflect my character – I’m very straightforward in my work.’

This isn’t the only way Nivalle goes against the trend. When shooting a car, he avoids what he calls traditional car photography, which is why he often takes inspiration from the world of fashion and incorporates different colours, lights, angles and backgrounds into his shots. 

I like to capture the different worlds that generate human adventures. Take, for example, designing a car: it isn’t the work of one designer, but hundreds of people working together to ensure a project will see the light of day. Shooting behind-the-scenes pieces that show this collaboration are fascinating, and that’s why I enjoy shooting car racing. Winning a race is of course the work of a driver, but without the team around him, he wouldn’t win as easily. That’s what I like to show in my photos.’ 

With such a passion for cars, Nivalle was delighted to get the call from McLaren. ‘It’s a prestigious brand that excels in performance and luxury,’ he says. He was blown away by the MTC when he visited it earlier this year: ‘I feel the McLaren Technology Centre is to cars what NASA is to space exploration. I was impressed by the pride, enthusiasm and engagement of the people who conceive, develop and build these cars.’ 

The pictures he took on the MTC Boulevard reflect this impression and were admired when they went on show at Goodwood. Nivalle paid particular attention to the materials used on the supercars, and played with the light to enhance the clever engineering. He loved every minute of this assignment and is keen to shoot more McLarens. ‘Thanks to the warm welcome I received, I managed to a do a fantastic feature on the MTC,’ he says. ‘I’d love to photograph a McLaren P1™ in a more ‘lifestyle’ background – that would be really interesting.’

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