Jean Vallette: The eye behind the camera

POSTED: 04/3/14 3:02 PM

St. Martin, MARIGOT /By Jason Lista – The trade winds picked up yesterday, and the breeze from the Atlantic swept inside and cooled the interior of the Beach Plaza Hotel just outside Marigot. Jean Vallette and his wife Laurence are waiting in the lounge area. Her command of English is better than her husband’s, and acts as his translator at times during the interview, stepping in from time to time when the words of a particular question prove particularly tricky for the photographer. She is also his business partner, managing his website.

“I work with only one light source,” Vallette said of his artistic photographs. “I show a different part of me: one artistic, the other commercial,” he explained. Vallette also does portraits, weddings, and shoots pictures of real estate that owners may want to rent or sell, in particular luxury villas, where his subtle skills and eye for detail bring out a property’s qualities.

When he was 10, the family took a trip to Italy where he was overwhelmed by the artistic beauty he saw there in the statues, frescoes, and paintings of cities like Venice, Florence, and Rome. “I have that in my head for a long time,” he reminisced. From that point on, Vallette declared, he started to appreciate beauty. “I see a lot of things,” he remembered fondly of that trip.

He began to experiment with photography at the age of 14 when his father returned from work in Africa. Vallete’s father had bought a camera set while there to pass the time. “He was bored,” Vallette chuckled. And when his father returned Vallete opened the box set fascinated, mesmerized by the mysterious machine inside, a machine that immortalizes whatever it captures. He never stopped taking pictures after that.

His wife Laurence recalled how he and his brother – who is also a photographer – worked for 2 months over the course of a summer to save up to buy themselves second hand cameras. “They were very expensive at the time,” Vallette recalled. He is a Nikon man, while his brother is a Canon aficionado, his wife pointed out.

“I travel a lot,” he said, when asked how he ended up in St. Martin. After a spell in French New Caledonia in the Pacific Ocean, he visited Cameroon; from there he skipped over the Atlantic and landed in Guadeloupe. Work took him to St. Barths to photograph villas there. And inevitably St. Martin was on the visible horizon.

Asked if he fell in love with St. Martin, he smiled. Vallette and his wife have been living on St. Martin for over 20 years now. “Before it was nice,” he lamented of his profession as a photographer here, “but now there is much more competition.”

With the rise of the internet, digital photography, and the ease of global travel, many so-called photographers from all over the world come and go easily Laurence explained, many of whom sell their work and don’t pay taxes.

Vallette’s body of work can essentially be distilled into four parts, he said: portraits, commercial, artistic, and family oriented, including weddings. A good photographer when taking family pictures or intimate portraits must make the subject feel friendly and relaxed, so that their true character and expressions can come out.

His artistic pictures are always in black and white, and are often of the female nude, wrapped in shadow and light. Not in a vulgar way, but in a manner that illuminates the natural beauty of the human form, and how light can enhance the texture of skin. The interplay of shadows in Vallettes photographs adds an element of the mysterious, pulling the viewer in, perhaps to discover more. “I first have the pictures in my head,” he said of his creative process. Then he must patiently wait for the right light. And he does not photo shop his artistic work. It’s all natural.

But his favorite subjects now are children. “It’s a challenge,” he said of photographing kids. “They don’t know you,” he said, and they are therefore slower to trust than adults. “It’s a real pleasure to capture their expressions.”

His approach to work is simple. He does not walk around like some photographers, cluttered with arcane equipment, his wife pointed out. And for portraits he prefers to work at the home of his subjects, where they will feel more comfortable, bringing out their character in the photograph.

Jean Vallette has a small and simple studio where he works out of sometimes, or he accompanies his subjects in the field if necessary, like weddings and family pictures. His telephone number is + 590 690 54 22 22. His email address is , and website

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