The Happy Couple: Laura Stevens: Us Alone in Paris

Paris-based photographer Laura Stevens’ (b. 1977) series Us Alone (2011) looks at the dark and melancholy aspects of relationships. The series is a powerful exploration of the moment when the romance of cohabitation is betrayed by the banal aspects of day-to-day living. Capturing couples in their home highlights moments of tension and boredom between men and women who cohabit. These photographs are a departure from the traditional image of the happy, loving couple within vernacular photography and instead address the hidden moments of coexistence. Through exploring the disparity between each partner striving for personal freedom and identity, alongside the need to act as part of a whole in creating a shared and unified reality, Stevens’ understanding of the reality behind the “happy couple” is palpable. We spoke to the photographer to find out more about the project and how you can get involved.

BR: Could you tell me a bit more about the series?

LS: I have been photographing real couples in their homes for the last couple of years, between Paris,London and Brighton- my three “homes”. I wanted to look at moments between lovers when the unity separates, when feelings of tension, boredom or sadness are present. I was interested in showing life during cohabitation which goes against idealistic, romantic notions of partnership. Ordinary moments are dramatised and enhanced by theatrical lighting and constructed stories.

BR: Do you not feel that this notion of capturing couples behind closed doors is betrayed by the use of subjects who are, in essence, performing for the camera?

LS: It was never my intention to produce a candid account of real couples’ lives. They are the actors within a story. But there is an element of truth within the picture, they are real couples, real homes and moments which are more than possible for any couple at some point.

BR: Are there any particular stories which have stayed with you?

LS: I already had relationships with most of the couples I photographed, so knew something about their history. Since we were creating something together which was a fabricated scenario taken from a potential real event, the actual couples story was not played out.

BR: How do you achieve intimacy in your work?

LS: It helps to know the subjects already and be comfortable with each other, yet photographing them in their own surroundings helps enormously, as does the lighting technique, the darkness and directing with gentle persuasion. Oh, and listening to music to help alter mood.

BR: What camera do you use?

LS: I used a digital SLR – the Canon 5dII, for this series. I needed to have the ability to see what I was capturing immediately, because of the lighting technique. I have made similar work in the past using film, which allowed for more uncertain results. But with this I needed more precision.

BR: Where did your fascination with capturing couples come from?

LS: It started when I moved to Paris 3 years ago with my boyfriend. It was the first time I had cohabited, and the combination of that with moving to a new city, not speaking the language and not knowing anyone dramatically changed how I felt. I went from being independent to being dependent on one man. The project began with me wanting to explore how other couples lived together. I guess it was my way of looking at my own fears around commitment, and to understand relationships better.

BR: Could you talk us through your upcoming projects? Where can we see your work this year?

LS: At the moment I am planning my first solo exhibition at the Latvian Photography Museum in Riga in August (9 August – 9 September) this year. I also hope to make some new work whilst there. I have some small projects planned this summer, such as a new mini series Hotel Amour of different couples taken over a weekend in July, in one hotel room in Paris. I’m looking for couples, so if anyone is interested, please get in touch!

For more information on Laura Stevens’ work please visit her website or follow her on @laurastevens_uk

All images courtesy the artist

Text: Bethany Rex