Reflecting People’s Souls through Hair Style and Makeup in Photos

As Damien Fufresne explained, his photos such as this one depend on the models photographed. If he or she does not get involved, it will not work, he said. Photo: mv

PHNOM PENH — Looking at the photos of Damien Dufresne makes one realize that there is no such thing as an ordinary-looking person.

When taken care of by a master of hair and makeup for a photo, the extraordinary side of a young man or woman emerges, maybe surprising the person photographed as much as those looking at the portrait.

Nowadays, Dufresne photographs the 20-years olds of the Asian cities in which he has lived, previously in Seoul and Shanghai, now in Siem Reap city.

“I participate a great deal and make [the persons photographed] participate a great deal as well,” said Damien Dufresne. “I tell them…’the photo, it’s you who make it, not me. If you get into it, it works. If not, it does not. I just handle the technical side around you but it is you who is the performer.’ This also helps give them confidence.”

 The result is dramatic portraits accentuated through colors both soft and powerful, the faces nearly unreal, and at the same time the persons very present as can be seen in the exhibition of his photos currently held at the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra in the capital.

The photos reflect the special sphere in which Dufresne has worked throughout his life.

This Frenchman spent a great deal of his career in Paris.

As he explained during an interview on April 4, Dufresne started as a hairdresser. He worked for Alexandre de Paris, a famed hairdresser in the French capital. Dufresne became the official hairdresser of French fashion designer Yves Saint-Laurent, and was assigned to work behind the scene at fashion shows and for photos shoots for publications such as “Vogue”  in Paris, he said.

Photographer Damien Dufresne. Photo provided

But after a few years in this field, he decided to switch to make-up. “My friends told me ‘you’re among the leading hairdressers in Paris, why switching.’ But I went ahead and did it,” he said. “It would take me 15 years to become part of the group of leading makeup artists. I was lucky.”

In the process, Dufresne worked on a film, but only one as he found this too repetitive. “The main character had to look the same from the beginning to the end of the movie, “he said. “So, I spent 60 days being bored.” 

On the other hand, he truly liked being makeup artist for theater. «They were young actors who were really motivated, It was great,” he said. “Actors are like dancers. These are people who do this seven days a week: It’s their life. Working with them was great.”  

Soon Dufresne was asked to work on publicity photo shoots, fashion shoots and then fashion shows. “Many, many fashion shows in Paris,” he said.

Photo by Damien Dufresne. Photo: mv

Then Dufresne took part in a contest that would lead him to move to Asia. It was an international contest held by the AmorePacific Group in South Korea. “They asked makeup artists throughout the world to invent a new makeup line,” he said. “Actually, what these people were looking for was ideas.”

Dufresne won the contest and, in 2000, left Paris and moved to South Korea where he ended up living for 12 years. The group based in Seoul is considered one of the 10 largest cosmetics companies in the world. The company’s office grounds were enormous, Dufresne said. “When we were going to the laboratory to work on the colors, we would use a car to go from one building to the other. The labs, it was like a small town.

“We had 17 brands,” he said. “The company designed products for all price ranges…[low-price chain stores] to luxury boutiques. Plus, the company had lines for women of all ages, from young to mature women.” Dufresne, whose title was artistic director, helped come up with the colors.

He spent 12 years in South Korea and then moved to China where he spent six years in Shanghai working for the cosmetic brand Marie Dalgar. While in China, he compiled a book of photos similar to those currently exhibited in Phnom Penh. Working with photographer Christian Wu, he produced photos of faces transformed into works of art through striking make-up done in colors and in black-and-white. Plus some people shown covered in robes at times black and shown against a pale grey background, at others in muted white with a pale grey background.

The 228-page book entitled “Glimpse of Emotion” includes a short preface in English and Chinese by Dufresne in which he thanks and names the models, makeup artists and hairdressers who worked with him to transform the models for his photos. Having worked in a field in which they usually are not recognized, he made sure they were in his book.

Photo by Damien Dufresne. Photo: mv

In June 2023, Dufresne moved to Siem Reap city.

“I wanted to leave cities to spend this time of my life in the countryside,” he said. Dufresne was tired of the traffic and busyness of cities and, after all, he had spent his childhood in the countryside in France, he said. So in early 2023, he went to Bangkok where a friend told him that he should visit Siem Reap. Which he did. “The first morning, a crowing rooster woke me up. I thought I’m home: This is where I want to live.”

Shortly after relocating to Siem Reap city, he decided to produce a series of photos similar to those of his book but featuring Cambodians, working again with photographer Christian Wu who handles the technical side while he handles the clothes and make-up of the person being photographed.

Dufresne’s models are young Cambodians from Siem Reap, people he comes across and whose faces he can see will be striking in photos. During the shoots, he makes sure to communicate with them. “Because I suffered enough during my time as makeup artist when there was no communication with the models,” he said. “Ti was very hard for these young models who were 16, 18 years old and were wondering what was expected of them.

“I had decided that, when I would be a photographer, I would not do this,” Dufresne said. “Today, I participate and make them participate. I tell them ‘the photo, it’s not me who makes it happen: It’s you who makes it happen. If you’re into it, it works; if you’re not into it, it won’t work. I need you.’ This valorizes them. And they need to be valorized. They’re only 20 or so.”

Dufresne occasionally goes back to his old trade; he recently went to Shanghai to do makeup for a dance performance. “What attracts me is a challenge,” he said.

“I’m tremendously fortunate in life,” he said. For example, having the opportunity to have an exhibition in Phnom Penh was unexpected, the result of a chance meeting. “It was a coincidence: Life has a way of working out,” Dufresne said.

The exhibition of his photos at the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra on Sothearos boulevard is held until the end of May 2024.

Photos by Damien Dufresne. Photo: mv

Photo by Damien Dufresne. Photo: mv

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