Through his extemporaneous approach to photography, Valentin Groell captures the mystique of everyday life in urban areas across the globe.
French photographer Valentin Groell began taking pictures while on a trip to Asia in 2017. Naturally shy, he used images to tell stories he would otherwise feel uncomfortable expressing in words. Influenced by street photography and minimalism, he offers a compelling yet unobtrusive glimpse into the lives of people all over the world.
by Gabriella Mazza
Groell’s approach is utterly spontaneous. He doesn’t stage or manipulate the composition, but waits patiently for the story to unfold in the moment; a simple observer contemplating the movement of life. After a while, the players enter the center stage and a narrative slowly begins to reveal itself: a lonely passerby watches people at a train station, skaters pirouette in the air, and a group of teenagers gathers at a basketball court. “I no longer plan what to photograph on a trip,” he says. “I let myself be guided by the street and by the people who bring it to life. I really take the time to immerse myself in the scene before taking the photo, rather than wanting to recreate it.”
Groell’s photographs are somewhat mystical. They have a distinctive atmospheric quality that places them in a surreal, oneiric dimension. His preferred times of day are the early hours of the morning and sunset, when an amber-tinted light casts its warmth on human silhouettes, buildings, and landscapes, creating an almost otherworldly haze.
Although his creative journey began with traditional travel photography, he developed an enduring fascination with the street on his first visit to New York, in 2019. There he discovered his passion for documenting scenes of urban life, rather than focusing on nature or architecture. Once a skater himself–an endeavor thwarted by an injury-he gravitates around skateparks and loves to immortalize athletes in action, sometimes waiting hours for the perfect shot.
Despite living in a French metropolis, Groell prefers the novelty of unfamiliar environments and frequently travels to Asia and America to satisfy his creative hunger. An inveterate nomad, he has been to the United States, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, and the Philippines, and spent six months in Beijing. “I travel in Europe, but it’s really difficult to open my eyes to things that I see every day,” he explains. “What catches your eye in these countries, what happens in the streets, such as street markets, what people do in the street is really different.”
Groell’s goal is not to denounce or criticize but rather to document and tell real stories through his photographs, encouraging viewers to question and reflect upon the reality behind the captured moments. He strives to showcase the beauty that can be found in everyday life scenes and inspire others to appreciate the world around them.
“Shooting a photo for me is more than just finding the right spot, the place that makes the picture great. The different composition, the angle, and the story that the image tells are more important than the location itself. Through my photos, I wish to transmit the atmosphere of a given city as I felt it and capture my memories in a frozen moment.”
Groell’s captivating images are presently on view at Agora Gallery, in New York City, as part of A Midsummer’s Dream, a group exhibition of paintings and photographs embodying the mystical allure of the summer season. The show will be on display until Tuesday, June 27.